germaine greer provides another reminder that feminists can be transphobic too
Germaine Greer was one of the most important voices in second-wave feminism during the 70s and 80s. In 2016, the best-selling author of The Female Eunuch still provides an important lesson about the systematic deconstruction of ideas like womanhood and femininity. Unfortunately, it's probably not the lesson she set out to provide.
Greer has copped backlash over the last few years for upholding an increasingly dated stance on what constitutes a woman. Last year she proudly declared, "I don't believe in transphobia," a dangerous statement that she then repeated in a BBC interview a few months later. "I'm not saying that people should not be allowed to go through that procedure," she said of gender reassignment surgery, "what I'm saying is it doesn't make them a woman." She took an especially poorly aimed shot at Caitlyn Jenner, stating, "he/she wanted the limelight that the other, female, members of the family were enjoying and has conquered it, just like that." Yeah. You'd hope Greer would have checked her chaotic Twitter mentions and realized her mistake(s). Well, you'd have hoped wrong.
In a conversation on Australia's Q&A last night, reported on by The Guardian, Greer was asked by a young audience member (and former GG fan) why she thinks there's such thing as a "real woman." "Isn't that the kind of essentialism that you and I are trying to resist and escape?" asked the audience member, journalist Steph D'Souza.
"This is so difficult," Greer began, giving the impression that she might be about to atone for her past comments. "I agree that when I first was thinking about what is a woman I fell for the usual view that women were people with two Xs and men were people with an X and a Y, which made life nice and easy for me. And I now realize, partly because I'm not entirely immune to information, that this was wrong."
Then she declared that it "wasn't fair" that "a man who has lived for 40 years as a man and had children with a woman and enjoyed the services — the unpaid services of a wife, which most women will never know... then decides that the whole time he's been a woman." After host Tony Jones made the inevitable shoveling-herself-back-into-the-hole-she'd-dug joke, Greer replied, "I belong in this hole." She conceded that male-to-female trans people should be allowed to live outside the gender binary, so long as they did not attempt to be recognized as women. "If you're a 50-year-old truck driver who's had four children with a wife and you've decided the whole time you've been a woman, I think you're probably wrong," she said.
Her "opinions" have a lot of people riled up, for obvious reasons. Her remarks aren't just easy to ridicule on Twitter in a "LOL old people" way — they're directly damaging to the physical safety of transgender women, particularly in a climate where trans people are literally being hunted in public restrooms. But while asking young celebrities if they're feminists for the clickbait headlines gets a bit tired, contrasting the beliefs of feminist icons to those of more modern thinkers at least demonstrates that progressive values are never static ones. That said, some of the clapbacks are pretty solid.
Text Hannah Ongley