Note: this was published for Varsity under the title “Transphobic Feminism: An Oxymoron” regarding Germaine Greer’s invite to speak at the Cambridge Union Society. You can read the original piece here: http://www.varsity.co.uk/comment/8087
I met Germaine Greer once. She slammed a door in my face and called me a fucking idiot. I was a humble fresher at the time, and I have no idea why she was so keen to get into my college accommodation block and also not allow me in after her. Years later, as an MPhil student in Gender Studies, studying The Female Eunuch I couldn’t help but feel a bit miffed at her, despite the fact that I found the book interesting. I say this because I should get it out there that, no, I don’t like Germaine Greer very much. She owes me an apology.
I am being somewhat tongue in cheek here. My real problem with Germaine Greer stems not from a chance rude encounter in 2009, but from the fact that Greer comes from a school of feminist thought that espouses transphobic views. Such views were not uncommon in the early stages of 20th century feminism, which was centered towards white, middle class, cisgender women. Greer herself has written some fairly horrible stuff about trans people. In her 1999 book, The Whole Woman, Greer accuses trans women of mutilating themselves because they hate women, and saw them as a “non sex.” In 2009, she called trans women “ghastly parodies” of “real” women. This vitriolic and hateful vein of thought runs throughout her work. It’s no surprise that most of Greer’s work subsequent to The Female Eunuch has been discredited by large sections of the academic community and feminist activists.
Greer’s issue is that she seems to think the identities and lived experiences of transgender people are matters for abstract debate. They are not. We’re not talking about some minor point of Kant; we’re talking about a hugely marginalised group in society. According to the charity TransRespect, over 200 people were killed in transphobic hate crimes around the world last year. Comedians regularly use transpeople as the butts of jokes. Chelsea Manning, the brave whistleblower behind Wikileaks, faced waves of horrific transphobia when she transitioned. How can you deny someone the right to exist and pass it off as academic debate? Certainly, there are ‘feminists’ who do so; these so-called TERFS (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists), however, are frankly vile and undermine the work of feminism in general. Greer’s work, and that of people like her, is not abstract debate. It’s hate speech.
Greer has demonstrated that her transphobia is not contained to the pages of her books. As many people will know, she was once a fellow of Newnham College. In 1996, the college appointed Rachael Padman, a trans woman, to the fellowship. Greer objected to Padman’s appointment on the basis of her trans status. The resulting backlash culminated in Greer’s resignation from Newnham. Her actions here were clearly discriminatory: had this event occurred after the passing of the 2010 Equalities Act (which grants protection in the workplace to trans people among other marginalised groups) Greer would have been recognised as breaking the law.
I’ve seen some people on social media moaning about “picky feminists” who should be satisfied that the Union has invited someone as ‘famous’ as Greer. Let me make this clear – feminists’ anger at Greer is not to do with being “picky.” It’s to do with a belief that feminism, like all liberatory theories, should and must be intersectional. It must be open and inclusive and has no room within it for discrimination against marginalised people. Greer’s archaic and bigoted intolerance towards trans people has no place in modern feminism, nor should it have any place in civilised society. Given the Union’s penchant for inviting controversial speakers, I’m hardly surprised Greer is speaking there. I won’t be attending, and I encourage the rest of you to give it a miss. The CUSU Womens’ and LGBT+ campaigns are currently in the process of organising a counter event on the same day about transfeminism, and transphobia within mainstream feminism, which quite apart from anything sounds like a fruitful forum for learning and discussion. If Germaine Greer wants to use her platform at the Union to attack trans people, let her do it to an empty room.
And she still hasn’t said sorry about that door in the face.