Tiffany Jenkins: Pre-emptive acts on offensiveness

Theresa May refused Julian Blanc a visa. Picture: PA
Theresa May refused Julian Blanc a visa. Picture: PA
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PREVENTING someone from entering the UK essentially for his views is a dangerous practice that erodes all of our rights, argues Tiffany Jenkins

The offence business is booming. Those who take umbrage are busy at their computers, increasingly effective. All it takes now is an internet petition and a TV show can be cancelled; an exhibition withdrawn; a debate pulled from one of the world’s top universities; and a visa refused to someone who has not committed a crime. Self-appointed clicktivists casually hand over power to the state and institutions to dictate what we can see and say, they adjudicate on who can enter the country, and they further a view of humanity that is not only more odious than those they are offended by, it is also dangerous.

We live in a society where someone, in this case a certain Julien Blanc who calls himself a “pick-up artist”, can be refused a visa for entering the UK. Mr Blanc has done nothing illegal, he’s just a prat who makes profit out of other prats, someone you would studiously avoid at a party. He runs a company called Real Social Dynamics, described as “the worlds largest dating coaching company”, and he promises his clients the opportunity to learn how to seduce women. He claims to be able to teach anyone how to wear down the “bitch shield” – something his audience, no doubt, often encounters. There is a fair amount of jokey stuff about men and women, and it’s all dressed up in language routinely used by sales and marketing professionals and politicians, all of whom think that with the right words and body positioning we are at their mercy, employing popular pseudoscience behaviour theory. What can I say? Sadly, we know many of these kinds of guys, but being a jerk is still allowed, just. The Apprentice anyone?

The home secretary Theresa May has the power to exclude an individual if she considers his or her presence in the UK is “not conducive to the public good”, and it is on this basis that she has refused Julien Blanc a visa.

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I find it horrifying that it is possible to ban someone from entering Britain just because we don’t like what they say, and that this is now accepted; that official attacks on freedom, speech and movement, made by home secretaries, are cheered on by Twitter mobs; that the attacks on freedom of speech, claiming a scalp weekly, have resulted in the shrinking of freedom of movement.

Do I really need to spell out that it is unwise to endorse such acts made by a Conservative politician? Apparently so.

It sets a bad precedent for anyone who hold views that don’t conform to the mainstream, something that could soon apply to a lot of people – it already does. What does this mean for musicians who rap about bitches and whores, or for the creators of The Inbetweeners, laddish humour that I find gross? What about the “adult romance” Fifty Shades of Grey, in which the female protagonist gets a kick, as it were, when Christian Grey, the male protagonist, “hits me – hard”? She likes it. Couldn’t this S&M novel be understood as encouraging violence against women? Should the author be asked to leave the country? Or is this all okay, because it appeals to the middle classes, not those uncouth working-class men who, it seems, cannot be relied upon to distinguish between what is real and fiction?

Men like Julien Blanc and Dapper Laughs – whose ITV2 show Dapper Laughs: On the Pull (I don’t need to elucidate) was pulled after being found guilty of misogyny – are nothing much to worry about. They are in bad taste and childishly obsessed with sex, that I will concede, but that’s all. Some people find them funny – surely that’s okay? Before the controversy erupted over their work, I, like many, was unaware of their comedic offerings. Now, we all know about them. Some victory. Blanc and Dapper Laughs are spawned by the culture of offence taking, testing the limits of what is acceptable to say and do and they transgress them. So the more the offended brigade force their agenda down our throats, the more people like Blanc and Dapper will rise, even if they are then destroyed and humiliated, forced to apologise for their sins on national television.

These guys pose no threat. My bitch shield is strong. But we do have to worry about the way the restrictions on speech and now movement are justified. Here, campaigners and politicians hold similar attitudes towards us as Julien Blanc holds towards women – they think that we are easily manipulated.

The received idea is that Julien Blanc incites sexual violence against women. Campaigners cite his techniques “the choke opener” and “just grabbing girls’ heads” for men approaching women as dangerous. They conflate jokey instructions, for actual directions, and then they assume certain men – I think we know who they have in mind – will automatically, , do these things and more because some guy role-played it at a seminar. Now, I have watched Julien Blanc’s various videos and could see no real encouragement of violence. And even if there was a hint of such a thing, words are not actions. There is an important difference between someone saying something and someone else actually doing it.

The word “incitement” was once used precisely, to refer specifically to one person directly inciting another to commit an imminent criminal act. Now, it could be anything – a joke, a word or a look we don’t approve of. And it is this expansive definition of incitement to include any reference to actions and ideas that we don’t like that we should protest. It is objectionable. It assumes that people – men especially – cannot hear something and then make a judgement about how to behave. It is a reasoning that suggests rapists cannot be held accountable for their actions, because, after all, someone else – a TV programme or a pick up artist told them to do it.

Banning Mr Blanc from the UK treats men as potential rapists and suggests that actual rapists are not responsible for their actions. It is this that is truly offensive.

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