Is freedom of speech really free?

This was a popular topic of debate in my journalism lectures at uni. In fact, some people got so wound up in their freedom of speech that the rest of us would spend the best part of these lectures sitting back and watching, as at least two people passionately argued their stance on free speech, or politics, or whatever. I don’t know if the best part was when someone would still be sulking after the lecture about not getting the last word, or when comments beginning “Your mum” were thrown around. Either way, quality entertainment.

What does freedom of speech really mean anyway? I like to think there’s more to it than simply being able to say what you like, but honestly, that is how most people seem to take it. I was musing on this the other day when I read a Facebook post that was nostalgically remembering the good old days when one could make a joke without having to worry about insulting women, racial minorities, LGBT people, etc. Really, it’s so tough being in a generation where everyone has a voice, not just heterosexual white men…

When people make statements online – for whatever cause – conflict in the comments section will inevitably ensue. And you can bet at least one person will defend their viewpoint by using the “free speech, free country” card. But people who try to be “PC” in their use of speech are stigmatised and mocked. Apparently casual racism, or sexism, or whatever, is fine, but trying to show respect and compassion towards other people makes you subject to ridicule.

And none of this answers my question.

The way I see it is this. Freedom in any form isn’t as simple as being able to do whatever you want, with no regards to the consequences. Think about growing up. You spend your childhood being heavily dependent on your parents, then your teen years testing their boundaries and your own limits. You take matters into your own hands, and when you fail, you get angry when your parents still make sure you get your comeuppance just when you thought you were entitled to more privileges.

But your parents don’t give you more freedom because they stop caring what you do. Rather, they do so because they are trying to trust you to make your own decisions without having to be told. At any stage in our lives, we will inevitably abuse our privileges, and the consequences will be no less real.

Make sense? We are free to voice our opinions, but that doesn’t make it any more ok to attack others. No-one is always fully right or fully wrong. Conflict may be unavoidable, but if you manage it by defending your side without tearing down someone else’s, you’re making a step in the right direction.

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FeMENism

Years ago, I came to the conclusion that looking for answers on the internet can’t be good for anyone’s mental health. I mean, you’ve seen my opinions on cat vs dog arguments three times now. And race and religion themed debates. Don’t even get me started on people who genuinely think that people with Asperger’s are sociopaths…

Then there’s feminism. I’ve “liked” several feminist Facebook pages, and in doing so, have learned two things. One: that female specific struggles aren’t as widely understood as they seem. Two: that it is impossible to write an article on the topic and not receive a “not all men” comment. Making it all about them by insisting it isn’t all about them.

Believe me, I agree. It’s not all men. In fact, I don’t think any of the main men in my life are remotely condescending to women. But posts like this aren’t trying to attack every member of the male race; rather, they are highlighting issues caused by some men that affect women. It’s not that women should receive better treatment than men – of course women who harm men should be punished. It’s just that these judgements shouldn’t be made based on a person’s gender.

As for “so it’s ok to hit women?” Unless someone is holding a weapon to your throat, trying to steal your money, or hurting your kids, hitting anyone isn’t exactly good manners.

The most obvious issues are of a sexual nature. If a woman is raped, there are always people – even other women – who blame her. And if subjected to any mistreatment short of rape, well, isn’t she lucky to be getting off so lightly? No. Men, don’t play the “nice guy” to increase your chances of pulling girls. Be a “nice guy” because you cannot be anything else.

Also, sexism does affect men. Thanks to it, it’s basically shameful for men to like pink, care about animals or show their emotions, limiting the potential of guys who are like that. Regardless of who started them, these views have been reinforced by men and women alike, and it is so often real “nice guys” who suffer for it.

Plus there’s pop culture. True, the more recent Disney girls have interests outside of romance, but for each one who falls in love, name one who doesn’t. One of my guilty pleasures is the Warriors book series* by Erin Hunter. One subplot features a female character choosing one male over another, to which the other responds by trying to murder her family. Yet if you look on Facebook or the Warriors forum, many people, including girls, blame her for “leading him on.” Come on ladies, is murder ever justifiable?

And to guys who have insisted that “not all men” are like that, I’m glad to hear you’re not. But don’t just say it, show it. If white people can be anti racist, straight people be LGBT rights activists and humans be animal rights activists, why can’t more men stand for feminism?

 

Me with my ladies. Well, my mother and sister (middle and right): 

 

 

*Basically Watership Down but with wild cats instead of rabbits. If you read it, you’d disagree with the 9-11 age range too.