The constant debate over freedom of speech on university campuses has become threadbare, so I shan’t bore anyone with a generalised think-piece. Instead, I’d like to talk about something the SRC did today that they have my unwavering and abundant respect for.
Yesterday, a new student paper appeared on campus called The Medusa Review (the irony of using Medusa as their paper’s namesake seems to have escaped the all-male senior management of the paper). Decrying what they believe to be the fall in standards of student journalism, The Medusa Review vows to “go against the grain of student politics – which is overwhelmingly feminist and left-wing.”
It all sounds very old, very classic white-male-devil’s-advocate, and very tedious; but The Medusa Review’s main selling-point is, hilariously and ironically, that its dedication to publishing questionable content as long as it’s written well is “new”.
Today, the SRC revoked their affiliation with the paper with immediate effect. This was after seeing that, in its first edition, The Medusa Review published a short story that included extreme gender-based violence written from the perspective of a woman sexually assaulting and brutally murdering another woman. I’m not going to quote the story, because it is my freedom of speech and expression not to do exactly what the male devil’s advocate-type editors would love me to – cry outrage, and in doing so seemingly fuel their crusade against what they believe to be a feminist-leaning student press. God forbid the mainstream student press chooses to live in the twenty-first century and treat women, and indeed survivors of sexual violence, with the respect that has been so long denied to them.
Anyway, less about the content of their story and more about the vacancy and double standard of their freedom of speech defence.
The official response of The Medusa Review – posted on its social media accounts – exemplifies their astounding lack of self-awareness perfectly: in all their desperation to defend their flagrant misogyny and classism, they petulantly pontificate “freedom of speech” all while forgetting one crucial thing – the SRC, just like all other organisations worldwide, also hold the freedom to refuse affiliation and promotion.
The Medusa Review are, of course, free to write about the abuse and rape of women until they’re blue in the face. But at the very same time, the SRC are free to refuse to affiliate themselves with it. Their “freedom of speech” defence, unfortunately for The Medusa Review, works both ways. They can write whatever they want, but that doesn’t mean that any organisation, union or student on campus has to affiliate themselves with it or promote it.
If they want to publish articles that promote offensive ideas and read like something written by an A-Levels classics student at a private school, then that’s perfectly fine! They can print it all they want, and I couldn’t care less – I actually had a good laugh when reading it yesterday, albeit that laughter was at them rather than with them. The thing is, just as they are perfectly free to write whatever they like, I – alongside all other students – are also free to respond to it however we may choose.
In their email to The Medusa Review informing them of their de-affiliation, the SRC did exactly what a student writing in this section urged them to do only a handful of days ago – take a stance. In the email, they call the piece of writing “vile”, saying that it “undermines everything we stand for”, and that they are “appalled” and “disgusted” by it. In response, The Medusa Review have posted a lengthy retaliation on their Facebook page saying that this simply proves their point that our university is not a healthy place for freedom of expression.
Imagine, just imagine, making freedom of speech and expression the main basis of argument against the SRC’s decision, all the while forgetting that they have every right to use their own such freedoms to call their piece out for exactly what it was: vile, and against everything they stand for. This astounding lack of self-awareness isn’t particularly surprising coming from an all-male editorial team that seems to think there’s glory in being controversial just for the mere sake of controversy.
The reason we don’t publish content like this in the majority of student press isn’t because we’re afraid, and it certainly isn’t because standards have dropped – in fact, it’s quite the opposite. No, we are unafraid to take on misogyny in all its forms and refuse to let our standards drop to the level of gutter-journalism that is publishing something merely because no other publication will. The Glasgow Guardian is certainly no stranger to publishing offensive and harmful content – just look at some of the articles we’ve shared from our archive on LGBTQ+ issues. The difference between modern student media and The Medusa Review isn’t a disparity in standards, but rather a fundamental disagreement on what is acceptable to promote in 2018.
Freedom of speech works both ways, whether right-wingers and devil’s advocate-types like it or not. They are free to publish what they want, but no one has to affiliate themselves with it, no one has to stock it in their buildings, and no one has to like it.