Lena Dunham, women don’t want your safe space

Sandra Todorov

Topics Free Speech

Writer and actress Lena Dunham declared, during a recent panel discussion for More Magazine, that she would stay off Twitter until it was a ‘safe space’. She said the only way to protect women’s right to free speech is to clamp down on the misogynistic trolls.

The announcement displayed a startling lack of understanding of what free speech means. The defining characteristic of a ‘safe space’ is that people are forbidden from expressing certain thoughts and opinions within it. If you believe in free speech, even Dunham’s most vile and misogynist trolls must be allowed to have a voice.

But, without realising it, Dunham showed exactly how easily offended people like her should treat Twitter. If you don’t like people saying mean things to you online, if it hurts your feelings, there’s something very simple you can do: stay off it. Millions of people do this every day, without fanfare. Maybe they can’t deal with criticism. Maybe they can’t deal with the occasional idiot calling them fat or stupid. Maybe they simply do not enjoy the experience. These people could be accused of being a bit oversensitive, but compared to Dunham they are heroic freedom fighters – at least they don’t want to censor others.

Twitter is already a hostile place for free speech, where voicing certain opinions can get you twitch-hunted – or even cost you your job. Dunham’s call to regulate Twitter further is not about protecting free speech, it’s about increasing the power of the twitch-hunters. But, worse still, it patronises women. In order to learn to think for ourselves, and engage in robust debate, we must be exposed to a variety of ideas. We must understand conflicting viewpoints in order to hone our own arguments and grow intellectually. This is what Dunham’s young feminist followers need, not safe spaces.

Sandra Todorov is a writer based in Melbourne. Follow her on Twitter: @SandySandyDunes

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Topics Free Speech


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