Are the Culture Wars Good for Us? [Sixth Form Lecture series]

Why speak to students about cancel culture? And why is it so important for girls to be bold thinkers?

Ahead of her lively and engaging Sixth Form Lecture this week, we sat down with journalist Ella Whelan to discuss these topics.

Are the Culture Wars Good for Us? [Video Transcript]

My name is Ella Whelan, I’m a journalist by trade but I also run the Back of Ideas Festival which is a political festival based on the moto ‘Free Speech Allowed’. So, with that in mind, I wanted to come here today and talk to the girls about cancel culture and about censorship and freedom of expression and get them to start unpicking some of the examples that we’ve had in politics recently of people being cancelled and thinking about whether that’s a good or a bad thing.

The reason I wanted to come to talk to the girls about cancel culture is because one, it’s a huge political issue, it’s something that is one every politician’s lips and everybody knows what it is. But more importantly I think because the idea of censorship and free speech has been around for a very long time, but it’s only really focused in this kind of sharp wave quite recently and it is having an effect on how young people feel they’re able to voice their opinions. There are stories of people feeling that they have to keep quiet in class or not being able to ask questions.

If we want to be able to engage a young generation in thinking about their futures, what they’re going to do when they leave school, how they are going to navigate the workplace and the world of politics hopefully and be engaged in that, then I think we have to get them to think about why cancel culture is a block on that, why it stops them from feeling brave enough to get up and say their piece. All the woman throughout history who have made changes from the Suffragettes to beyond and more recently, have always had the courage to stand up and say what they think and I think if we get girls to think about the power in being able to utilise your free speech then that’s one of the best tools we can give a young generation.

I think so many people these days put a lot of pressure on young people, we say that they are the future, a lot of the time politicians say the most important voice in the room. But at the same time, we don’t encourage young people often enough to really think about what it is they think rather than parroting either what politicians say or their parents or indeed their peers. I think bravery in political discourse particular for younger students is really important because they have ideas, lots of them, if they don’t read the newspaper every day, pick up stuff from social media and there’s a lot going on in the world.

And so having the ability and the tools to not only think for yourself but also to express that and to not be afraid to maybe stay stuff that is controversial, or you might disagree with, with your friends, which for a teenager particularly teenage girls is often quite difficult. I think nurturing that kind of courage is something that any school would be proud to do.