Feminist Jessica Valenti Attacks ‘White Man’ Bret Stephens for Opposing Safe Spaces

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By Lukas Mikelionis | 2:01 pm, May 26, 2017

Feminist activist Jessica Valenti has launched a failed attack on conservative New York Times columnist Bret Stephens after he suggested students should abandon “safe spaces”, claiming white men have no right to criticize safe spaces.

Jessica Valenti

In a column for Marie Claire, titled “Men Don’t Get to Say We Don’t Need Safe Spaces,” Valenti suggested men have no right to attack safe spaces “until they, too, constantly fear for their safety.”

She particularly singled out NY Times scribe Bret Stephens who told graduating students at Hampden-Sydney College to step out of their “safe spaces” and accept 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,” the feminist activist wrote in the article.

“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.”

According to Valenti, however, no puppy videos or pillows were provided—contradicting Brown University students’ claims.

Bret Stephens

A senior at Brown and a member of its Sexual Assault Task Force, Katherine Byron, told The New York Times that the safe space, which was set up when Valenti was speaking there, “was equipped with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members trained to deal with trauma.”

Valenti continued her rant against Stephens:

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.


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.

She concluded the article confirming to everyone that Stephens is indeed a white man, noting that “maybe it’s not the students who need to get out of their comfort zone”:

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.

This prompted Stephens fire back at her “vile personal accusations” and pointed out her own hypocrisy.

“I explicitly endorse the safe space. ‘If such a space offered comfort…so much the better,’” wrote Stephens on Twitter. “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.”

He pointed out the hypocrisy of Valenti for criticizing him for speaking at an affluent school, when she spoke at Brown University, where the median income is “nearly twice of that 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 concluded.

Valenti tried to reply to Stephens, pointing out that he hadn’t thought of the “danger” of lecturing a group of 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,” Valenti tweeted.

“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,’” Valenti wrote, reminding Stephens of his interview with Vox last month.

“You also suggested that if women were getting raped that much we’d go to single-sex colleges!,” she added. “So spare me your moral outrage—you have zero credibility.”

Stephens ended the online feud, posting the transcript of his speech for people to “judge for themselves” rather than relying on Valenti’s analysis. “Read before burning”.