This past week it made frontpage news (at least in one newspaper) that there was a certain unhappiness because a ccoffee-shop on the UCT campus was selling coffee in mugs printed with Axe logos – specifically logos consisting of bra-clad female breasts.Student Olivia Walton was apparently particularly offended by this marketing campaign and her complaints led to the university administration banning the coffee-shop from further use of these cups. The story reminded me of one from 2009 when a group of feminists in the UK, inspired by the movie calendar girls, did a nude calendar to raise money for feminism – which their chosen feminist charity then refused to accept on the grounds that they don't want to encourage the objectification of woman through nudity. This in fact appears to be a running debate in feminist circles these days – with about one half of them convinced that feeling free to be naked or nearly so, openly sexual and unasshamed is a celebration of womanhood and the culmination of the feminist ideal, and the other half of them equally convinced that all recognition of woman as sexual beings detract from them as any other kind of beings (notably intellectual beings) and is therefore harmful to their cause.
Both seem quite assured that their view represents equality for women. Personally I'm not so interested today in who is right,. I have a much bigger concern: why is it that the group which aims to censor public discourse is so incredibly successful ? When the ANC wanted to censor male nudity used for political critique there was a major outcry from pro-freedom-of-speech folk all over the country. There were questions raised about it as racism – but nobody ever suggested that using a penis as a political symbol may be denigrating to men. More importantly – there was no counter-cry-out against UCT admnistration or the esteemed Miss Walton's demands that the coffee-company change their mugs.
Why not ? I'm the first to admit that using boobs to sell coffee is probably not as important an act of free speech as political art (although that is debate-able, some of those calendar girl type feminists may even think it's more important) but that isn't actually a consideration. Fundamental to a believe in freedom of thought, freedom of expression and freedom of speech is a recognition that this means I fight for the right of other people to offend me. I have the right to respond to their offensive behaviour, to be critical there-off, to shout at them… but I do not have the right to prevent them from saying it.
Miss Walton and her kind of feminists are hardly alone in wishing to use pressure to prevent the public from hearing speech they don't approve off, the C.A.N.'s successful pressures preventing two satelite TV companies from launching porn channels in South Africa to date is exactly the same thing- but again, while they succeeded at least there was an outcry from those who love freedom. What I don't understand is why nobody seems willing to say to Miss Walton: I know you don't like this, I respect your right to say it- but you are not allowed to demand they stop, neither should the university administration have that power since academic institutions above all else must be centres of free speech, the very concept of academic and scientific freedom falls apart otherwise.
Somebody need to ask Miss Walton and her fellow anti-nudity feminists: "What about the right of people to disagree with you ?" At least in theory your primary cause is the recognition of your rights, but then should the golden rule not apply ? How can you in one breath demand rights for yourself, while denying basic liberties to those who don't share your point of view ? A point of view even your own philosophy is divided on at that ! And how did feminism gain so much social-clout that nobody in a position of power is ever willing to say "sorry, we respect your views but we won't censor dissenting views."
This may come as a shock to Miss Walton but many people of both gender's think breasts are rather beautiful things which should be celebrated, I would argue that it's basically impossible to take a picture of a breast without it being artistic because the sheer beauty of your subject will always be undeniable. I don't deny Miss Watson her right to wish she lived in a world where boobs were not beautiful to most people, I don't have the slightest desire to deny her the right to say that to anybody who will listen- hell go camp out in front of the coffee shop with a sign complaining and I will support your right to do it… but the moment you asked the university administration to intervene and prevent these mugs with the rulebook – you went too far, you went outside the realms of defending your freedom and began to intrude on everybody else's freedom. Exactly there is the line drawn and the moment you were prepared to even consider doing so, you lost my support. I will never support a cause that sees censorship as a valid weapon in achieving their goals because there is no end so noble as to justify censorship as a means.