A little earlier today I posted what I considered an honest, open and reflective piece on an what I thought was an interesting article by Julie Bindel in today’s Guardian. I always have to take a deep breath when mentioning Bindel on my blog or in tweets as she generally causes a vitriolic outburst from many of the people I respect and agree with. I do not however accept the silencing of her voice that flows from such scorn. It’s certainly true that I’ve had my own spat with Bindel in the past and I know this is someone who gives as good as she gets (as do I). Yet, I always come back to a simple statement of principle: If I agree with someone – regardless of who they are – I say so and the same is true if I disagree with someone. That this seems a controversial position for so many people in the feminist, queer, and equality movement(s) depresses me.
Yet, the forces of silence are on all sides. I was surprised to receive the following tweet from Bindel earlier.
I concluded that she must have been sent a summary of some sort and reacted to that rather than having read the piece. Although I can see it might not be ideal to read, it’s honest, accepts the general thrust of her argument, and accepts and confronts my own evident prejudice. I suggested she read what I actually wrote. Bindel replied:
What am I to conclude from this? Should I have hidden my own reaction – for it was there whether I gave voice to it or not – or should I have toned it down in some way, been less specific? The trouble is that when we fail to confront them, our prejudices fester. If Bindel truly wants this issues considered, reflected upon and responded to, we must be open about them and move forward in a spirit of open dialogue.
Bindel also noted her own contradiction about facial hair which I’ve blogged on back in 2010. I knew her own views. It was therefore all the more odd to see her get upset over my post.
Of course because Bindel receives so much vitriolic abuse, the default assumption is that people are having a go. It’s a reflex. You criticise me a little bit, you must be in the ‘bad’ camp. That I openly disagree with Bindel on a number of issues, for example sex work coupled with the fact I’m a man inevitably puts me on the fast train to the ‘bad’ box. This might be all good and well for a journalist but not for someone who regards herself as seeking to influence the discourse. As such, Bindel needs to still be open to debate, and to reconsider and challenge her own views, as I do mine.
This position places me under fire from all sides. There are many – many many many – who take the view that I shouldn’t give Bindel the time of day. In fact, I – and many of them – would probably agree with Bindel on some things and disagree on others. I just happen to think it’s good manners to be open and debate in a decent and honest way, calling out people when they say something wrong or offensive but always from a position of respect. When you do agree, work together, build alliances and make things happen. When you disagree, be open and clear about why. I freely admit that I don’t always follow these values myself, but they are what I strive for. Let’s not be players in the sexual conspiracy of silence.