They hate her ‘cause they ain’t her.
The rise of women on college campuses poses a threat to free speech.
There was a time, not that long ago, when First Amendment rights were relatively stable and well-understood in America. Those days are long gone. Consider our country’s college campuses, where free speech is dying the most brutal of deaths.
Why is this occurring? Who is to blame? From looking at recent data on this question, it seems that women are the main culprits.
According to a recent report by researchers at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), as the number of women entering higher education continues to climb, levels of free speech on college campuses experience an apparently commensurate decline. On the issue of balancing free speech and hate speech, striking demographic differences emerge, with significantly more female than male faculty favoring protections against hate speech, “even if this restricts speech not intended to be hateful (19 percent of females, 8 percent of males), as well as restricting speech only where words are intended to be hateful (38 percent of females, 29 percent of males).” It is interesting to note that “significantly more male than female faculty supported restricting speech only where words are certain to incite violence (62 percent of males, 42 percent of females).”
Women, we’re assured, are more rational than men. They’re also more tolerant. On college campuses, however, this doesn’t appear to be the case. Rationality and tolerance are in short supply, and this scarcity is harming free speech.
FIRE’s report echoes findings from other studies that show women are considerably more censorious than men. As behavioral scientist Cory Clark has noted, compared to men, “women support more censorship of various kinds of sexual and violent content and content perceived as hateful or otherwise offensive to minorities.”
Clark told me that the desire to censor appears to come from a genuine place of concern, because women are on average “more egalitarian and more averse to harm.” They have “more empathy and a stronger desire to protect others they perceive as vulnerable,” she said. Commendable qualities, no doubt. But, as Clark added, “when an abstract principle, such as academic freedom, comes into conflict with a concrete case of apparent harm, women are more likely than men to prioritize the latter” (emphasis mine). In other words, reason goes out the window.
Clark warns readers to “expect the priorities of women to gain more authority into the future” and support for “academic freedom” and “open inquiry” to continue to decline. The trend bears this out. Six out of eight Ivy League presidents are women, and two-thirds of all college administrators and almost 60 percent of all recent graduates are female, too.
Moreover, according to researchers at the nonprofit Knight Foundation, 59 percent of women say that the promotion of a more inclusive society is more important than protecting free speech, while 71 percent of men think the opposite is true.
As the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) agenda grows, we should expect to see further damage to free speech rights. Studies clearly demonstrate that DEI is incompatible with the idea of free speech on campuses—or anywhere else for that matter. In fact, a new study conducted by Kevin Wallsten, a political science professor at California State University Long Beach, shows that an increase in DEI policies is directly linked to a decrease in the amount of support for free speech on college campuses.
Clark insists that we must view the censoring on campuses from a much broader perspective. People self-censor not just because they think they’ll get fired but also “because they fear ostracism and public shaming,” she said. “This fear is a very powerful deterrent, and most professors won’t even speak openly about their empirical beliefs.” An increasing number of students are afraid to speak out, too.
Samuel J. Abrams, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and a staunch defender of free speech on college campuses, told me that the female tendency to shut down opposing views poses a significant problem, “because expression and the associated debate is what makes true discovery and intellectual growth possible.” Moreover, “silencing dissent and inhibiting discussing ideas slows our progress and the educational process.” He’s right. Without diverse views and open debate, what’s the point in attending college? Higher education is supposed to prepare students for the real world, a place where one’s views are regularly challenged.
What, if anything, can be done to turn things around?
Clark believes the only way things get better is if “the people walking on eggshells realize they outnumber the people causing the fear and speak up in unison.” If this was to occur, there would be a complete change in “the cost-benefit analysis among observers and organizational leaders when they choose to get involved or not.” Without a swift turnaround, Clark suggests that it’s very possible “things will get much worse before they get any better, or that things will actually never get any better than they are now.” There is reason for hope, it seems—but arguably greater reason for concern.
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