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CAUT Bulletin Archives

January 1998

Feminists, too, need rational self-discipline

The article in the November issue, "The Subtleties of Silence Can Be Deafening," reveals the blinders worn by its author.

Professor Bankier nowhere spells out the differences between trying to silence one's critics and legitimate argumentation or valid defence against criticism. And her exhortation that "members of advantaged groups should exercise some self-discipline and put their minds to the merits of the critiques put forward by disadvantaged groups" blatantly ignores individual as opposed to group characteristics.

For example, Professor Bankier asserts that women are disadvantaged in Canadian universities, a highly dubious claim (see, e.g., recent articles by Andrew Irvine and others). But even if it were true, it is just as true that some prominent feminist academics fail to exercise the self-discipline and attention to the merits of arguments recommended in the article.

There have been many criticisms of the methodology, statistics, or interpretations of survey data that purport to show evidence of "chilly climates," or of the need to limit academic freedom in order to maximize "comfort." Such objections are frequently countered merely by pointing out that the critic is a white man.

This line of argument fits Professor Bankier's definition of efforts to silence criticism; perhaps it's time for her and others to abandon the myth that attempts - even successful attempts - to silence critics are the monopoly of so-called "advantaged groups."

Psychology, University of British Columbia

My column addressed a specific problem, namely, use of explicit silencing rhetoric by members of advantaged groups to evade issues of discrimination. In self preservation, disadvantaged people must comprehend arguments that advantaged people use to protect their privileges, but when we evaluate them we reject them on their merits. Privileged people use a variety of strategies (e.g. silencing rhetoric, refusal to recognize that climate issues are a recognized part of discrimination law) to avoid addressing disadvantaged people's arguments at all. You cannot evaluate the merits of an argument if you refuse even to put your mind to it. -- Jennifer Bankier, Chair, CAUT Status of Women Committee.