Conservative speakers are under fire on college campuses. Here is my report from the front lines.
The Arch Conservative, a campus journal at the University of Georgia, invited me to Athens to speak to undergraduates about feminism. I titled the speech “Opportunity Feminism: How The Left Killed Feminism (and How The Right Can Fix It).” It is a critique of modern feminism and discussion of popular public policy topics, such as equal pay.
Before I even stepped foot on campus, students argued on the Facebook Event Page about my speech. One student wrote of my work, “Open minded and directly rejecting data are very different things.” To which a student replied, “Her work is tragic smh.” (“Smh” is short for “shake my head.”)
As the comments heated up, The Arch Conservative responded on Facebook, “We truly would like to emphasize that we WANT those in attendance to pose questions to our speaker; after all, there is no better way to learn than to challenge ideas.”
I took the pre-event discussion as a victory. Students were at least sharing my articles and considering the issues. Referring to one of my articles, a student posted:
It kinda makes it sound like ‘because women are lazy and don’t work as hard as men’, rather than ‘women aren’t generally offered the same projects and over time that men are offered and are expected to ask to be given a chance’…Statistics are misleading but pretending you know the cure or cause for sestemic [sic] problems in our economy with only the proof of a well thought out argument isn’t real proof and undermines what feminism is.
She didn't get my argument. But I imagine this might have been the first time that this student and others read an article by a conservative woman on policy. Score a point for intellectual diversity.
Students packed the classroom. Some students sat on the stairway aisle floors. The students hosting me arrived early and ended up sitting on one side of the room. Students who expressed outrage sat together on the other side. There seemed to be no middle ground—during my speech, I’d look to one side and see smiles and the other and see frustration.
Most of the students listened attentively. But one young woman with a scowl on her face kept raising her hand. The hour long talk turned into 90 minutes with questions taking up half the time.
A young man asked the first question, inquiring how he could promote feminism as a man. He said, “My female feminist friends tell me that I’m privileged as a male, so can’t talk about feminism.”
(This isn’t the first time I have been asked this question. That this is a common question I get on campus signals that modern feminists stir up a war-between-the-sexes, us vs. them mentality.)
A student voiced her disagreement with my remarks and asked, “Isn’t it a problem that women are saddled with children?” Our fundamental divide was that this student and some of the others just couldn’t understand that many women make the choice to leave the workforce to take care of their children and love doing so. The student kept repeating that the patriarchy exists, so women actually don’t have a choice. We went back and forth on this point and audience members chimed in with outbursts. One of the leaders of The Arch Conservative finally had to stand up to ask her peers to be respectful and stop interrupting.
After a couple more questions, a student yelled out to me, “You are perpetuating white feminism. You need to take a more intersectional look at feminism.”
In the last question of the evening, I was criticized for not discussing a whole host of issues, such as genital mutilation. I had limited time, so couldn’t cover every issue. The student seemed dissatisfied with me pointing that out, as if not covering every issue was an indictment of me or my speech.
The delegitimizing didn’t end with the Q and A. After the event, one audience member took to Facebook with a 400 work post attacking my speech and expertise.
The media covers political and free speech fireworks happening at one campus or another, but the fact of the matter is, outbursts by liberal students and efforts to delegitimize conservative speakers are all too common on campus.
To speak on campus as a conservative is to be challenged—and sometimes ridiculed—before, during, and after.
But it is also an opportunity to provide a point of view that is often missing and bolster the conservative students on campus.
Despite some of the rudeness, I enjoyed the back-and-forth with the students, even those who blame me for perpetuating the patriarchy. I hope they did too.