Germaine Greer has been in the news for being a shittalking bigot once again.
She appeared on Newsnight last week, where she was asked to address accusations of transphobia and misogyny made against her in an online petition, started by Cardiff University’s women’s officer. Greer was due to appear at the university in November, for a guest lecture on ‘Women and Power.’ The petition called for the lecture to be cancelled, on the grounds that Greer has “demonstrated misogynistic views towards trans women, including continually misgendering trans women and denying the existence of transphobia altogether”. It’s a fair point, since this is basically what she’s famous for and the only reason anyone ever mentions her any more.
[CONTENT WARNING: Discussions of transphobia, transmisogyny, homophobia, mental health, suicide, sexual assault]
The university’s vice-chancellor, Prof Colin Riordan, responded to the petition with some typical rhetoric about how much he values diversity and providing people with the opportunity to debate their views freely and something something about representing LGBT+ students and some stuff that was vague enough he probably hoped no one would really read or understand it. But essentially the university wasn’t cancelling the lecture, because they didn’t want to. However, Greer has cancelled the lecture herself, feeling that the university were not going to do enough to guarantee her safety, and calling their statement “as weak as piss.” Well, at least she’s right about one thing.
Of course, trans people and our allies don’t really pose such a violent physical threat to our enemies as Greer makes out. Likely she felt the university’s approach of pretending to care about LGBTI rights while actually steamrolling them was just giving far too much to LGBTI people. And, based on comments she’s made about the petition, it seems like she may have finalised realised her toxic brand of feminism is on the way out. Of course, she’s going out kicking and screaming and calling everyone bullies.
Greer is an educated, wealthy, white, cis, straight person. So obviously, she feels she’s the real victim in all of this. In her Newsnight interview, she complains about how she’s too old for all of this, the “froth,” the tirades of name-calling and shit-flinging, the people getting upset about their basic human rights being attacked. Many of Greer’s supporters are moaning about how over the top the whole situation is, how cruel we’re all being to this poor wee famous academic, when all she wants to do is empower young women. It’s selfless really. Except for the fact that, as one of the most recognised feminist voices in the world, guest lectures are a very good gig. In her response to Greer’s supporters, Red Durkin explained how even for someone such as herself, who is considerably less well known, guest lectures are a “free vacation.” So you can imagine that someone like Greer was going to be paid pretty well. And that’s because the controversy she creates by being such a terrible person all the time sells. And she absolutely knows it.
She claims she doesn’t understand why people have protested the lecture on the basis of her views on trans people, saying “I don’t even talk about them, they’re not my issue.” If you’re going to do a lecture on women, then that by definition includes women who are trans. That might not be Greer’s definition, but if you’re going to say ‘I’m going to speak about women, but it’s got nothing to do with trans women, because I don’t believe they are women,’ then you’re making a very strong statement about trans people. You’re choosing to actively discriminate against them, and then yes, it becomes part of your issue. So tough shit.
But even ignoring that, the fact is that Greer has made her career out of attacking trans women. Her transphobia was an essential part of much of the feminist theory she published earlier on, and the only reason she appears to bare any relevance today is because transphobes love her, and because mainstream media loves controversial hate preachers. Look at Katie Hopkins as a prime example, someone that has clearly worked out she can make a lot of cash and fame out of appearing on the telly to talk about how much she hates marginalised people. Greer really isn’t doing anything different. Most of her academic work now focuses on English history (even if there is a focus on women, such as her 2007 publication Shakespeare’s Wife) or being racist towards indigenous people (such as her 2008 essay On Rage), rather than on current feminist theory.
The reason she’s still invited to do cushy university talks is because her early work includes some of the most well know feminist publications in the world, and as noted that was all transphobic trash. Apart from that, people remember her name because every so often she says something disgusting and it gets in the press, like has happened this week. So when she’s essentially being paid for being a famous transphobe, it doesn’t really work when she claims ‘it’s not even about them.’
But it’s about free speech! Even if you disagree with Greer’s views, even if they attack and belittle you personally, does that mean no one should get to hear them? Surely no-platforming someone who isn’t actually actual Hitler is just taking this PC stuff too far. Well, let’s take a look at Greer’s own views on ‘free speech.’ In 1996 Greer unsuccessfully campaigned against the appointment of Dr Rachael Padman, a trans woman, to the fellowship at Newnham College, because the fellowship is all-women, and Padman was at the time legally considered male. So trying to silence and harm a woman because of her legal gender status (the process of getting this changed is still today incredibly lengthy and difficult), that’s fine, but no-platforming someone on the basis of documented, published hate-speech, that’s just being a baby.
The main point though is that Greer’s views don’t exist in an isolated bubble of TERFs (trans exclusionary radical feminists), or even just of the 51% of cis women she claims to limit her discussion to. They have a real world effect. Because funnily enough when you speak to large audiences, some of the people in those audiences might actually listen to what you’re saying. Greer may not have published a book on “them” in years, but she’s still appearing on national television and spouting bigoted rhetoric. In her Newsnight interview, she claimed “it’s simply not true that intersex people suffer in a way that other people don’t suffer.” You just have to look at any research on mental health and intersex people to know that’s utter bullshit, and that Greer is spreading seriously dangerous misinformation (and content warning now for some grim statistics chat). For those still living as intersex people (i.e. those who weren’t mutilated at birth to appear more cisnormative, as happens in the majority of cases), rates of depression and anxiety are higher than among non-intersex cisgendered people.
Throughout her career, Greer has painted trans women as predatory, sexually and physically violent, and as male ‘spies.’ This has undoubtedly contributed towards transphobic violence in feminist circles, and out with that as well. Trans women are still murdered at higher rates than any other group in society. Almost half of trans people in the US and UK have attempted suicide, and have reported experiencing workplace discrimination, street harassment, sexual assault and domestic abuse at higher rates than other groups. The misrepresentation of trans women as men who are trying to trick women ties up with the ‘trans panic defence,’ a legal defence frequently used to acquit someone who has murdered a trans or intersex person.
It’s been in UK news this week that a trans woman has been sent to a men’s prison, because although having lived openly for years as a woman, her legal documents still read male, and she’s reported experiencing constant harassment and assault from male prisoners. Yet Greer would claim she’s not suffering in any way that the male prisoners are not.
Some people, like my mum sometimes, try and defend Greer by stating her age. That tired old defence that someone is just ‘from another generation.’ Even ignoring the obvious fact that transphobia wasn’t actually ok in the 70s either, the funny thing is that Greer’s views have always been pretty typically misogynistic towards cis women as well (it’s not actually funny, it’s because transphobia is inherently misogynistic, haha). In an article for The Independent in 1989, Greer described meeting a fan of The Female Eunuch, who was a trans woman: “I smirked and nodded and stepped backwards, trying to extricate my hand from the enormous, knuckly, hairy, be-ringed paw that clutched it.” She also describes the woman as a “him,” an “it,” and a “parody of [her] sex.” To my knowledge Greer has never described a man in such a nasty, dehumanising way. She doesn’t describe men (even trans men) as “it”s. It shows thro in language like this that she holds a special kind of contempt and disgust for trans women. It isn’t about the fucking patriarchy, it isn’t about her status as a fucking woman, it’s about the simple, horrible fact that she’s repulsed by a certain section of women, and the way they might appear physically. That’s misogyny. That’s what men do.
Her views haven’t improved any, in the Newsnight interview she talked about how many trans women “don’t look like, sound like or behave like women.” I’m sure I don’t need to spell out how dictating what women should ‘look, sound or behave’ like is pretty misogynistic. In a similar tone, in 2012 she slagged off Australian PM Julia Gillard’s arse, saying of her choice of jacket, “every time she turns around you’ve got that strange horizontal crease, which means they’re cut too narrow in the hips. You’ve got a big arse, Julia. Just get on with it.” My feminist hero.
She’s also gone on some peculiar tirades about gay couples’ exploiting women’s struggle by having children, like when she criticised Elton John’s partner for being named the mother on their children’s birth certificates. “That will give you an idea of how the concept of motherhood has emptied out. It’s gone. It’s been deconstructed.” To be clear, this complaint was not just in relation to a man using the term mother to describe himself in a legal document, it was about the concept of surrogate mothers and IVF altogether. IVF which benefits many women as well. Women, and other people with wombs, have all kinds of relationships with their bodies and the various weird shit that comes out of them, but when you’re slagging off the practice of IVF, in cases where surrogate mothers are fully consenting, I’m gonna go ahead and call bullshit. I’m pretty sure you’re just constructing a way that you can hate on queer couples and pretend it’s feminism.
With her longstanding tradition of misogyny, homophobia, and aggressive, aggressive transphobia, and also that thing where she said it was empowering if you slept with other people’s husbands, Germaine Greer is one of the biggest wankers of the feminist world. And she represents the worst elements of it. When I ask myself why people are even still interested in the words of an outdated, angry remnant of 2nd wave feminism, the answer is obvious really. She’s an educated, white, cis, straight woman, who has some vaguely radical things to say about men and structural sexism.
It’s feminism that is there for educated, white, cis (and usually straight, but not always) women, and no others. Feminism for women who are the most privileged by society, and are angry they haven’t got to enjoy all of the privilege of their male counterparts. This is the dominant voice of feminism. Look at the praise mainstream Feminism™ gave to Patricia Arquette, when she talked about the gender pay gap in her Oscar’s award speech, while utterly ignoring women of colour, and later slagging of the LGBTI community for not being nice enough to her. Yet the same people had little to say when Viola Davis became the first woman of colour to win the Emmy for best actress in a drama series, even though this was a historic moment, and even though her speech was fucking magnificent. Look at the Stonewall and the Suffragettes films we’re supposed to praise even though they cut out trans women and people of colour from our histories. Look at the Feminism in London conference.
Some cis students at Cardiff University think it’s a real shame the Greer had to cancel her lecture, because even though they don’t agree with her transphobia, they think it’s important to debate these views, and it didn’t affect them personally anyway. Some cis people think we’re just making it worse for ourselves by drawing attention to people like Greer when we challenge her, which doesn’t really work because major media outlets are giving her slots on television and in papers and, contrary to Greer’s deluded beliefs, trans people actually have a lot less influence in society than those major media outlets, so if we weren’t saying anything, she’d be getting the same publicity unchallenged.
The thing is that oppressed groups never really got anywhere by ignoring their oppression, they got somewhere by fighting back. It’s as important as ever to stand up and tear down wankers like Germaine Greer.