Don’t call Oxford University students ‘squeaking millennials’ for wanting to ban Jenni Murray from their festival

The truth about those 'squeaking millennials' is that they have actually looked at freedom of speech with a more critical eye than the generations before them

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The Independent Online

It recently hit the headlines that Oxford University’s LGBTQ+ society is protesting against Oxford Literary Festival’s decision to host Murray as a guest speaker.

The LGBTQ Society claimed that a Times article written by Murray a few weeks ago, entitled “Be trans, be proud – but don’t call yourself a ‘real woman’”, where she wrote: “Can someone who has lived as a man, with all the privilege that entails, really lay claim to womanhood? It takes more than a sex change and make-up” was transphobic. In a statement, they said that “to give Murray a speaking position at a large and prestigious event like the Oxford Literary Festival, which involves paying her an author fee of £150, is to both endorse and reward her transphobic views. Transmisogyny will be propagated, validated and above all normalised.”

As most non-platforming protests tend to do, this objection to Murray being hosted at the festival has caused widespread outrage amongst those who consider themselves to be free speech defenders. The Sunday Times ran an article headlined “Oxford students try to gag Jenni Murray as ‘transphobic'”.

This was followed by a piece by Christopher Hart, who wrote in the Daily Mail today: “Who will stand up against this creeping insanity infecting our great universities”’ Hart lamented that “our cultural institutions … have been captured by intolerant Leftist activists” (now that’s a Disney film I’d like to see), subsequently directing his rage beyond this specific instance and onto an entire generation: “Campuses today [are] overgrown kindergartens, full of squeaking millennials so painfully conscious of their rights and feelings it seems doubtful they can be conscious of much else.”

Rather than reading this article and sharing Hart’s despair, I simply put on The Who and jumped around to ‘My Generation’. Because the truth about those “squeaking millennials” is that they have actually looked at freedom of speech with a more critical eye. They’ve thought about the complicated dynamics of “freedom” and questioned whether the right of someone to say whatever they like is more important than openly and unashamedly quashing other people’s rights to simply exist as themselves.

When I read Murray’s article I was shocked at the sentiment, even as a sheltered cisgender woman who has never had my relationship with my gender questioned. There is undoubtedly a problem with believing the language of cisgender women’s bodies and experiences to be exclusionary, and I agreed with Murray that it’s important she be able to refer to her breasts as breasts. But that was the only part of the piece I thought held much water.

Any cis woman who begins an article with the confident statement: “I am not transphobic or anti-trans” is coming at the issue without understanding. We don’t get to decide whether or not we’re transphobic: that’s a decision for transgender people to make.

Murray then went on to list a number of trans women who she had encountered who didn’t show sufficient interest in the female struggle, and the women who fought so hard to give contemporary women their rights. Instead, she said, they were overly concerned with make-up and clothes.

This was deeply problematic for a number of reasons – mainly because it is distinctly unfair to uphold the views of a couple of women Murray has met as representative of the views of the entire male-to-female trans community. Murray tried to paint a picture of trans woman as superficial, only concerned with shopping and looking attractive. That sounds like sexism to me.

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Does Murray seriously think that all cis women spend their time showing gratitude to their foremothers and thinking about the long-fought fight for equality? Am I going to only be referred to as a “woman” in inverted commas because I muddle up the Pankhursts and sometimes would rather chat about skirts than suffrage?

The answer is, of course, no, because I have earned my womanhood by birthright.

And that’s why I’m proud to be part of a generation that can identify such insidious rhetoric and try and isolate their institutions of learning from it. It’s not that millennials are the delicate, overgrown babies that the right-wing media tries to pretend they are; instead, they have simply tried to create an environment where people can exist without having their identity questioned and undermined.