Rebecca Reid recounts debating Milo Yiannopoulos

By Sam Sholli

On 27/11/15 Daily Telegraph journalist Rebecca Reid debated Breitbart News associate editor Milo Yiannopoulos at the University of Bristol.

The debate was entitled “Have we reached an age of gender equality?” Below is the video of the full debate.

Those who closely follow the NoneOfTheAbove YouTube channel will be aware that a couple of hours before the debate I interviewed Milo Yiannopoulos. You can watch the entire interview below.

Before the debate I also reached out to Rebecca Reid and she agreed to do an interview with me after the debate had taken place. Here is the interview in full.

You recently debated Milo Yiannopoulos at the University of Bristol. The subject of the debate was “Have we reached an age of gender equality?” How do you think it went?

I think it went pretty well. I hadn’t been in a debate for about six years (literally since school) so I was out of practice, but generally I was pleased with myself and what I said. It wasn’t an easy environment – particularly given that Milo has dedicated fans who’ll travel to see him. That said, I got the impression that most of the audience were interested in hearing me speak as well, and they weren’t rude or anything.  I’ve had people tweeting me telling me that Milo “destroyed” me, and I’ve had people commenting that I did well and that I was impressive. Realistically, people who turned up to see Milo were never going to think that I was better than him, and people who identify as feminists probably weren’t going to be swayed by Milo. For me the biggest success is that it was a very civil discussion where we both listened to each other.

What did you think of the University of Bristol Feminist Society’s attempts to have Milo Yiannopoulos barred from speaking? And with hindsight, having debated him, do you think that was the correct approach to take?

The University has a policy that everyone in every society should feel comfortable and safe attending every event, and realistically I don’t think some trans people would feel that happy at an event featuring Milo. Plus, he really hates what the feminism society stands for, so it’s not surprising that they didn’t want him to come.

I hadn’t even given no platforming a second thought until the debate, so my opinion on it isn’t particularly solidly formed. I tweeted saying that I didn’t think Milo should be invited, and then I debated him, so go figure.

My stance on it at the moment is that if you invite someone who is a very passionate advocate of something controversial (a member of the BNP, a holocaust denier) it’s worth balancing their speech with another person who believes the opposite in order to give a spectrum of opinion. It just seems like a practical way to balance things out. Hence my joining for the debate (though in doing so I’m not fully sure how relevant our debate was to journalism).

What did you think of the moderator of the debate and his enforcement of the university’s safe space policy? Was he being too intrusive by stopping the debate to decry the use of words like “lesbian” and “kooky”?

I think he’s a student who was sat between two enormously opinionated people with big egos and even bigger agendas. Could anyone have done a better job? I doubt it. You have to remember that he wasn’t there to represent his own opinions, he was representing the safe space policy and even if you don’t like the safe space policy, it governs the university so if you want to debate there you have to abide by it.

He didn’t object to Milo’s use of the word lesbian, he objected to the suggestion that a woman who has sex with another woman is a lesbian. Whilst I’m not sure it was an important point, he’s right. Women who have sex with women can fall under a variety of sexual predilections.

What are your opinions on safe spaces at UK universities? More to the point, do you consider there to be a problem with free speech on campus, as the situation currently stands?

No, I don’t think there’s a problem with free speech on campuses if students don’t want to welcome a speaker in to their midst.

In the debate Milo Yiannopoulos read out a quote by you, which read:

If I knew that a male member of staff speculating about how I look naked, I would cause the sort of fuss that would make Charlotte Proudman look meek. If I heard a female colleague doing the same thing about Andrew in accounts? I’d probably laugh – and I might even join in.

Initially, in the debate you responded by saying the fact that you would think something like that is really problematic and that you should not have said it. What inspired you to reject that statement having written it in the first place?

The point of that statement was the put a spotlight on the fact that I (and lots of people) don’t behave towards men as they’d like to be treated by them. Which is a problem, and if we’re asking men to change their behaviours then we also have to be open to changing our own.

My only frustration about this (and if you watch the debate you can see that Alex who chaired the debate tells Milo he can’t quote, and I ask him to be allowed to) is that it’s been taken as a failing of mine. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being able to admit your own faults. I pride myself on being able to identify my behaviours that need altering. Being able to put your hands up and admit to imperfect behaviour enables you to change it, so I refuse to be made to feel stupid for openly admitting to having a fault.

Originally, Milo Yiannopoulos alone was set to give a talk at this event. At that point, before you were asked to debate him on gender equality, you made the following comment:

As a successful journalist and ex Bristol grad I’ll give any member of Journo Soc who boycotts this event a freelance boot camp and put them in touch with commissioning editors at Marie Claire, Vice, Glamour, Debrief, the Guardian & the Independent”

You have therefore been accused of placing limitations on the free exchange of ideas by offering inside industry favours to those who boycotted the event. How do you respond to that?

I like the idea that by offering an alternative to the speech I was putting limits on anything – I’ve never thought of myself as having that kind of power! Anyone who wanted to see Milo wouldn’t have been swayed by my offer. It was much more about providing an alternative for people who felt that they couldn’t go because they disliked Milo’s rhetoric or his opinons (particularly on trans issues). I didn’t know then what Milo’s format was going to be, and if he had been giving a talk about getting in to journalism where he’d been giving practical advice it would have really sucked to miss it because you didn’t feel comfortable going. So I offered an alternative.

With regards to “industry favours” – when I started getting in to journalism there were a few wonderful people who didn’t know me very well but decided to help me out anyway. I’ve always said that I’d do the same for other people, and I stand by that. None of the information I was offering to give out is secret – people’s email addresses aren’t exactly hard to track down. It’s not exactly like I was offering free diamonds to anyone who skivved Milo’s talk.

There are circles within which 3rd wave feminists are mostly considered authoritarian. Do you think there is any merit to that claim? And, if not, what would you say to people to convince them that that is not the case?

I wouldn’t try and convince anyone that it’s not the case because it’s up to anyone to make their own decisions about whether feminists are authoritarian. I don’t think so. I think most feminists are just normal women going about their daily lives, going to work, going for drinks with their friends and calmly beliving that women deserve equal rights to men. That’s certainly how I live my life.

I think feminism can sometimes be frightening to men, because change is always scary – people hate change. But I still firmly believe that equality is in everyone’s favour.

Are rape culture and the pay-gap feminist myths? What do you believe are the most credible sources for information on these topics?

No, rape culture and the pay-gap are not myths. The ONS provides pretty comprehensive evidence in favour of the pay gap. With regards to rape culture, it’s a much deeper issue than I’ve got time to go in to, but one of the best illustrations of how much of an issue it is is Reclaim the Night. Thousands of young men and women feel the need to take to the streets in protest and demonstration against the way that rape is treated and regarded. It’s a good illustration of how strongly young people feel about it. Similarly, the way that Stoya was treated in the wake of her James Deen allegation is a clear indication that we’ve got a long way to go before we treat victims like victims rather than potential criminals.

12 responses to “Rebecca Reid recounts debating Milo Yiannopoulos

  1. I thought she did a great job. The issue with her harassment in the workplace article wasn’t well handled, but I think she makes a reasonable point — admitting your faults is important. And I suspect that the larger point she was trying to make was indeed about the current double-standard of harassment: we don’t take the female harassment of men seriously because we perceive them as “wanting it” — the very thing we rail against when it’s thrown at us.

    Feminism isn’t perfect — nobody is pretending it is. What feminism has been good at is re-evaluating itself in the light of new evidence, and in seeking to be more and more inclusive. Rebecca was excellent at providing that view of feminism, especially as it pertains to the needs of boys and men who are being harmed by our current perceptions and beliefs surrounding gender.

    Anyone who thinks Milo “won” is easily swayed by cheap tactics. To chastise and humiliate Rebecca for being “patronizing” to an audience member who asked her a question and then immediately started shouting at her when she answered it is bad enough, but when you consider that Milo spent most of the debate openly laughing at Rebecca’s statements, rolling his eyes, balking at the safe space policy, and generally being as disrespectful and hostile as he could… he doesn’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to calling others “disrespectful” and “patronizing.”

    Milo is a male supremacist: his closing statements made that very, very clear. Rebecca, however, made a great case for feminism as a true movement of equality — and notice how, in doing so, Milo accused her of trying to “wrong-foot” him? Even when literally being faced with a feminist telling him that feminists care about men’s issues, he invalidates the idea as a way of dismissing the opposition as “the enemy” and “liars.”

    In the end, if you want to side with Milo, understand that you’re siding with someone who believes in male superiority — and he absolutely wants you to know that that’s what he stands for.

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    • I would invite you to read the workplace harassment article where the quote came from – it’s brief I assure you – (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/11871527/Nudity-Ryedale-row-Is-it-ok-to-imagine-colleagues-naked.html)

      You are correct that she was making a point about ‘the current double-standard of harassment’ – but not that it’s ‘a problem’ (as she maintains in this interview,) instead that it’s okay because of male privilege. She writes:

      ‘I think women have far more of a right to object to sexist behaviours than men. Why? Because we have suffered for them infinitely longer than our male counterparts.’

      (addressing men) “you get the option to live without child-birth, maternity discrimination or street harassment. We reserve the right to make the odd risqué joke about the men in our offices. Want to swap?”

      A lot of her previous writing has a similar sentiment to this. Is this someone you really want to praise in the name of feminism?

      I think feminism lacks figureheads who can engage with challenges to it’s positions in an at all convincing way. Perhaps you could suggest some?

      To take one example, the gender pay gap. The Office of National Statistics is quoted as the source of evidence on this consistently by feminists. Reid quotes it here, stating: ‘The ONS provides pretty comprehensive evidence in favour of the pay gap’, which is pretty much what every feminist I’ve heard says, as if that explains it. It sounds like it should be right, but I don’t think a lot of people know what the ONS Gender Pay Gap survey actually is.

      If you visit the ONS webiste there is a page entitled ‘What is the gender pay gap?’ (http://visual.ons.gov.uk/what-is-the-gender-pay-gap/) which answers this question.

      It states “These figures do not show differences in rates of pay for comparable jobs, and are affected by, for example, the proportion of men and women in different occupations.”

      Thus, this survey data is useless in helping us understand if there is something intrinsically unfair happening here (e.g. women are underpaid for the work they do compared with men.)

      With this in mind, why do feminists always quote this as some kind of clear evidence of disadvantage?

      It could be due to their ignorance of what they are referencing, If not though, it can only be a deliberate lie.

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      • Thanks for clarifying. I shouldn’t have assumed without reading the article itself.

        That said, I stand by my initial statement that there is always room for growth and learning within any section of feminism, and I don’t personally agree with the premise as it’s presented there. I don’t support the sexual harassment of anyone.

        As for the issue surrounding the wage gap, part of the problem is that it is hard to measure. I don’t disagree with that. But it’s also hard to measure because it’s hard to “prove” why people choose certain jobs — and to determine how much of a choice it actually was. The usual talking point I see from a lot of men’s groups is that women choose lower-wage jobs, or that they choose safer jobs or cleaner jobs or jobs with shorter hours.

        On the one hand, that may well be true. It may be completely a woman’s choice. But I’d argue that even at the most autonomous level, it’s not a choice made in a vacuum. If you’ve been raised your whole life to believe that you shouldn’t get your hands dirty, and that you’re naturally better at childcare, cleaning, and communicating than a man is, you are led to make those choices later in life — even if it’s subconsciously.

        The same is true for men with dirtier, more dangerous jobs — it’s evidence of their manliness.

        But when we talk about men doing all of the “dangerous” jobs, the rather obvious thing you overlook is that in areas like the military or firefighting, women are told that they *cannot* do the difficult jobs… by men. So when men cite the draft as a major source of unfairness, why aren’t they more accepting of women serving on the front lines — something women have been ASKING for for decades?

        Why aren’t they more accepting of able-bodied women serving as firefighters — something women have been ASKING to do for decades?

        And who is it that’s forcing men into these jobs, and keeping women out? Is it women? To say that women are essentially responsible because they *won’t* do them strikes me as being logically fallacious, especially when they’re literally being prevented in many cases.

        If you want to say that it’s because you don’t think they’re physically capable of doing so, you can’t then lambaste women for not being “willing” to take on those jobs.

        Even then, when people say women aren’t doing dirty jobs, it does come off a little bit ignorant to me — and I do wonder if people aren’t thinking of white women instead of women as a whole. Minority women are frequently employed as migrant farm workers, kitchen staff, janitors, and house cleaners.

        When I mentioned house cleaning, I get laughed at — because it’s not respected as a physically demanding, dirty job. But it is one: scrubbing out toilets is neither clean nor easy. Scrubbing floors on your hands and knees is not clean or easy. It is physically demanding, and it’s paid much much much less than sanitation work or construction.

        And the final issue is this: it’s begging the question to say that women choose lower-paying jobs. The flip side of that argument could be: why is it that professions which are typically coded as “female” are paid less?

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      • Quickly adding: the issue with women working fewer hours is also an issue to do with perceived gender roles. Women are often expected to do more child care and more house work in a relationship with her male partner.

        You can say that women have the ability to say “no,” and to force their husband to pick up the kids, or you can say that she can shell out for after-school child care (if she can afford it), but the fact is that this burden is still primarily placed on the shoulders of women.

        Which is why I do sympathize with men and their concerns about the family court system — it’s a gendered perception that hurts both of us. It hurts men who want more custody of their children, it hurts women who have to give up more of their week than their partner to look after the kids if the two of them are still together *and* if she’s granted more custody rights.

        And, of course, it’s harmful to men’s abilities to form relationships with their children. If you’re meant to be the breadwinner, and that means long hours at the office while your wife actually gets to know your children… that’s really hard.

        The point here shouldn’t be competition. Getting to a stage where we accept people as people first, and gender second, works better for everybody.

        That — as you could tell from his closing speech — is not what Milo wants. It is, however, what Rebecca wants. And it’s what I want.

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      • @Tea Leaves and Dog Ears

        “As for the issue surrounding the wage gap, part of the problem is that it is hard to measure. I don’t disagree with that. But it’s also hard to measure because it’s hard to “prove” why people choose certain jobs ”

        You cannot make a claim that is unfalsible and exspect people to take that claim seriously.

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      • @Tea Leaves and Dog Ears

        “As for the issue surrounding the wage gap, part of the problem is that it is hard to measure. I don’t disagree with that. But it’s also hard to measure because it’s hard to “prove” why people choose certain jobs ”

        You cannot make an unfalsible claim and exspect people to take you seriously. For instance I could claim that we all live in the matrix.

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    • “To chastise and humiliate Rebecca for being “patronizing” to an audience member who asked her a question and then immediately started shouting at her when she answered it is bad enough”

      At 1:11:56

      This was the statement milo wa accusing Rebecca for being patronizing

      “So your saying I should go to every women in the UK?”

      This was after she mad fun of the same guy

      at
      1:11:17
      for slightly poor phrasing.

      This was far from her proudest moment

      Like

  2. So, Miss Reid equates the idea of “men’s rights” with “holocaust deniers”.

    That is a rhetoric Goebbels himself would have been proud of.

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  3. Thanks for your response Tea. It’s nice hear someone discussing these important points in a fair and transparent way – not something that you get very often these days when your questions are about feminist viewpoints and I find this such a terrible shame.

    Having studied Sociology in the noughties (at Bristol Uni ironically) I came to understand the dominant male discourse that has evolved (definitely in western) societies over hundreds (if not thousands) of years – and due to this alone there is a sound basis in principle for all areas of society to be critiqued from a feminist standpoint. What is key though is that this needs to be done to an impeccable standard, and by people who can transparently present their findings – as getting it wrong can cause more problems than it solves.

    Reid is not a person who has a platform because she’s making a positive contribution to the development of feminism. It is purely commercial reasons. She writes ‘controversial’ opinion pieces designed to inflame online audiences and serve as clickbait to drive ad revenue for the Telegraph Online – and that is all there is to it. If I was a feminist institution I would want to distance myself from her and others like her who, in latching onto the bandwagon for personal ‘fame’ and attention, are damaging the real truth and credibility of the cause.

    On employment, I agree wholeheartedly that no person should be discouraged (based on their gender, or any other identity) from following the path that will bring them the most happiness and fulfillment – and in the scenarios where this is not happening it needs to be addressed and exposed transparently. But research on this (and in every area) needs to be balanced. Whilst feminist research should expose any roadblocks that exist to women (for employment in particular industries for example,) it also needs to explore, examine and present information that could suggest the contrary. In other words, all research needs to be value-free to hold weight.

    This doesn’t happen enough, and the result is you have people like Milo bringing evidence to the table that high profile feminists don’t. I often see feminists routinely squirm in their seats during interviews with him as they have no recourse to his claims. What I’d actually love to see is a credible, balanced and academically sound feminist engage, examine and respond to a lot of his evidence.

    Like

  4. I’m quite late to this article. I just mean to respond to the question of whether pay gap or rape culture are myths. Nothing is a myth if you define it properly. The gender pay gap is extensively documented through specious statistics and disingenuous analysis, but it does exist. Likewise, rape culture also exists so long as it is expansively defined to include things that are not rape. To that end, unicorns are very much real if you suppose that myths have some basis in fact, so whatever inspired the unicorn then counts as one.

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  5. Wow Tea….. house work is a physically demanding job? Are you an imbecile? COMPARED TO WHAT? Compared to being an investment banker? Sure.

    Compared to a janitor that needs to clean a whole office building, or a steeple jack or a construction worker? NOT BY A LONG SHOT. These are all roles that men OVERWHELMINGLY choose to go into.

    What kind of silly example were you trying to make? That women also choose or are systemically compelled to choose “physically demanding” jobs? What a poor attempt at trying to discredit the argument that women systematically get into more comfortable and safe roles. Wake up to yourself. Housework is piss easy compared to most full time labour jobs that men tend to go into.

    Like

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