Yesterday, two women debated two men on the issue of ‘cancel culture’. Myself and the activist and writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali were speaking in favour of the motion ‘Cancel Culture is Threatening Our Freedoms’ at an Intelligence Squared debate. Both myself and Ali have encountered numerous attempts by so-called progressives to silence and censor our views, be it on campaigns to end male violence, or espousing the critique that Islam is oppressive to women.
The musician and political activist Billy Bragg and Kehinde Andrews, professor of Black Studies, were both on the same page: cancel culture is merely influential people with offensive views being called to task by ‘marginalised groups’. According to Bragg and Andrews, people believed they were being ‘cancelled’ because they were ‘unaccustomed to being questioned’.
As a Left-wing lesbian and feminist, I have no interest in wealthy white men complaining about their rights to be racist and misogynistic being curtailed. Countless other women and I have endured bullying and harassment from trans activists and their allies because we dare to stand up for our hard-won rights. We are being silenced by men who find this threatening and unpalatable.
A large number of victims of cancel culture today are feminist progressives seeking to protect our sex-based rights. Take Helen Steel for example, the legendary environmental and anti-capitalism activist, who was co-defendant in the notorious McLibel case 30 years ago. More recently, Helen campaigned publicly over an undercover policing scandal after it was discovered that police officers had infiltrated social and environmental justice campaigns and had deceived activist women into relationships.
But her exemplary activism mattered little to the activists that hounded her from an Anarchist Bookfair in 2017 because she was against the proposed change to the Gender Recognition Act.
Then there is Lucy Massoud, a black lesbian and a former firefighter. After being interviewed on Radio 4 about the importance of keeping women-only toilets and changing facilities, the Fire Brigade was deluged by complaints from trans activists and their allies demanding her sacking.
Cancel culture does not, contrary to what both Bragg and Andrews were implying, just happen online. At a meeting close to the Grenfell Tower memorial in March, organised by the Labour Women’s Declaration (LWD), trans activists turned up in their droves to protest. LWD was set up in response to the comments from senior Labour Party politicians that branded women campaigning to maintain single-sex refuges, hospital wards and prisons as ‘anti-trans hate groups’. Outside the meeting, trans rights activists screamed ‘f*** TERFS’ and let off smoke bombs, near the site where 72 men, women and children had burned to death.
The myth that cancel culture only affects rich celebrities (who should suck it up anyway) or online (who cares if you wake up to 1,000 mentions containing death and rape threats?) was well and truly debunked in the debate, and Ali and I were the resounding winners. If men such as Bragg and Andrews truly care about oppressed, marginalised people having a voice, they could start by listening to women.