- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 24, 2017

In her first column for Marie Claire, feminist writer Jessica Valenti argued that men shouldn’t be allowed to decry safe spaces on college campuses “until they, too” understand what it’s like to fear for their safety on a daily basis.

In her column titled, “Men Don’t Get to Say We Don’t Need Safe Spaces,” Ms. Valenti took aim at a recent commencement speech by conservative New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, who told graduating students at Hampden-Sydney College to step out of their “safe spaces” and learn to accept their intellectual adversaries

Stephens, who told graduating seniors that ‘safe spaces, physical and intellectual, are for children,’ kicked off his talk by telling the story of an event at Brown University where two speakers came to debate rape culture,” Ms. Valenti explained. “The school’s students organized a room for those who might get upset during the conversation, and Stephens recounted that the ‘safe space’ was filled with coloring books, calming music, pillows, and videos of puppies.”

Ms. Valenti said she was one of the two speakers who visited Brown and didn’t notice any such puppy videos or pillows while she was there. She also retweeted a comment by writer Dana Schwartz‏, who organized the debate, saying, “there were no puppies or pillows” in the designated safe space.

Regardless, Ms. Valenti argued, “singling out details like this — making it sound like a preschool for hysterical grownups rather than a quiet room with trained counselors — is an intentional move to discredit.”

“People who are marginalized know that there’s no such thing as a safe space, not really. They’re reminded of just how unsafe they are any time they walk down the street and a stranger comments on their breasts or they’re prevented from using the correct bathroom at school,” Ms. Valenti said. “To men like Stephens, an issue like rape can be an abstract notion, but women don’t have the privilege of sexual violence as a thought exercise. It’s easy to mock the idea of safety when it’s not something you have to think about on a daily basis.

“Oh, and something to note: Stephens (a white male columnist at a prestigious publication) gave his speech about the needlessness of safe spaces at Hampden-Sydney College, a school where students are all-male, 84 percent white, and have a median family income of over $126,000 a year,” she concluded. “Maybe it’s not the students who need to get out of their comfort zone.”

Ms. Valenti’s post sparked an argument on Twitter with Mr. Stephens, who called it “remarkably and demonstrably dishonest.”

“I explicitly endorse the safe space. ‘If such a space offered comfort…so much the better,’” the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist wrote in a series of tweets. “The heart [of the] speech is about intellectual safe spaces, and media bubbles, and ideological silos. It explicitly mentions the Fox News silo.

“I’m not sorry I gave a commencement speech at a single-sex school, any more than one should be sorry for giving one at, say, Mt Holyoke,” he continued. “Also not sorry I didn’t survey median income household data before agreeing to speak.

Mr. Stephens pointed out that Brown University, where Ms. Valenti was a speaker, has a median income of $204,000 — “nearly twice that of Hampden-Sydney.”

“You are entitled to your case, but not to distorting my speech in service of your case, much less to making vile personal accusations,” he added.

Ms. Valenti responded to Mr. Stephens point by point, arguing that the Times columnist hadn’t considered the “danger” in telling a group of young white men that “the efforts of others to seek safety is ‘childish.’”

“Your entire speech is about how safe spaces are for ‘children’ who need to leave their ‘cocoon’ - that’s not an ‘endorsement,” she wrote. “You derided safe space to a group of well-off white men that, as a whole, do not worry about safety in the same way that women & POC have to. … That you don’t see the issue there is telling.

“What’s even worse than mocking victims’ attempts to feel safe is disbelieving them. You told Vox rape stats ‘have a…slim basis in reality,’” she said, referencing an April 26 Vox interview with Mr. Stephens. “You also suggested that if women were getting raped that much we’d go to single-sex colleges!”

“So spare me your moral outrage - you have zero credibility,” she wrote.

Mr. Stephens re-posted his commencement speech in an effort to let readers reach their own conclusions. 

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