Germaine Greer Had No Right to Speak at Cardiff University

Next year we hope to disinvite more people than ever before. We've already invited a number of controversial speakers for 2016 so that we can ask them not to turn up.

A statement by Mary Glasshouse of the Cardiff University Students' Union.

TRIGGER WARNING: This statement contains words and ideas.

As many will be aware, Germaine Greer - that white, cis-gendered, heterosexual, able-bodied, Antipodean pseudo-feminist - recently had the temerity to accept an invitation to speak at Cardiff University. Following our petition she has agreed to withdraw. In the light of subsequent press coverage, much of it critical, we feel it prudent to clarify our position.

We at the Students' Union are committed to the principle of freedom of speech. Nobody was suggesting a "ban" on Greer, merely a prohibition against her speaking out loud within earshot of students. She is perfectly free to spout her hateful bile about LGBTQIA™ people, but should do so at a safe distance from the university. It can't be anywhere within Wales, however, because some of our students have bus passes.

For those who accuse the Students' Union of ignorance, I should like to point out that we have diligently read Greer's past remarks on transgenderism. This research has revealed that she does indeed hold opinions that are different to ours. This is clearly unacceptable.

But Greer's transphobia is not the only issue here. The subject of her intended talk - "Women and Power: the Lessons of the 20th Century" - is equally problematic. By threatening to expose our students to the notion of female empowerment, Greer risks undermining all our hard work in the Union to create a safe space for women, one in which their views need never be challenged. Greer's assumption that women are free-thinking individuals, with the capacity to defend their ideas through discussion and debate, is misogyny at its most virulent.

Our detractors have pointed out that technically our students are adults, and should be allowed to make their own decisions about the books they read, or the lectures they attend. But age, like gender, is a social construct. Who is to say that an "adult" exists at all? It is an arbitrary designation, a product of outmoded bourgeois Western values.

It is perfectly clear to me that our students' freedom of speech depends on their right to silence the speech of others. After all, when too many people are speaking at the same time its very difficult to hear anything at all. It's just not sensible.

Other institutions have also had the courage to stand up for the rights of vulnerable students. Last November a debate on abortion was cancelled at Christ Church College, Oxford, because of protests from students who felt "threatened" by the event. As protester Niamh McIntyre so eloquently put it: "The idea that in a free society absolutely everything should be open to debate has a detrimental effect on marginalised groups". In this case, she was referring to women, one of the most marginalised groups of all. In fact, I don't think I've even seen a woman since February.

Cardiff University Students' Union has a proud tradition of disinviting speakers. Last year we successfully banned the comedian Dapper Laughs from performing on campus. How could we stand by and permit a man to tell sexist and homophobic jokes to his impressionable working-class audiences? One might as well feed a Gremlin after midnight.

Next year we hope to disinvite more people than ever before. We've already invited a number of controversial speakers for 2016 so that we can ask them not to turn up.

Students, women and nonwomen alike, should not be forced into a position where they have to think for themselves. A university is no place for the expression of different ideas or modes of thought that deviate from the consensus. Let us not forget that words are like pineapples. They have the capacity to nourish, but can likewise cause serious harm if carelessly thrown about.


What's Hot