I can’t believe we’re still talking about Jordan Peterson. I'm disappointed that the Tribune found it necessary to publish an article by Gabriel Rincon making the tired argument that there is somehow a deeper free speech issue behind Peterson’s transphobia (“Jordan Peterson’s real thesis lost in U of T pronoun debate,” Jan. 10). Spoiler: There isn’t.
Despite Rincon’s claims to the contrary, Peterson’s opinions on gender and gender pronouns are not a distraction from his views on freedom of speech. They are, by his own admission, central to his argument. It’s precisely because he “[doesn’t] know what the options are if you’re not a man or a woman,” and because he doesn’t think that non-binary gender identities are “a valid idea,” that Peterson can claim that prohibiting gender-based discrimination is a violation of his freedoms. To be clear, Peterson is not concerned with free expression in any meaningful sense, but only with his freedom to misgender students and invalidate their identities.
It is intentionally misleading to articulate this connection through the bogeyman of “political correctness.” In doing so, Peterson and Rincon continue the right’s 25-year tradition of using this “phantom enemy,” as Moira Weigel calls it in a Guardian piece, to target marginalized individuals (in this case trans and non-binary people) and impute bad faith and authoritarian motives to them. To treat Peterson’s legal arguments seriously is absurd: For example, the Ontario Human Rights Code’s definition of discrimination is unrelated to Bill C-16, and is neither new nor controversial in practice. The attack on free speech that Peterson describes is imaginary.
With the help of the media, Peterson has cynically manufactured a controversy that has catapulted him into the public eye and now earns him over $14,000 per month on Patreon. Meanwhile, Peterson’s comments prompted a wave of threats against trans students, rallies in support of Peterson have attracted white supremacists, and a non-binary professor who spoke up against Peterson was extensively harassed on the basis of their gender by Peterson’s fans.
To attack a marginalized group from the security of a tenured position and a place of privilege is not a courageous defence of free speech, but a display of cowardice. Justice would be well served if we stopped defending this professor and never mentioned his name again, unless it is to say: Fuck Jordan Peterson.
U3 Mathematics and Political Science
Arts Representative to SSMU