Cambridge University recently canceled a film screening of “Birthgap – Childless World” and discussion with the film’s writer, director and producer, Stephen Shaw, after protesters called his theories regarding the steep decrease in human birth rates sexist and misogynistic.
The event was scheduled for May 12 at the college’s St. John campus until administrators abruptly canceled the showing less than 48 hours before the start time.
“We are confused why anyone would want to protest about a film which simply conveys hard data on birthrate trends and contains the voices of people, mostly women, from around the world,” Shaw told The College Fix in an email.
In the weeks leading up to the event, students opposed to Shaw’s views and documentary attempted to buy all the tickets to the event so others could not attend, according to Cambridge University student Charlie Bentley-Astor, who organized the event.
The protesters claimed Shaw’s film echoed “misogyny,” “transphobia,” “homophobia” and “racism” and cited Shaw’s appearance on popular psychologist Jordan Peterson’s show to justify their distaste for the speaker, according to Bentley-Astor’s Twitter.
“I find it disappointing that not one protester, nor the university newspaper, made any attempt to contact me to discuss any aspect of the film or the screening,” Shaw told The College Fix.
Shaw was a guest on Peterson’s Daily Wire show on March 9, and the two discussed “the long building but invisible causes of what may be the most pressing issue facing the western world in the next few decades. Worst case scenario: total societal collapse due to a lack of new children being born, and a rise in senior citizens living longer,” according to its online description.
Shaw’s planned visit to Cambridge amassed large opposition, and the event was expected to draw a 90-person protest, according to Bentley-Astor, who tweeted that she was told she would have to provide security for the venue against the protesters or else the event would be canceled, which she described as an “impossible requirement.”
A THREAD on the attempt of student-protesters to CANCEL @StephenJShaw and his documentary from @cambirdge_uni. https://t.co/qvImmfcN6e
— Charlie Bentley-Astor (@astor_charlie) May 2, 2023
Bentley-Astor hired three private security guards at her own expense and planned for police to be on call in case the protest escalated to a dangerous level, she told The College Fix via email.
Just 48 hours before the event, the college canceled Shaw’s appearance because of the “large scale of the planned protest for this event and the disruption it would inevitably cause,” Bentley-Astor said.
“Other colleges use less measures and permit events to go ahead. I was told by staff within the college that there was ‘hostility’ towards myself and the event,” Bentley-Astor said via email.
But a school leader said the decision to cancel the event was based entirely on a desire to ensure students studying for final exams were not troubled and distracted by protestors.
“Despite Ms. Bentley-Astor’s determination to present this as an issue of freedom of speech, the decision about the room booking was based solely on our commitment to prioritising an environment conducive to studying during the University examination period,” Master of St. John’s College Heather Hancock wrote in a statement. “St John’s is, and has always been, committed to freedom of speech, as one might infer from our offering the opportunity to reschedule the booking.”
A response to the @SpeechUnion sent earlier today after an external event was postponed and the organiser was encouraged to reschedule for a time outside of the main University of Cambridge examination period. https://t.co/2PxutfsbSA pic.twitter.com/C46UWDIQ3Z
— St John's College, Cambridge (@stjohnscam) May 12, 2023
The statement added the school had planned to allow the event to be rescheduled.
Shaw told The Fix “I hope to be able to screen the documentary at Cambridge in the not too distant future. I feel it is important that Cambridge, and indeed every college and university, screen the documentary to increase awareness of the birthgap crisis and to generate debate on the topic.”
And Bentley-Astor added that “Stephen and I are looking at re-arranging at a different venue in Cambridge within the next couple of weeks.”
“Members of the UK Parliament are now interested in hosting a screening of the film,” she told The Fix. “This is much bigger than Cambridge now, and in some way Stephen and I are indebted to protesters for bringing the population decline to national and international attention.”
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