Noted transphobe and feminist theorist Germaine Greer has yet again lurched into the newsweek with trenchant and scintillating commentary on the trans experience, via dehumanising and misgendering comments about Caitlyn Jenner, one of the most high profile trans women in the United States — so high profile, apparently, that even Australians feel fit to police her gender. Her comments were made in the wake of a petition requesting that an invitation to speak at Cardiff University be revoked in light of her long history of transphobic commentary, and she went in deep when it came to reminding the world that trans women fail utterly at being women, and are indeed little more than castrated men, a point of view she’s been helpfully advancing since 1970’s The Female Eunuch, which crystallised her views on trans women and widely propagated them within the radical feminist movement. Greer’s work has done immeasurable harm to transgender women, and her school of trans-exclusionary radical feminism has gained a growing foothold in a culture where transmisogyny continually puts the lives of transgender women at risk.
She’s become a TERF figurehead and leader, and her decision to cleave hard to the line has ensured that the movement has gained followers in future iterations of feminism. So long as Greer and her ilk continue to receive accolades and public attention, so too will their ideas, which are validated every time an adoring public quivers with delight over her latest vomitorious utterances. Greer, determined to police gender and culture, is a disgrace to feminism on an absurd number of levels. It’s heartening to see mainstream feminism finally pushing back against her hateful propagation of transphobia, but the current incident unfolding in Wales is a reminder that somehow, the privileged always manage to become besieged victims when criticised, and those speaking out become the evil, cruel, mean antagonists in the story — how dare they censor an old woman?
Earlier this year, Greer attracted considerable negative attention over transphobic comments made at Cambridge as well as her attack on a more inclusive, intersectional model of feminism. She’d actually left Cambridge previously rather than endure the apparently unimaginable torment of serving alongside a transgender fellow — her vitriolic attacks on Rachael Padman were unsuccessful, and the clearly dissatisfied Greer was back with a considerable axe to grind. Tellingly, her furious campaign against Padman took place in the context of a lengthy career of actively hunting and outing trans women, often in an attempt to destroy their careers and reputations. The result was considerable isolation for women afraid of networking with each other or being open about gender for fear of becoming targets — and a similar tactic is used by one of Greer’s disciples, Julie Bindel, who is frequently granted space in the UK media for reasons that defy explanation. TERFs turn transness into a stigma, something to be hidden and hated, cutting into any hope of social acceptance for trans women.
The campaigner clearly has a very decided vision of what a woman looks like, and very few women can perform to her expectations — and when they don’t, she hurls sexism and misogyny at them alongside transphobia, which she hotly claims ‘doesn’t exist.’ Her insistence on the right to define what gender is, and what it should look like, has become a rallying cry for TERFs like her, who draw upon her lengthy history of rhetoric to perpetuate incredibly oppressive social attitudes.
At the same time that Greer purports to be advocating for equal rights and for women, she’s a fan of vicious commentary and her ‘sharp wit’ at the expense of other women, particularly trans women, engaging in the most vile form of punching down rather than striking up at privilege. Even as she insists that trans women are enjoying some sort of special social privilege by virtue of really being men, she refuses to acknowledge the stark statistics on life as a trans women. Transgender women are more likely to be beaten, sexually assaulted, murdered, and discriminated against than their cis counterparts. They have difficulty accessing social services, health care, and equal access to education. They are discriminated against in housing, the workplace, and in public accommodations from transit to domestic violence shelters. They experience severe mental illness and homelessness at disproportionate rates and are often forced to turn to sex work to finance the barest of existences — including the ability to afford basic health care. Yet for Greer, none of these things matter.
Greer was evidently deeply offended by Glamour’s groundbreaking decision to honour Jenner with its Woman of the Year award, insisting that Jenner was ‘stealing the limelight’ from other members of the Kardashian family with her high-profile transition. (Setting aside the fact that a woman who leads a life as public as Jenner’s is effectively forced into a highly public and highly discussed transition, and thus must either fight for privacy or surrender to the inevitable and grasp the situation by the horns to openly confront transphobia and transmisogyny. Jenner’s position was far from enviable, and she probably wishes she wasn’t occupying such a huge percentage of Kardashian-related news.)
Greer insisted that Glamour was engaging in rank misogyny for honouring a ‘man who [went] to these lengths to become a woman,’ reiterating her long-held stance that transgender women are not women, despite all evidence to the contrary, such as the fact that, er, they are. This stance has been accompanied by incredibly crude commentary about transgender women and their bodies, from a vagina sniff test to a claim that they’re effectively men who mutilate themselves to become women to comments about trans women being ‘ghastly parodies’ — though she appears to be rather unclear on what sort of advantage this is supposed to provide for transgender women, who endure continual social torment from people exactly like her as a result of pursuing transition. In the case of Jenner, she suggested that Jenner’s transition was some sort of bid for attention — because going through a prolonged and painful public transition is clearly a walk in the park and an easy way to turn heads.
Oh, but she assured critics, she doesn’t think that ‘men’ shouldn’t be allowed to have ‘the surgery’ — she just thinks that transgender women aren’t women. She is evidently unclear on how gender works, and that it has nothing to do with ‘sex changes,’ as she refers to surgical transition. A woman is a woman is a woman, no matter what her body looks like, and the fact that some women pursue surgery to address gender dysphoria has no bearing on the validity of their gender — they were women before, they will be women after. Women who opt out of surgery (or who are unable to access it due to transphobic health policy) are also women. Women come in all shapes and sizes, with a huge variance of appearances and a diversity of experiences, but not in Greer’s world.
Moreover, she had the absolute gall to insist that unless the university could ‘guarantee her safety,’ she would decline to appear for her 18 November speech. The prospect of having her voluntarily opt out is, no doubt, a pleasurable thought to many, but it also highlights the absurdity with which transphobes rule the world. At the same time that Greer is actively endangering trans women with her hateful comments and reinforcement of social attitudes that lead to deaths, beatings, torture, and discrimination, she’s playing the victim and suggesting that she’s scared of the big bad trans women and people of other genders working in solidarity with them.
Perhaps she has good reason to be afraid of ‘things being thrown at her’ — she was glitterbombed in 2012 over her transphobic views, and we can only be sad that the incident didn’t lead her to decide to stop appearing in public permanently, for Germaine Greer locked in a bunker deep underground with no access to the outside world sounds like the ideal outcome for almost everyone involved. Views as hateful as Greer’s have no place in a civilised society.