Should men be allowed to discuss abortion?

@JimACEverett

 www.jimaceverett.com

Feminists are kicking up quite a storm in Oxford at the moment. Oxford Students for Life have organized a debate on abortion to happen tomorrow (the 18th November, 2014), which has inspired some rather troubling attacks. Now, Oxford feminists (‘WomCam’) are generally rather intolerant of any pro-life rhetoric (or, indeed, anyone that disagrees with them), but what has really got their goat this time is that the debate is between two men.

“It is absurd to think we should be listening to two cisgender men debate about what people with uteruses should be doing with their bodies. By only giving a platform to these men, OSFL [Oxford Students for Life] are participating in a culture where reproductive rights are limited and policed by people who will never experience needing an abortion.”

As the Student newspaper reports,

WomCam have also criticised the debate as “shaming,” “stigmatizing abortion,” and “contributing to a culture of misogyny and body policing.” They have also called for an apology from OSFL and have asked them to cancel the event.

Oxford feminists have actually now set up a protest group to disrupt the debate, and are actively campaigning for the event to be banned. Indeed, whether the event will go ahead is now uncertain due to security concerns raised by the feminists declared intention to disrupt and end the debate.

Note that the OSFL group has already hosted two all-women panel debates on abortion this year, so the criticism isn’t that they only have men speak in their debates generally, but that this particular time men are speaking.

Now, I disagree with Oxford Feminists on almost everything (in particular, the dominant view held by the society that actually I cannot be a feminist because I am a man), but this struck me as almost ludicrously bad. To repeat, the argument is that men should not be able to discuss abortion because they are men. Further, it isn’t just that men shouldn’t be allowed, but that the men who do actively hate women and want to oppress them.

Have we really reached a place where only women are allowed to discuss abortion? Is this the real world, or has Oxford turned into some dystopian Orwellian thought-police scenario run by feminists? Are there any good reasons to think that only women should be allowed to discuss abortion?

First, I fundamentally disagree that abortion is an issue that only affects women. At a most basic level, this is incorrect – abortion includes the abortion of both male and female babies. But more than that, it is clear that abortion does affect men. How could we possibly think that a woman aborting her male partner’s baby against his wishes would have no effect on him? Or that, conversely, a man who does not want a child and wants the woman to have an abortion, but she refuses and he has to pay 18 years child-support? Clearly, abortion affects men and women. Sure, women are the ones that actually do the aborting, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect men.

But even taking the (flawed) idea that only women are affected by abortion, the claim that therefore only women can discuss it evidently fails as a principle. We don’t think that only homosexuals can discuss gay rights, or that only black people can discuss affirmative action, or that only disabled people can discuss equal rights in the workplace. If we want to say that people can only discuss things that are personally relevant to them, we pretty soon end up on a situation where no-one could ever discuss anything (“Sorry, you can’t talk about disability support because you don’t have a disability”; “Oh, you do? Well it’s not a mental health disability, so you still can’t”; “Oh, you do? Well, it’s actually not bipolar disorder, so you still can’t discuss it as you would just oppress me”; Oh, you do? Well, you still can’t because actually I’m also homosexual and have bipolar, and so you can’t understand the interplay” – and so on, ad infintum).

And what are the implications of this for practical ethics? Should all the men in the department stop conducting work on topics like abortion? Should anyone without addiction problems stop conducting work on addiction and moral responsibility? Should anyone who doesn’t live in the developing world stop doing work on charity and aid? Should anyone who isn’t a non-human animal stop doing work on animal rights?

It worries me that the Oxford Feminists are probably now the most illiberal – not to mention anti-men- group on campus.

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36 Responses to Should men be allowed to discuss abortion?

  • Roland Nadler says:

    Jim,

    It’s quite clear you harbor a great deal of personal animus against feminists. You’re free to do so, of course, but it is clouding your ability to philosophize well — in particular, to accurately characterize the arguments on the other side of an issue. This post is a good example of the drop in philosophical quality that comes from an uncharitable refusal to engage seriously with viewpoints you don’t share. It reflects poorly on your abilities (which I know, from your recent utilitarian moral judgment paper, are considerable).

    Contrary to the picture you have painted here, there is no general consensus in feminist circles that men shouldn’t ever speak about or have opinions about abortion. Nor is there a general consensus on the “only persons with experience can discuss a topic” principle you are attributing to feminists and other left-aligned movements. This is a caricature of a view that *is* commonly held in these circles: that people who do not have personal experience with particular varieties of oppression owe a certain level of moral deference to the perspectives of those who have. The concept of moral deference is particularly well articulated by Laurence Thomas here: http://www.laurencethomas.com/Deference.pdf

    An additional problem with your framing is that you have erroneously and unfairly implied that your opponents on this issue are unanimous on all relevant particulars. This simply isn’t true. I encourage you and those reading along to actually click through on the link to the Facebook event and read the comment threads therein. You will find plenty of vigorous and honest internal dissensus about the proper response to this OSFL event. You will also find much more nuanced articulations of why feminists are taking issue with the event (see, for example, Verity Bell’s comments on yesterday’s post by Kate Liz). But I reiterate — you have grossly mischaracterized the views of an entire movement by pointing to the writing of the one individual who set up the event, where evidence of diverse viewpoints was terribly easy to dig up. Even if this were an honest error and not a result of your admitted bias, it would warrant some self-correction and apology.

    A more charitable read of this topic might have noted that feminists around Oxford are taking issue with the OSFL event because they view it as a sham debate being put on in bad faith. In particular, much of the objection centers on the motion’s implied premises: “This House believes that Britain’s Abortion Culture hurts us all” does have a whiff of “does your family *know* you kick puppies?” about it, does it not? In that context, do you really think the optics of two cis men headlining the debate should be considered totally irrelevant? Considering the history of abortion regulation — a history dominated by the policy preferences of men in government imposing their policy views on politically marginalized women — is it so unreasonable to say that the discourse on the topic has been shaped for centuries by male assumptions, and consequently that we will more readily make progress toward a more balanced view by centering and emphasizing the views of women? Especially given the fact that women possess the vast majority of the experiential expertise on the phenomena being regulated? This isn’t Orwell, it’s epistemological hygiene. It’s a way to foster overall progress in the discourse by refocusing the spotlight on historically ignored stakeholders.

    There was an interesting philosophical and ethical debate to be had here: what’s the right amount of moral deference to furnish in debates on issues that disproportionately impact marginalized and minority groups? (No, nobody actually believes that the right amount is “all men stop having opinions on abortion forever.”) What is the morally and politically optimal response to groups that allegedly don the mantle of serious intellectual exchange but in actuality seek only to propagandize under that cover? What are the moral limits of the principles of democratic, market-of-ideas liberalism given the observed tendency of systems founded on those principles to steamroll over the perspectives and interests of groups (non-white, non-male, et cetera) that have been historically excluded from power? Are illiberal-looking deviations from those principles justified in situations where (as feminists believe often happens) the marketplace of ideas is suffering from extensive market failure?

    I hope a debate on those questions will follow, but I think it will require you to put away the straw feminists you have trotted out in your fit of pique.

    • Hi Roland,

      Thank you for your detailed and thoughtful reply – it is very much appreciated.

      A few specific comments in reply:

      1) ‘Feminists’ vs. ‘Oxford Feminists’. Now, I agree with you that feminists actually hold a variety of different beliefs. However, I feel justified in describing the people concerned here as “Oxford Feminists”, simply because the statement was delivered by the official Oxford University Student Union’s feminist campaign. Similarly, the specific protest was set up by an Oxford feminist group. Of course it would be absurd to think that all members of these groups agree on every point – however, given that the statements have been issued by people representing Oxford feminism, I think it’s justified to refer to them as such. (Consider a case where David Cameron says that the conservative party will campaign to reduce taxes; taken to its logical extreme, of course it would be absurd to think that every single British conservative agrees on reducing taxes and the best way to do this. However, it’s still seen as justified in describing it as a general ‘conservative’ policy).

      2) I think a broader point that you raise in this comment is the idea that women should not be excluded from discussions on abortion. That is itself a straw men – as far as I can see, no-one on either side is arguing that only men should be able to discuss abortion. Women, clearly, should have a prominent role in discussing abortion. Indeed, note that two previous OSFL debates held this year have had all-women panel debates. The complaint that has been raised is that in this particular debate consisting of two people, both are men. OSFL are clearly not excluding women from this debate generally, but rather in this specific debate have two men.

      3) I agree that a more charitable reading might have discussed how Oxford feminists thought this a sham debate. However, that is tangential to the point I’m making here. If the debate is a sham anyway, then it makes no difference whether the debaters are both men. If it is indeed a sham, then it would be a sham and would be wrong even if the debaters were women. Rather, the complaint here seems to veer between “This debate has two men, and therefore is misogynistic, and therefore is a sham”, and “This debate is a sham, and because the debaters are men, it is therefore misogynistic”.

      4) I think it’s important to distinguish thinking it is morally wrong to have men discuss abortion, and the idea that men debating abortion is so morally wrong that it cannot be allowed to happen. My issue here isn’t that people think it is morally wrong to just have men debate, but that these people have actively campaigned to have the event shut down because it is so hateful.

    • Anthony Drinkwater says:

      Hello Roland,
      You write that one should not cloud philosophical debates, but then go on to do pretty much what you deplore.
      To cite a few examples :

      “It’s quite clear you harbor a great deal of personal animus against feminists”
      “… uncharitable refusal to engage seriously with viewpoints you don’t share”
      “you have erroneously and unfairly implied that your opponents on this issue are unanimous on all relevant particulars”
      “your admitted bias”
      “it will require you to put away the straw feminists you have trotted out in your fit of pique.”

      I am saddened that Jim’s previous post was withdrawn because of aggressive comments. I naïvely thought that an ethics blog and its readers would value free debate and encourage argument.

      • admin says:

        Thanks for your comment, Anthony. Just to clarify, the previous post was withdrawn by the author, and not by admin.

    • Dave Frame says:

      I find the idea of “moral deference” confused (and arbitrary). I think it confuses something about empathy with something about morality. The (repeated) source of justification for in Thomas’s essay lies in taking seriously the “feelings” and “experiences” of diminished social groups; but this does not establish the moral positions of those diminished groups as being more or less morally true (or defensible, or whatever). That seems to me to make a mistake by conflating claims about the incommensurability of understanding someone else’s experience with a claim about deferring to them, morally. I don’t find that convincing. I think it’s very reasonable that some social groups are expected to make an effort to understand the experiences of other social groups; but it does not follow that the judgments made by the latter automatically trump those made by the former.

      (And I think the essay has the whiff of the Motte and Bailey stuff, too – the Motte is the reasonable claim that some groups have had a very hard time and that outsiders cannot easily identify with that experience; the Bailey is the illiberal idea that we are not all equal, and that I’m justified in interpreting your suffering as mere general misfortune, while you are obliged to take mine far more seriously on the basis of my group’s experience, which you cannot understand.)

      • Thanks for your comment, Dave. In this specific issue of the protest, I agree that the Motte is the reasonable claim that some groups have had a very hard time and that outsiders cannot easily identify with that experience. To my mind, however, the Bailey here is that therefore members of those groups should not be allowed to discuss that topic. That, it seems, is the real crux of the issue and the one which I strongly disagree. We can accept that men might not have as much experiential knowledge of abortion without thinking that they should not be allowed to discuss abortion in formal settings.

        • Dave Frame says:

          Hi Jim – my post was just on the idea of moral deference, which is an appeal by some communities that we as a society should up-weight their views and down-weight the views of selected others.* On the issue of people being “allowed” to speak on issues – I have some friends in the finance sector who will love this move, since “it is absurd to think we should be listening to poor people debate about what rich people should be doing with their assets.” Special interest politics is just generically like this – as Schattschneider noted “range of organized, identifiable, known groups is amazingly narrow; there is nothing remotely universal about it.” He lived before the period of identity politics, but I think he would have seen a lot of the same dynamics on modern campuses that he saw in lobbying in public life. The good thing about special interest politics is that there are stabilising feedbacks – the more narrow and intense the politics, the fewer and fewer people are attracted.

          *The selection bit is important, since I need to choose the groups carefully so that my microphone is always on, and your is always off.

  • Wayne Yuen says:

    Obviously abortion affects men…. But it doesn’t affect them to the same degree as it does women. Women have to bare the child for 9 months, which will quite literally alter her health for the rest of her life. So I think to simply point out that it does affect men is missing the point of the objection.

    But more to the point, historically, men have held political power, and consequently determined the legality of women’s rights over their own reproductive rights. The strongest stakeholders have, for most of history, had virtually no voice in how their rights are determined. If the debate that they are disrupting is only including men, important observations, that might not be obvious to men, could unintentionally be left out of the debate. Speaking for women reinforces the cultural belief that women can’t speak for themselves in a rational intellectual manner.

    That said, I agree that its a ridiculous idea that men can’t meaningfully contribute to the abortion debate in the sense that basic arguments and ideologies couldn’t be digested, analyzed, examined, refuted by men.

    What does this mean for practical ethics? I think it means that we should keep in mind who the stakeholders are and really understand how they are affected by decisions, and give them an opportunity to speak for themselves, before we enact policy.

  • Iain says:

    Oh, look: another poorly-reasoned post complaining about Teh Evil Wimmin from Jim.

    Anyone want to join the sweepstake on how long it’ll be before this one is taken down as well?

    • John says:

      Right? Did I just read an article from an inflammatory right-wing ‘news’ blog, like the Daily Caller? I can’t even begin to express how absurd this article is. Roland did an excellent job above, but Jim’s response did not address most of Roland’s concerns, which leads me to believe it is not worth the effort. My only comment is this:

      “But more than that, it is clear that abortion does affect men. How could we possibly think that a woman aborting her male partner’s baby against his wishes would have no effect on him? Or that, conversely, a man who does not want a child and wants the woman to have an abortion, but she refuses and he has to pay 18 years child-support? Clearly, abortion affects men and women. Sure, women are the ones that actually do the aborting, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect men”.

      Sure. It’s true that abortion also affects men, but you’re ignoring how it *disproportionately* impacts women. Additionally, the example of child-support is flawed. In many places (in particular, the U.S.), access to abortion is insufficient. To suggest that it comes down to a women forcing a man to pay for a child he didn’t want is disingenuous.

  • admin says:

    Hi Iain,

    it would be more helpful to identify where you see flaws in reasoning, rather than engaging in ad-hominem comments.

    • Cassandra says:

      The thing is that this piece is so inherently and obviously flawed, and Jim’s response to Roland has shown how incapable he is of engaging with the views different from his own personal experience that pointing out points for improvement would be wasted energy.

      It’s also worth nothing that this and numerous other pieces written by Jim in the past essential amount to ad hominem critiques of feminists swathed in academic rhetoric.

      • Hi Cassandra,

        You write that it is “so inherently and obviously flawed” but don’t actually give any example on why it is so evidently wrong? Presumably, if it were so obviously wrong it would be easy for you to refute it in the same amount of time it would take to engage in ad hominem attacks?

        Would you also like to clarify your statement about my ‘numerous’ pieces in this blog attacking feminists? I have written one other post that related to feminism, but ended up taking it down because it simply inspired personal attacks (much like this post has, in fact). So, even if that post is taken as ad hominem, I think you can count a grand total of …. two posts?

        Further, I’d also like to highlight that nowhere in this post do I actually criticise specific individuals. Indeed, I’ve specifically refrained from naming any particular person, because I think that this is an issue with a general movement in feminism. Given that I don’t actually mention any specific individuals (but rather a movement), it’s quite difficult to see how I could even be simply engaging in ad hominem attacks anyway.

        I think you also misunderstand the notion of ‘engaging with views different from his own personal experience’. As you can see, I have clearly responded to Roland’s specific points and clarified why I wrote certain things and why. It is quite difficult to see how this counts as anything other than engaging in the argument – unless what you actually mean is that I am incapable of engaging because I don’t agree with you, because if I did engage than of course I would see how wrong I am.

      • Iain says:

        ^This^.

        And it’s not ad hominem, of course. I had a go at his post, not at him.

        The problem with unpicking the “argument” point by point is that it elevates it to the level of something that really merits that kind of attention. It really doesn’t. Soz.

    • Joe says:

      Admin: Iain’s comment is couched at precisely the same level as the original post. If there is a “stick to the arguments, please” rule, then the post should never have appeared in the first place. “Men should not be able to discuss abortion because they are men” is a ludicrously bad reading of the actual position taken by Jim’s opponents.

      Moreover, given his previous (shockingly poor) post, readers have every right to draw inferences about his motives and respond accordingly. We are not perfect reasoners who have time to investigate the nuances of every single possible reply and counter-reply; we must place some level of trust in an interlocutor if we are going to engage with him rationally. Jim shows every sign of writing under the influence of anger and resentment, and we have every right to refuse to engage in high-level reasoning with such a person.

      One such sign, by the way, is the fact that he appears to have used this blog to issue a seething indictment of what looks to be a group of 19-20 year-olds. I assume that his next target will be those dastardly teenagers who persist in their metaphysical idealism, and I do hope that he follows that up with a scathing attack on the Cartesian dualism in young infants.

      • Sarah says:

        To be fair, Jim Everett directly quotes WomCam: “It is absurd to think we should be listening to two cisgender men debate about what people with uteruses should be doing with their bodies.” If this quotation is accurate then it seems to me to be fairly well summed- up by “Men should not be able to discuss abortion because they are men”.

        A cursory google reveals that he is himself a student (assuming he’s not the retired american quarterback), and therefore likely of similar age to the members of the society. Who are anyway all adults- and most likely extremely intelligent ones.

        I have not seen the previous post which I understand was withdrawn, but I think it would have to be very extreme to warrant abusing a student without reference to the arguments in the standing post, as Iain did.

        • Joe says:

          Sarah, that is not at all a fair reading of the statement, which occurs within the context of an organized event on a university campus with two speakers who are being given a certain position of authority. Jim’s “paraphrase” involves denying all men at all times the right to discuss abortion. It’s not even close to fair. If you don’t allow your 4-year old to have desert after 8 PM, that doesn’t give me the right to publicly castigate you for denying all children the right to eat.

          • Sarah says:

            OK, I see the distinction you make, but I, and I suspect many others would be very much unimpressed at being denied a right (“absurd to think we should be listening to”) to speak at public, organised, university-hosted events because of my gender- whatever the topic.

            • Joe says:

              Fair enough, the issue is substantive and deserves reasoned debate. I just wanted to point out that reasoned debate begins with a charitable reconstruction of our opponents’ position. Once that requirement is clearly violated, subsequent calls for “reasoned debate” are silly, and people like Iain have every right to wade in and offer whatever ad hominems come to mind.

              • Sarah says:

                Well, maybe we can agree on this compromise position: your comments supporting Iain are a lot more helpful than the real deal was!

              • Dave Frame says:

                “I just wanted to point out that reasoned debate begins with a charitable reconstruction of our opponents’ position. Once that requirement is clearly violated, subsequent calls for “reasoned debate” are silly, and people like Iain have every right to wade in and offer whatever ad hominems come to mind.”

                This isn’t really true… reasoned debate doesn’t always require a charitable reconstruction of someone else’s position.* When big coal companies make arguments to the effect that carbon taxes in Australia will have regressive effects on the poor, critics are not obliged to refrain from pointing out the self-interest potentially lurking behind this apparent concern for the disadvantaged. And ad hominems like those Iain belched out are simply of no positive value – they exist only to bully others into submission.

                *When I was studying philosophy we had one lecturer who would always give your argument the best possible interpretation and argue against that; and another who would give your argument its worst possible interpretation and tear it to bits. Both were actually really constructive (and reasoned).

      • Hi Joe,

        Thank you for your comments. Sarah has responded to most of your points, but I wanted to respond myself.

        First, I am sorry that you think my interpreting of the situation is “ludicrously bad”. I completely accept that my interpretation might not be perfect – it is course, an interpretation – but I feel pretty confident in my reading given that I literally directly quote the official Oxford feminist group statement on it. That is, they literally say “It is absurd to think we should be listening to two cisgender men debate”. Of course this doesn’t reflect the position of every feminist in the world, or even Oxford, but I stand by the claim that it is therefore fair to address this statement in the blog post. To repeat, WomCam are the official Oxford student feminist group, and I am responding to the official statement they gave that is reported in the newspapers.

        Second, I’m sorry that you think I don’t deserve response to because I am just writing “under the influence of anger and resentment” with the implication that I am just a misogynist. I am struggling to see the anger and resentment in my responses over the last day – again, not agreeing with you doesn’t mean I’m blinded by irrationality. As a side note, I am actually active in gender equality movements in Oxford (e.g. helping run consent workshops; working on the equal opportunities committee as an undergraduate; facilitating equality-based talks, going on demonstrations when I agree with them, and so on).

        Third, as Sarah pointed out, these students are actually my contemporaries – and some of them actually close friends (whom I happen to fundamentally disagree with on this issue, as they do with me). I also think it’s quite patronising to suggest that because they are young, they are therefore incapable of intelligent thought and reason.
        These are Oxford undergraduates – I’m pretty sure they can defend themselves. Indeed, having just had coffee with one of my friends who was attending this protest, she found the idea that she is only a child and doesn’t know what she’s talking about just as offensive – if not more – as my argument that they are being illiberal, small-minded and misandrist by excluding men from debate. I may disagree with them and think they are seriously wrong on this issue, but I can at least respect them as intellectual equals.

        • Joe says:

          First: I did not say that you were a misogynist. One doesn’t need to be a misogynist to write under the influence.

          Second, Sarah and I came to a mutual agreement: that the context in which a sentence is spoken contributes to its content. In this, we are joined by, oh, I don’t know, every single living philosopher of language. Do I really have to point out to an *Oxford*-trained philosopher that “It is absurd to think we should be listening to two cisgender men debate” can mean a great many things depending on who utters it, where it is uttered, when it is uttered, etc? This is not up for “debate”, it is as well-confirmed as any fact about human language.

          So, not only did the group not even literally say “men should not be allowed to discuss abortion”, even if they HAD said that, it could still call for something other than a wholesale ban on males discussing abortion. It could mean that a school-sponsored debate on abortion should always have at least one woman, or something like that. Your post violates a basic rule of intelligent discourse, and because of this, Iain has every right to make fun of you.

          • It is clear – or at least, it should be – from my blog post that I am not talking about men casually chatting about abortion in the pub, but rather semi-formal or formal contexts that involves them having a “platform” – for example, in a debate, or in an academic publication, or in a newspaper column. I thought it was clear that this is what they are talking about, and what I am responding to.

            Of course (or at least I hope) feminists are not arguing that men shouldn’t be able to chat to their friends about abortion in private contexts. But still the claim that men cannot discuss it in any context which involves a ‘platform’ (which can be taken to include pretty much anything) strikes me as a fundamentally illiberal and flawed position. Again, this is like saying that only homosexuals can discuss gay rights, or that only people with mental health disabilities can discuss equality.

            Now, I imagine that you’re going to respond and say something like ‘Yes, but they’re not saying that men cannot discuss it, but just only when they are supervised by women”. To that, I have two responses. First that clearly seems illiberal and sexist – not to mention, impractical. Should all male philosophers be obligated to co-author papers with women? Should male speakers not discuss abortion in a talk unless it is part of a panel and a women is there? Saying men can only discuss things under the supervision of women is a weaker claim than the idea that men cannot discuss it at all – but it’s still far to illiberal for my liking (and I think most people). Second, I note again that this isn’t what they are arguing, where they specifically argue that people without uteruses should not be allowed to discuss abortion. I am taking their statements – their literal words – and responding to those claims.

            • As a side-note, Joe, for all of your personal attacks on me and your bemoaning my lack of intellectual ability, I’m still yet to see an actual argument from you as to why men shouldn’t be able to discuss abortion. Thus far, you’ve resorted to ad hominem attacks on the basis of a straw-man argument that I clearly am not arguing for, but not actually responded to my points.

              Let me clear, again. The Oxford feminists are not saying that men shouldn’t ever be able to mention or talk about abortion in any context, and so it would be absurd for me to be arguing against that non-existent position. Rather, they are arguing that men should not be allowed to discuss abortion in formal or semi-formal settings where they have some form of a platform, and that is the idea I take issue with.

              • Joe says:

                So, there is this thing called rhetoric. It often involves using inflammatory or misleading descriptions of an opponent’s position. Not only does the post’s headline contain none of the contextual information that you now decide to include in your position, the text is context-free as well. This is rhetoric. You score points by associating your opponent with positions they don’t hold. Responsible, rational dialogue does not stoop to rhetoric. That was my complaint.

                Now: are they really arguing that “men should not be allowed to discuss abortion in formal or semi-formal settings where they have some form of a platform?” The protest is against an all-male lineup, and the quote you provide from the protesters explicitly makes reference to “TWO cisgender-male” speakers. It seems, rather, that it is the lack of female participants that bothers them. This is much more consistent with the things that they say.

                Notice how, with this one simple correction, every point in your original post is revealed to be directed against an imaginary opponent. No-one is calling for a wholesale ban on male debaters. Even in the context of the university, no-one is saying that “only women are allowed to discuss abortion”. No-one is saying that “people can only discuss things that are personally relevant to them”. No-one is saying “men should not be able to discuss abortion because they are men.” I can’t find a single quote from any of the organizers that supports this extreme position, and none of the quotes you’ve given does, either. It looks very much like they’d have been much less opposed to the event if a female speaker had been included. So you’re complaining about… a view your opponents do not seem to hold.

                Anyway, my view is that their (actual) position is a little strong. I’ve seen respectful and progressive abortion debates held between two men. But there is probably room for reasonable disagreement here, because I see their side of the issue.

  • Callum says:

    Fellow Oxford student invited to the disruption, this is the comment I left on their facebook event:

    Obviously, the idea of an abortion culture is ridiculous, their event is ridiculous, and anyone who wants to argue that choice is contrary to human dignity is a f*****g idiot. But I also think it is counter-productive and juvenile to think it is appropriate and proportionate to try to silence these people by demanding their event doesn’t take place or by being disruptive.

    These kinds of b******t events are better off dying through the suffocation on no attention – i.e. don’t give them the oxygen of your presence, and just let whatever coven of bigots exists in this city to have their stupid debate. Alternatively, at least use your presence to protest in a constructive way by challenging them with the simple logic of pro-choice in a manner that isn’t designed to shut them down – using disruption only makes it look like we have uncertainties and falsehoods to hide.

    In some spaces, especially in universities where the line between personal space and public forum is not easily defined, there are some ideas and conversations that are intolerable, but one of the pettiest, most frustrating, and least productive activities of the modern left is its holier-than-thou weaponized indignity with which we say that no opinions are worth hearing unless they are the same opinions as ours. Who do you think you are benefiting? Whose minds are you going to change? The only result of disruption is to circle-j**k with people who already think like you and to make these bigots even *more* staunch in their f****d up beliefs.

    • admin says:

      Thanks, Callum for your comment. We have slightly edited your post to star out the swear-words. This is a University -hosted blog so we need to keep it clean.

    • Thanks Callum for commenting. I didn’t discuss this in the original blog post, but I perhaps should have clarified that I am actually myself largely pro-choice and do think that women need the right to safe and legal abortions. That said, I can understand (but don’t agree) with the arguments that are pro-life. My issue with this protest was that despite thinking abortion should be a legal right offered to women, I do not think that men debating abortion is so morally reprehensible that it needs to be protested and shut down. I think that it is a core aspect of a democratic society that people can engage in debate about morally tricky topics – indeed, this is in large point what most of this blog is about!

      As Voltaire (is rumoured?) said – “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

  • To update this, the debate was cancelled in the end due to security concerns raised by the protest.

    Readers may also be interested in this piece in the Independent where one of the organisers defends her decision, explicitly saying that the reason this needed protesting was because the debate was by men:

    [OSFL] thought it was appropriate to let men discuss if and when women should be able to make fundamental decisions about their own bodies. Neither will ever have to consider having an abortion. As you can imagine, those of us with uteruses were incredibly angry that they were able to speak for and over us.

    Again, the explicit argument here is that the event needed to be protested against because men shouldn’t be able to discuss (in formal settings) abortion. There really does not seem to be another other way of looking at it.

    http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/i-helped-shut-down-an-abortion-debate-between-two-men-because-my-uterus-isnt-up-for-their-discussion-9867200.html

  • Michelle says:

    As I women who have had abortion I am appalled that feminists should be so aggressive toward a debate. And as a scholar I am appalled by their uncritical adherence to dubious theories (i.e. gender theory — as manifest in the term “cisgender” used several times in the protestors’ official material). All this appears to me to be very counter-productive.

  • Nick says:

    Joe posted: ”Men should not be able to discuss abortion because they are men” is a ludicrously bad reading of the actual position taken by Jim’s opponents.”

    WomCam posted: ”It is absurd to think we should be listening to two cisgender men debate about what people with uteruses should be doing with their bodies. By only giving a platform to these men, OSFL [Oxford Students for Life] are participating in a culture where reproductive rights are limited and policed by people who will never experience needing an abortion.”

    Niamh McIntyre posted: ”[OSFL] thought it was appropriate to let men discuss if and when women should be able to make fundamental decisions about their own bodies. Neither will ever have to consider having an abortion. As you can imagine, those of us with uteruses were incredibly angry that they were able to speak for and over us.”

    Joe. Stop lying.

    • Joe says:

      Yes, that’s right, Nick. Niamh MacIntyre is going to barge into coffee shops, private residences and online chat rooms and shut down conversations about abortions had by men. That’s totally her position. Well done.

      • Nick says:

        Joe. This is not the position Jim attributes to WomCam. Nobody here has attributed this position to WomCam. Stop lying.

        • Joe says:

          Breathtaking. If “Men should not be able to discuss abortion because they are men”, then why are the men in the coffee-shops allowed to discuss abortion? Do I actually have to spell out a logical entailment for you? Stop inhabiting philosophy blogs if you can’t draw logical entailment.

          • Nick says:

            It’s cute that you realise that one can infer ‘Men should not be allowed to discuss abortion in coffee shops’ from ‘Men should be prohibited from discussing abortion because they are men’. It’s disappointing that you’ve yet to notice that no one here has attributed this position to WomCam. At first I thought you were dishonest but it now seems that you’re just not very bright. Let me spell this out for you.

            Your original claim was ”Men should not be able to discuss abortion because they are men” is a ludicrously bad reading of the actual position taken by Jim’s opponents”. The stupidity of this statement should be clear to anyone who is not dense. This is not the position that is being attributed to WomCam here.

            What is being claimed is that WomCam think that men shouldn’t be given a platform to discuss abortion in formal or semi-formal setting. At least one reason for this is that men are *not qualified* to debate this matter because they are men. I’m going to assume now (perhaps unfairly) that you understand the difference between this claim and the ‘Men should not debate abortion anywhere forever’ canard you keep trotting out. Now I think Jim has accurately represented WomCam’s view and his original statement paraphrased this position. If you found his paraphrasing unreasonable because it implies WomCam hold an absurd position it is only because WomCam’s own statements (and behaviour) imply that they hold this extreme position.

            ‘’Now: are they really arguing that “men should not be allowed to discuss abortion in formal or semi-formal settings where they have some form of a platform?” The protest is against an all-male lineup, and the quote you provide from the protesters explicitly makes reference to “TWO cisgender-male” speakers. It seems, rather, that it is the lack of female participants that bothers them. This is much more consistent with the things that they say…. It looks very much like they’d have been much less opposed to the event if a female speaker had been included. ’’

            This is nonsense and you know it. We know that members of WomCam have previously attempted to effectively eliminate the presence of pro life groups on campus. And in her article Niamh writes ‘The idea that in a free society absolutely everything should be open to debate has a detrimental effect on marginalised groups’. This suggests that it is the very idea of a debate on abortion is what bothers them and not just the gender of the people debating. If the speakers were both women it is extremely likely that they would still oppose it.

            ‘’So you’re complaining about… a view your opponents do not seem to hold.’’

            Yes. What a great point. After a series of intellectual gymnastics you’ve reached an interpretation of WomCam’s position makes so everything better. If two men debate abortion in public we must stop them. It’s terribly awful if two men debate abortion in public. But it’s OK if one man and a woman debate abortion!. There’s nothing problematic about this at all!

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