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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Advertisers exploit the #MTRsues trope

In this advertisement for an event in Sydney involving Germaine Greer and Naomi Wolf.

Note the questions supposedly raised by #MTRsues - according to the copy writer:
1.Who knew so many men were bothered about this?
2.Why is defining who is allowed to call themselves a feminist such a live issue?
3.To what extent do public figures need to disclose their religious beliefs?
4.Why is the online environment so much like a sewer?
5.Why do outspoken women generate so much hostility, specially from other women?
Well, whatever. Some of these questions seem a lot more salient than others - at least to me.

As far as I'm concerned the issues raised by #MTRsues relate, first and foremost, to the use of defamation law as a weapon in public debates on matters of public interest - especially when a powerful and influential public figure threatens to sue someone far less powerful who has greatly inferior media access. Defamation law is all very well if powerful media interests are destroying the reputations of relatively powerless people - though even then you'd want to be careful about how the law is framed - but when a law suit is threatened by a public figure who has ready access to the mass media to put her case and clarify whatever needs to be clarified, you really need to wonder.

Note that this question, which raises concerns about freedom of speech, power, and bullying, is not even on the copy writer's list.

Secondly, the issues relate to what (moral, I suppose) duty there is for public figures to disclose such things as the underlying worldviews that motivate them, which is the topic of this thread at Talking Philosophy. That goes far beyond just disclosing your religion.

Somewhere amongst it all, I admit, is the topic of what is a feminist - and when is it legitimate to call yourself a feminist when taking part in public debate? When is it legitimate to draw on the prestige (at least in some circles) of the feminist movement to enhance your public image and perceived moral authority? In particular, is it legitimate for an anti-abortion campaigner to do this? To me, that is a relatively low priority question, or set of questions, especially compared to the free speech issue. But - sigh! - I guess it needs to be discussed. I just wish it didn't have so much tendency to take over the whole discussion.


rubiginosa said...

I have more topics:

1. How radical lesbian feminism and patriarchal religious structures are reconciled.
2. The role defamation law plays in intimidating and silencing critics.
3. To what extent do those who are coy about criminalising abortion need to disclose their views?
4. Where is the healthy, positive debate about expressions of female sexuality?
5. When will people cease to misuse 'ad hominem' in online arguments?

CraigMac said...

I agree with you first point about defamation and its use, Russell, but on the second things seem to get a bit complicated.

In the specific case of MTR, her work on porn or child sexualisation can be seen as independent of her views or past "work" on abortion or her religious views unless she is using the former (her work on porn or child sexualisation) as a trojan-horse for an anti-choice or harder anti-abortion agenda. There has been speculation about this, but I have yet to see any evidence.

MTR would do well to state she does not have an abortion agenda if that is her "case".

A significant reality is abortion practice is stable and likely to remain so: it is unlikely that any rhetoric by anti-abortionists, as hardliners or as supposedly softer "pro-lifers", will change the status quo of practice or legislation, anywhere,, other than creating adversarial debate.