U of T psychology professor Jordan Peterson has attracted controversy after appearing in an interview with Cathy Newman of UK news channel Channel 4 News, in which he debated gender equality, transgender rights, and free speech.
Since the interview was posted on January 16, Newman has been the subject of gender-based abuse and threats on social media, which has led Channel 4 to conduct a risk analysis by security experts.
When questioned about his refusal to use transgender pronouns, Peterson said, “I actually never got in trouble for not calling anyone anything,” and he added that he had instead refused to “follow the compelled speech dictates” of government.
The interview has received over 4 million online views since it aired, and it has garnered strong reactions against Newman on social media. A Channel 4 News spokesperson said that “immediate steps” have been taken to “ensure [Newman’s] safety and security.” The nature of the threats against her or specific measures taken, however, have not been specified.
Channel 4 editor Ben de Pear tweeted that he would “not hesitate to get the police involved if necessary.”
In an email to The Varsity, Peterson wrote that “Channel 4 should make the ‘threats’ public so that the public can judge their validity.”
“Criticism and threats are not the same thing, and as far as I know there has been no police involvement,” said Peterson.
On Twitter, Peterson has called on his followers to stop threatening Newman if they were doing so, saying, “Try to be civilized in your criticism. It was words. Words, people, words. Remember those?”
A Twitter search failed to unearth direct threats against Newman. Two Twitter comments reacting to the debate said “RIP Cathy Newman.” Around 10 tweets since January 16 have leveled slurs against the interviewer. One Twitter user collated comments on the YouTube video and found over 750 comments using misogynistic slurs.
During the interview, Newman also pressed Peterson on his views on the gender pay gap, noting that wage disparities made it seem to many women “that they’re still being dominated and excluded.”
“I didn’t deny [the gap] existed, I denied it existed because of gender,” said Peterson in his interview with Newman. “There is prejudice… But it accounts for a much smaller proportion of the variance in the pay gap than the radical feminists claim.”
“Agreeable people get paid less,” said Peterson. “Women are more agreeable than men.”
“So why not get them to ask for a pay rise?” asked Newman. Peterson replied that he had successfully provided assertiveness training to female professionals in his clinical practice “many, many times.”
When Newman asked why Peterson’s right to free speech trumped the rights of transgender people not to be offended, Peterson responded, “You’re certainly willing to risk offending me in the pursuit of truth. Why should you have the right to do that?”
He added that, as a journalist, she was “digging a bit… that’s what you should do.”
Peterson appeared in the interview as part of an international tour to promote his new self-help book, 12 Rules for Life.