Last week, conservative political activist Kaitlin Bennett visited Ohio University and was greeted with animosity. Though I disagree with her on a myriad of issues, I remember the old aphorism frequently misattributed to Voltaire, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
Yes, Bennett harbors transphobic views and could address her delivery style more tactfully. No, this doesn’t justify throwing hot drinks at her, swearing at her or threatening her. I write this as a college student, one who believes college campuses should be a bastion for free speech. What occurred this week at Ohio University didn’t happen at my school, but it could have. Feminists everywhere should know that to empower women, even those with dissenting opinions, saying, “I hope someone f***ing holds you down and rapes you,” as one woman said to her several months ago, is not the way to do so. It’s not methodology for respectful discourse, nor does it foster a campus hub for free speech where we can learn from the variety of opinions at play.
Back to the Ohio University visit: Kaitlin Bennett definitely espoused some horrible views which are harmful to trans people. The way to deal with this harmful speech, free as it is, is to criticize it, so I will.
“Well, unfortunately, a lot of college students don’t know this, but you were born with the gender that you were born with. That’s just how it is,” Bennet said when asked if trans people should be allowed to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with.
This is preposterous and illogical. Trans people make an effort to pass as the gender they identify as, so forcing a trans man who is on testosterone and had top surgery into the women’s restroom or a trans woman who is on estrogen into the men’s restroom makes no sense. Even with her harmful views about trans people, I still think throwing drinks and swearing at her is unjustified.
I don’t get Bennett’s whole shtick. Bennett, who rose to fame as “The Gun Girl,” first gained traction at Kent State University, walking around with a gun with police for backup. A recent graduate, her activism’s emphasis was to protest the campus’ rule which prohibits students from open-carrying. Now, I for one, am definitely someone for Second Amendment rights. However, asking police from the same district as those who historically murdered students makes no sense to me. The police force at Kent State University may be comprised of different people than in 1970, but it doesn’t erase history.
Her methodology is also abrasive.
“Do you guys think we should abolish the death penalty?” Bennet asked while dressed as her alter-ego, Jenna, at the Women’s March in January.
The woman she was interviewing responded, saying she “believe[s] in the death penalty, actually,” to which Bennett countered, “Is that why you’re pro-choice?”
Now, regardless of what your views are on either abortion or the death penalty, you can agree this framing is incredibly disrespectful. It doesn’t give the interviewee the benefit of the doubt and automatically assumes she gravitates towards policies which support murder. Of course, there are other reasons for being both pro-choice and pro-death penalty, most of which don’t support a consistent murder ethic. What Bennett is doing aims just to get a rise out of people, not to have a calm, level-headed discussion. If she wanted to have a level-headed discussion, she wouldn’t paint her political opponent as a murderer.
Even so, despite Bennett’s apparent lack of disrespect for people she disagrees with, the borderline violent behavior of students at Ohio University was uncalled for, and the police should have intervened. There is a difference between a heated debate and splashing someone with hot beverages while behaving in a manner that could be determined as a precursor to violence.
I disagree with Kaitlin Bennett on a myriad of issues, most notably immigration, gay marriage and trans rights. I think some of her opinions are toxic, homophobic, transphobic and xenophobic. Despite this, I would never wish sexual harassment upon her, throw hot drinks at her or incite violence. Her framing of questions is often problematic, but never dangerous. I would never call her a pristine, intellectual beacon of the right, nor a masterful rhetorician, like Ben Shapiro or Dr. Jordan Peterson; just someone seeking to gain an angry reaction from her opponents and paint them as being irrational. Nevertheless, she never directly incited violence, so I honor her ability to speak. Students at Ohio University needed to learn how to critically think about and dissemble opinions they don’t like. I only wish students at my school, the University of Connecticut would do the same. Free speech is not dangerous, but freedom to speak doesn’t mean freedom of being criticized so I hope my writing serves Bennett well, with all the criticism she deserves.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual writers in the opinion section do not reflect the views and opinions of The Daily Campus or other staff members. Only articles labeled “Editorial” are the official opinions of The Daily Campus.
Samara Karow is a contributor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.