Williams College students invited Suzanne Venker, a writer and longtime critic of feminism, to speak Tuesday night but changed their minds and took back the invite for her talk, “One Step Forward, Ten Steps Back: Why Feminism Fails.”
Venker had been invited to participate in a student-run, alumni-funded speaking series at Williams called “Uncomfortable Learning.” The program’s purpose is to expose students to controversial voices and opinions they might not otherwise hear. Many of the speakers tend to be conservative or people whose views don’t square with those of most students.
The students who run the series decided to cancel the event, co-president Zach Wood explained, after its Facebook page began to attract acerbic comments and “things got a little out of hand.”
The page has since been deleted, but one comment, which Wood quotes in an article he posted, said, “When you bring a misogynistic, white supremacist men’s rights activist to campus in the name of ‘dialogue’ and ‘the other side,’ you are not only causing actual mental, social, psychological and physical harm to students, but you are also—paying—for the continued dispersal of violent ideologies that kill our black and brown (trans) femme sisters … you are dipping your hands in their blood, Zach Wood.”
The concern, Wood explained, was that “people would get riled up while she was speaking,” maybe even throw things, and there wasn’t time before the event to organize security. “You never know,” he said. “We’re just trying to think ahead here. The last thing we wanted to do was do something destructive.”
Still, Wood said, “If it was just my decision, I would have brought Venker to campus. … Suzanne Venker’s views are views that are held by millions of Americans whether we like it or not, and if we want to push back against them, we have to try to understand them.”
Venker is the author of a number of books, including The War on Men and The Flipside of Feminism, which she co-authored with Phyllis Schlafly. In the past, she’s written that modern women are “angry” and “defensive” because “they’ve been raised to think of men as the enemy,” or, in another article, that “Unlike women, a man’s identity is inextricably linked to his paycheck. That’s how most men feel a sense of purpose.”
In a Fox News post Tuesday, Venker explained that had the event not been canceled, “I had planned to talk about feminism, but from a different perspective than the one students are used to hearing. I was going to tell them why feminism fails. (Hint: because it denies the existence of biology and teaches that equality means sameness, which is a losing proposition when it comes to planning a life—particularly if that life includes marriage and family.)”
Many critics of academe say that speakers are routinely disinvited to campuses for having conservative views. In some of the most prominent of these cases, speakers, hearing of protests planned, have withdrawn. In this case, the invitation was withdrawn after student backlash over the speaker's political views. The decision was made by student organizers, not the college, as Venker initially charged.
“We didn’t even know she was coming until last Thursday,” said Mary Dettloff, a college spokeswoman.
In the Fox News post, Venker went on to criticize the speaking series for disinviting her (though she initially accused the college itself, which was not involved at all, the post was later altered to say “the ‘Uncomfortable Learning’ speaker series caved” rather than “the school folded”). And ironically, Wood agrees with her, at least in part.
“I don’t agree with Venker’s views,” he said, “but I do agree she should have been able to speak here.”
*Correction, Oct. 22, 2015: A headline on this article originally misstated that Williams College invited Venker to speak. A student group invited her.