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.