Free speech (but not for my critics)

Jessica Valenti, a consistently superb writer, describes a Twitter spat that went out of control. It’s about a New York Times columnist called Bret Stephens, a fierce advocate of unfettered freedom of speech.

When a university professor made a mild joke about him, he attempted to get the professor sacked and then wrote a column in a national newspaper comparing the experience to the Holocaust.

This is someone who mocked sexual assault survivors for wanting a break room with counselors during a debate on rape culture, a writer who questioned the “moral proportion” of firing sexual harassers. Is targeting a professor’s job for a barely seen quip morally proportional? Are high-profile columnists more deserving of a “safe space?”

This is not in any way unusual. For example, Piers Morgan frequently rails against touchy “snowflakes” who apparently can’t take criticism. If you criticise Morgan on social media, he’ll immediately block you. Other high profile free speech defenders such as millionaire comedians take a similar approach, often orchestrating social media pile-ons against anybody who dares question their great wisdom.

The Venn diagram of successful men who rail against “the woke left”, “snowflakes” and “safe spaces” vs men who bully others online or in print is a near-perfect circle.

What these men – and it’s mainly men – advocate isn’t freedom of speech. It’s the protection of their own status and privilege. They want to punch down without anyone of lesser status being able to punch up.


The real snowflakes aren’t rape survivors who request trigger warnings or students who’d like that we use their correct pronouns — they’re people with power who can’t abide even the slightest criticism without using their influence to demand consequences.