by Peter Franklin
Monday, 22
November 2021
Reaction
17:09

Benenden’s head is wrong on wokeness

The girls' school head is the latest actor in the culture wars
by Peter Franklin
Not a snowflake… Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Speeches given to the Girls’ Schools Association annual conference tend not to make national headlines. But today is an exception. Remarks given by Samantha Price, the headmistress of private girls’ school Benenden, have received widespread media coverage — including in the BBC, The Times, and the Daily Mail.

This is how The Guardian sums up her argument:

“Older adults should not use terms like ‘woke’ or ‘snowflakes”’ to mock the younger generation and their commitment to campaigning on issues like misogyny, Black Lives Matter, gender identity and climate action, a leading headteacher has said.”
- The Guardian

From the quotes trailed in advance of her speech, Price is worried that young activists might be discouraged by a negative reaction from older people:

“As they go into their 20s and into further maturity, what was such a passion for them when they were younger will end up just going by the wayside…”
- Samantha Price

Really? Calling someone a “snowflake” is just about the gentlest mockery imaginable — and if that’s enough to cause a meltdown, then perhaps the point is self-demonstrating. Previous generations of young activists have faced a whole lot worse — and it’s not like that stopped the march of progress. For that matter, it hasn’t stopped young activists from the current generation either. Climate campaigner Greta Thunberg has been relentlessly mocked — she even has her own Spitting Image puppet — but she continues to turn the publicity into opportunities to spread her message.

If young people want to participate in public debate, then taking them seriously means not exempting their opinions from legitimate criticism. However, Price is in danger of infantilising both the opinion and the opinion-giver. This is what the BBC reports her as saying:

“This so-called ‘woke’ generation are actually simply young people who care about things: about causes, about the planet, about people. It ultimately comes down to something very simple: being kind. Isn’t that what we all want our toddlers to be? We teach them to be kind.”
- Samantha Price

But it isn’t as simple as that. I doubt that most people would count the treatment that Kathleen Stock received from student activists at Sussex University as “being kind”. And then there’s Samantha Price’s own brush with cancel culture. Last year, it was reported that she had to apologise after she use an outdated racial term. She only did so to provide a historical example of no-longer acceptable language, but still faced protests.

For its own good, we need to distinguish youthful activism in general from wokeness in particular. The latter isn’t characterised by “people who care about things”, but by pathological offence-taking. A further defining feature is the notion that structures of “privilege” must be dismantled — for instance, the privilege of an expensive private education.

Would the headmistress of Benenden would consider that a kindness too?

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David Slade
David Slade
10 months ago

The head teacher’s comments seemed to assume that older generations just don’t understand and are therefore derisory. I don’t think that’s the case – I’m gen X, yet have trouble communicating with even millennials, as the obsessive offence taking and lack of any sense of perspective makes an exchange of ideas almost impossible. It’s also different from previous generational conflict – the silent generation and the baby boomers disagreed, but they shared fundamental values of freedom (that’s what the silent generation fought for after all). One just felt the other was exercising that freedom irresponsibly.

This time round, freedom seems not to be the concern; freedom of speech is positively vilified and justice is campaigned for only in so far as it can be said to advance the interests of a hierarchy of arbitrary victim groups. The whole woke ethos seems more about ideological purity – the one thing all humanity’s most dangerous experiments in governance have had in common; and it’s this that leads to evil in the name of some idealised state (more so than any one particular ‘ism’ or ‘phobia’).

Maybe therefore it’s not that we don’t listen or don’t understand – but we understand all to well and wonder why teachers aren’t teaching these kids honestly where their ideological puritanism could lead. It’s right there in the history books.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
10 months ago
Reply to  David Slade

The Woke ethos takes the worst of female attributes and ramps them up a 1000%. Look who’s in charge of our schools and colleges: it’s mostly female educators. Men are leaving the teaching profession in droves. I’m not blaming women, but more how the institutions themselves have become extensions of toxic femininity: the need to coddle and over-protect, the limiting of free speech, the drowning out of unpopular opinion, the calling out of micro-aggressions, the tearing-down of reputations, etc. While many men are guilty of this, these are affiliated with unchecked destructive female urges.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
10 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

This is very extreme – like going back 100 years and saying that women shouldn’t have the vote. Involvement by men has led to many wars and the massacre of millions of innocent people. Now women are trying to take over to be better. Good luck to them.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
10 months ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

You misunderstand me. I’m not saying men are better. Society needs both good men and women: those who model strong gender roles for children and students. This is clearly not happening here. I would go so far as to day that much of Woke ideology is about deconstructing these gender roles in order to soften the parental protections of children.
Left unchecked, male and female excesses can wreak terrible damage.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
10 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Thanks for this clarification. When I first read your post it rankled with me , perhaps what you wanted to say wasn’t clear enough and the wording does make it a little insulting. However, your reply to Mr Wheatley makes it much clearer and actually is very similar to my views about the interactions between men and women, I have always thought that they are complementary; men have many wonderful attributes, as do women, and together we can make the best of civilisations,we need both to balance the outlook, I don’t want men to be feminised and I don’t want women to be masculinised (is this a word?) this is not to say that some men are not more feminine and some women more masculine – not a problem. What we don’t need is “toxic” masculinity or femininity (love this phase, by the way), children need to be exposed to the best of both these worlds, and then they will have more chance of growing up healthy adults appreciating what each sex have to offer.

Sorry about rabbiting on, but this is a subject very dear to me and one of the reasons I had fallings out with feminists, who often wanted to turn women into erstz men; denigrating traditional female activities, such as knitting, whilst elevating traditional male activities as something all women should do. I’m not saying that women shouldn’t be mechanics and men knitwear producers, it’s up to each individual; after all I went into physics, not a tradirional womens activity then (or even now), but I also love embroidery.

Nothing of what I say implies that there should not be equal rights for all or that women may need
safe spaces on occasion, there may even be things men need that women don’t, only they know this.

Sorry again that this has gone way off topic.

michael stanwick
michael stanwick
10 months ago

…the wording does make it a little insulting. 
Can you clarify what wording makes it a little insulting?

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
10 months ago

Yes I’m baffled too. Chris Wheatley and Linda Hutchinson appear to be hugely misinterpreting a fair comment, deliberately so to be provocative?

Caroline Watson
Caroline Watson
10 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

No one should ‘model strong gender roles’. People are individuals and are all different. The difference between males and females is sex, not ‘gender’, is entirely physical, and is related only to reproduction. ‘Gender roles’ are why we are in this mess. If there are no stereotyped behavioural expectations, there will be no people who don’t fit them and no one who bullies them for it.

Claire D
Claire D
10 months ago

I agree that sex is entirely physical (this includes the mind and emotions) but it is not “only” related to reproduction. Far from it.
For example, https://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3030621/

Last edited 10 months ago by Claire D
michael stanwick
michael stanwick
10 months ago
Reply to  Claire D

Perhaps personality differences as well?

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
10 months ago

If parents and teachers don’t model wholesome gender roles, the gates will be left open for less wholesome influences to take root (transgenderism for instance).

Alan Hawkes
Alan Hawkes
10 months ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

What do you mean by “involvement “?

Eliza Mann
Eliza Mann
10 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

While I can see that coddling could be considered a feminine action, I do not agree that women are more likely to report microaggressions or shut down free speech

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
10 months ago
Reply to  David Slade

I too have a problem communicating in a meaningful way with younger people. But sometimes it is their fault and sometimes it is mine.
I believe that anything which is any way connected with The Guardian must be bad. When I hear the words The Guardian, I feel my blood pressure rising. It is better to separate it out and just look at the words of the Headmistress of Benenden. She is trying to attract pupils so that the business makes money. By definition on UnHerd (free enterprise) if she gets a shed full of pupils she is right and is doing a good job.

Michael Chambers
Michael Chambers
10 months ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

The Guardian features articles from a wide range of people, not just those who support its policy positions. It also has a lot of neutral news on science, the environment and foreign affairs.

Alan Hawkes
Alan Hawkes
10 months ago

“neutral news on science..” Is there a partisan stance on gravity?

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
10 months ago
Reply to  Alan Hawkes

Yep. Google ‘Sokal hoax’.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
10 months ago

I read it every day, along with the Times, WaPo, Telegraph, Speccie, Economist, Mail and others like Unherd. In my view the Guardian does have a wide range of people, but from the left almost exclusively, and it filters all its articles through a woke filter.
It got rid of a well known female journalist for supporting women’s equality. So how can you say it’s neutral on science? That says it all really.

Last edited 10 months ago by Ian Stewart
Michael Chambers
Michael Chambers
10 months ago
Reply to  David Slade

I’m in the same boat as you and agree with you. The issue is when people of our generation and older ridicule the young as woke etc. We need to be better than that

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
10 months ago

In The Coddling of the American Mind, Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff make strong connections between this snowflake attitude and totalitarian mindsets. By not teaching children to be resilient we teach them that emotional discomfort is oppressive, so when experiencing any barrier to their desires these children lash out. We are now seeing the results of this p(r)edagogy in the form of broken statues, looting mobs, racial division, and psychosexual confusion. Publications like The Guardian are predatory in that they are keen to create and profit from a society of misinformed adults who, unable to develop a healthy morality system of their own, turn to ‘authority figures’ to tell them what to do.

Charles Lewis
Charles Lewis
10 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Wow! you ought to write more, Julian. Excellent piece.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
10 months ago

Parents: don’t send your daughters to Benenden.

Andrea X
Andrea X
10 months ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Quite…

Derek Smith
Derek Smith
10 months ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

This is a good observation. Wokeness is an obsession of the elite, and if people want to join the elite, or give their children a chance to join it, they will go woke to do it.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
10 months ago

No one objects to the young being kind. What they object to is bullying. Unfortunately, headteachers have always turned a blind eye to bullying and pretended they have strict policies against it while determinedly denying that any of their pupils could be involved in it. Woke isn’t kindness but organised bullying against all who fail to express the right opinions.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
10 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

“Do-as-you-would-be-done-by”, if you are kind then kindness often (not always) comes your way. You could argue that they are kids and know no better, that’s what schools are for afterall, to teach them to know better, also they are not very young kids, they appear to be teenagers, so should already know better. However, the main point is that they are being unkind themselves, and if they want to be taken seriously then they need to be told this, kindly but firmly, and if that upsets them then so be it, criticism often does upset even when given kindly and we all have to learn resilience.

michael stanwick
michael stanwick
10 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

“This so-called ‘woke’ generation are actually simply young people who care about things: about causes, about the planet, about people. It ultimately comes down to something very simple: being kind. […]” 
IMO, this reads as if Price is expressing her relationship to the ‘woke’ generation in terms of maternal protection of them as young children, not as young adults.
The language describes them in terms of subjective feelings – care and being kind about things. But these ‘things’ require a comprehensive understanding born out of sound observation and reasoning, not out of subjective emotional states.

Last edited 10 months ago by michael stanwick
James Joyce
James Joyce
10 months ago

Has anyone else noticed the irony here? The photo shows a young person with a sign that uses perhaps crude language as a form of protest. Fair play. I think it’s fine to use this language–many don’t–but that’s free speech, which used to be something of a sacred concept. I frequently use LET’S GO BRANDON in my daily life, but hey, I’m a Yank, which will explain what follows:
Gentle Reader: let’s be unkind, VERY unkind to Samantha Price. Cue the downvotes, the rubbishers, the trolls. SP, by her speech and her telling me what to do, has indicated to me that she wishes to take away my linguistic choices, and in so doing, harms the very snowflakes she so desperately seeks to protect. Can’t they defend their ideas? She can Let’s Go Brandon! (I am trying to think of a more fitting slogan, but Let’s Go Samantha Price doesn’t quite flow. Suggestions welcome.).
It is simply disgusting that this vile, illiberal, stupid, disgusting adherent of the woke sect is in a position of real power, and using her bully pulpit to, well, bully me. But bullies only respond to force, so she can Let’s Go Brandon! I will not be bullied, and I will call out the woke who wish to take away my rights and hector me in very clear language, as depicted in the photo. But hey, it’s your country, your school system, and the UK has surrendered its capital city to woke multiculturalists without firing a shot.
I’m going down fighting. Lock and load. (This is an expression, not a call to violence.)

George Glashan
George Glashan
10 months ago
Reply to  James Joyce

“don’t be nice to Samantha Price!”

Alan Osband
Alan Osband
10 months ago
Reply to  George Glashan

Indeed ! Send her to Boris’s dad . He’ll know what to do

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
10 months ago
Reply to  James Joyce

I agree. We need to start treating the wokescum as the grubby little fascists and racists they are.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
10 months ago
Reply to  James Joyce

Lock and load.
What can that possibly mean accept a call to violence? Seriously, don’t these word imply a call to prepare for the use of violent action

Claire D
Claire D
10 months ago

I’ve upticked you but it’s been swamped by the down ticks.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
10 months ago
Reply to  Claire D

Thank-you. I don’t know why I’ve got thesedown tcks, but I do hope it doesn’t mean that these people support calls to violence.

michael stanwick
michael stanwick
10 months ago

I think he means be prepared for a battle of ideas.

Adrian Maxwell
Adrian Maxwell
10 months ago

Only if you take the words literally and still buy into Kubrick’s world view in Full Metal Jacket (1987). Otherwise it is an American term, now here, meaning to get ready. But of course, words can mean what you choose them to mean, neither more nor less.

James Joyce
James Joyce
10 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Maxwell

Excellent summary. Well said.

michael stanwick
michael stanwick
10 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Maxwell

Yes, impact over intent?

James Joyce
James Joyce
10 months ago

Fair play. Are you next going to tell me that “violence never solves anything?” With respect, I think that’s wrong. I’d venture to say that violence solved ALL wars ever (maybe not guerrilla wars).
Are you suggesting that some things are not worth fighting for? Like London?

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
10 months ago

Yes. It is an archaic term still in use by the US Armed Forces (certainly up to the 80s) which, in military harness, would cause me to operate the bolt or cocking lever on my rifle/SMG. Nowadays it is also used as a “Call to Action”, often by people (Mainly young men) who have never faced the prospect of killing another human being (usually another young man) whose only crime has to have been borne on the other side of a fence. You have my uptick and am surprised you should have so many ‘downtics. Sorry I’m a bit “Late-on-Parade”

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
10 months ago

So the usual way I address young people: “You stupid, craven, ignorant, sheep….” is Problematic? I thought I was just being strait forward.

And in the lead photo – the Anarchist Flag in the background – it is not such a summer of love kind of symbol, the Black flag over Red is Antifa, that Fascist, Racist, hate group – so it is all not so innocent….the A O is anarchist, which is hand in hand with antifa, and also a political movement of Nihilism and anger. (and is also aligned with satanist symbols)

Most of these young are snowflakes, and so naive and ignorant of the real world., and it would be good for them to get some exposure to what they really are supporting, so they may see its dark side. Maybe this Headmistress needs to give classes on the Actual Meaning behind the protests and riots and anti-social nature of youth protests.

Keith Merrick
Keith Merrick
10 months ago

Peter Franklin has become one of my favourite writers on this site. He’s so insightful. His opinions mirror mine almost exactly!

Michael Chambers
Michael Chambers
10 months ago

I agree with the head teacher. The spectacle of older people ridiculing the views of young people as woke, snowflake is shameful and a betrayal of their responsibility to encourage young people to take part in public life. I cringe when I see older Brits slate Greta Thunberg, for example. The moment we/they descend to that level, we have lost the ability to interact with those young people and find a way for them to be open to our perspectives. It’s hard enough anyway.

James Joyce
James Joyce
10 months ago

You’re kidding, right? I am foursquare against Greta, that annoying little twerp. Yet if she mentioned global overpopulation as being the main problem in global warning and many, many other maladies, I’d be marching with her.
Shameful betrayal? Adult activities are held to adult standards. If the snowflakes can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.