When Massey University responded to activist pressure by cancelling the venue booking for Speak Up For Women’s Feminism 2020 event in Wellington, it proved to be a gift to the event’s organisers. It ignited public debate around freedom of speech in our universities, and the group was invited to hold the event in the rather more up-market surroundings of Parliament’s banquet hall.
A mixed crowd of around 120 people turned out to hear from four women at the centre of the current gender identity debate, including prominent Canadian feminist Meghan Murphy, who had addressed MPs at the Scottish parliament in May. Event organiser, Jenny Whyte, said that while she was “hugely grateful” for the parliamentary venue, it was a “sad reflection on Massey that it capitulated to the mob and de-platformed some vital feminist voices.”
The speakers covered a range of current feminist issues. Speak Up For Women spokesperson, Ani O’Brien, spoke of how modern feminism has betrayed women and girls by encouraging them to seek empowerment in pornography, violent sex acts, and prostitution. AUT academic, Melissa Derby (Ngati Ranginui) spoke of the corrosive effects of identity politics and cancel culture, and of her own experiences of being targeted by activists. Melbourne University’s Holly Lawford-Smith gave a thoughtful speech on current tensions within academic philosophy around sex and gender, arguing that true liberation requires the dismantling of gender roles, while recognising that sex exists: “it’s good to believe in the things that science tells us there is.” And ‘we can’t get to equality by pretending we’re already there’.
Murphy attracted the most controversy prior to the event, with many critics highlighting her Twitter ban for ‘misgendering’ a Canadian transwoman, Jessica Yaniv. While Murphy was uncompromising in her insistence she would not “lie” about biological sex, she said she supported transgender people living in a way that feels authentic to them, and she was not “anti-trans”: “I am anti an ideology that says women don’t exist and don’t matter.”
The Q and A session that followed was notable for discussion around ways in which to address the current impasse and improve dialogue.
In Auckland on Monday night, O’Brien hosted a conversation-style event with Murphy, attended by 60 people.
O’Brien stated: “These events demonstrate that feminism that centres women is alive and well. Speak Up For Women will continue to support peaceful and respectful discussion of issues that affect women and girls.”