Cancel Culture in The Times
Mrs Bingham featured in the Thunderer section of The Times this week, before being interviewed by Mariella Frostrup on Times Radio. The column was subsequently cited as one of the top columns of the day in The Week.
Don’t assume that young people like cancel culture
When I was a teenager, my peers wore black armbands after Take That broke up. I am pleased that Gen Z are galvanising around significantly more important causes. Young people care about fighting discrimination and about combating the climate crisis. So do I and so should we all.
But let’s not reduce these burning issues to a simple generational conflict. Many of the young people I know abhor “cancel culture”. They see it as performative, virtue-signalling and frightening. They would much rather focus on meaningful action, little by little, rather than on sweeping statements or policing language.
They hate discrimination, they are apologetic if they make mistakes, but they will roll their eyes as much as the older generation if faced with an especially zealous approach.
This summer we asked pupils about how easy they found it to express their views in school. Pupils told us that we needed to encourage discussion on controversial issues. They told us that they did not want to grow up in an echo chamber. They admitted to self-censoring.
I realised that it was time to be braver myself and to start encouraging open discussion about questions which should be within the realm of reasonable debate in schools. Is equality or equity a fairer principle? Do university students deserve protection from views which make them feel “unsafe”? Are teachers who ask pupils to stop rolling their skirts up guilty of promoting “rape culture”? (Spoiler alert: No.)
We must teach our students to distinguish between fundamental human values, such as respect for our fellow human beings, and sociological theories, such as critical race theory or the idea that sex is a social construct rather than a biological reality. Language is equally important. Rather than sneering at phrases like “people with a cervix” we should ask our pupils questions such as “Who might benefit and who might be disadvantaged if GP surgeries stop using the word ‘women’?” Our pupils should be able to apply their critical faculties to such questions without fear of judgment.
This week we held a debate in school about whether it was right that JK Rowling was “cancelled” for her comments about the phrase “people who menstruate”. We did so because some of our pupils told us that if we did not start holding debates like this soon, we might miss our chance.
I agree with them. They are young and showed huge courage in coming forward to share these concerns with us. They are a powerful reminder to us all that young people are not a homogenous group with one set of views, as we often like to portray them.
Mrs Bingham’s column was in the Thunderer section of The Times on Thursday 9th December 2021, alongside a story about her column by The Times’ Education Editor.