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Germaine Greer: once provocative and progressive, now misguided and embarrassing

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When talking about Germaine Greer, it is impossible to think of anything other than her rallying cry to women still unable to get a mortgage alone, to challenge their social conditioning and “taste [their] own menstrual blood” in the ever polemical The Female Eunuch. Greer is embedded onto the social fabric of twentieth century feminism; she is both a household name and a synonym of the roaring, raging feminist wave of the 70s.

However, it is important to consider and read Greer in context. While she exploded the nuclear family and ripped through the bondage of femininity with a fierce intelligence and searing wit, she is certainly not a product of contemporary feminism and its drive towards intersectionality and inclusion: to put it bluntly, Greer’s contemporary work reeks of an uncomfortable transphobia.

Greer’s offensive comments about the transgender community are well known and have often been the cause of heated debate. In her 1999 book The Whole Woman, Greer makes references to "men who believe that they are women and have had themselves castrated" and more recently, called transgender women “ghastly parodies” of “real” women.

Greer has again sparked controversy in a contentious appearance at Cambridge University Students' Union on Monday evening. During the debate, she was critical of contemporary feminism, arguing that the "hordes of feminist journalists" were often "too stupid" to grasp wider debates. She also claimed that the Everyday Sexism campaign made misogyny sexy.

The discussion quickly veered towards her polemical views on transgender identity and experience and Greer became defensive, arguing: "I didn’t know there was such a thing [as transphobia]. Arachnaphobia, yes. Transphobia, no.”

Such comments sent shockwaves through the feminist community, and the wider student body. Cambridge University Students’ Union’s Women Campaign had already distanced itself from Greer's appearance and went as far as to say: "Greer does not represent feminism, and she does not represent us."

Cambridge University's LGBT+ also boycotted the event, promising to “no longer hold events at the Union until such time as the Union introduces a policy of not inviting those with a history of hate speech."

It has also been highlighted that Greer resigned from Newnham College, Cambridge in 1996 in the wake of a dispute over the appointment of Rachel Padman, a transgender woman, as a fellow at Newnham.  

In such circumstances, it is not unfair to say that we have witnessed a provocative and progressive voice lapse into misguided and embarrassing comments, not unlike those made by an eccentric grandparent at an uncomfortable family gathering.  

Greer compared the need to live as a woman with a desire to be a Jew, claiming that you cannot be a woman as you "want" to be: "There’s a hardship about being a woman...I always wanted to be a Jew, but I can’t be."

To deny transphobia and to liken the desire to live as a gender which you were not assigned at birth, to an immature desire for victimhood is at best, irresponsible and at worst, harmful and violent.

Denying the authenticity of the transgender community, and transwomen in particular, due to ignorance about their suffering replicates the very real struggles of women like Sophia in Orange Is The New Black; her difficulties as a transwoman are swiftly dismissed by a warden, because choosing to live as a woman, when born a man, is like “winning the lottery and handing the ticket back.”

In choosing to not engage with transmisogyny, we are decidedly not engaging with the core of our culture’s contempt for women. If transwomen do not suffer as “real women” do, or lack the experience of a “smelly vagina” as Greer eloquently puts it, then why do they face alarming rates of violence and harassment?

To live as a woman, when born biologically male, is an act of treason in our patriarchal society and it takes only a brief glimpse at the staggering statistics of violence faced by transgender people, particularly sex workers and transwomen of colour, to realise this. As highlighted by Transgender Day of Remembrance in November, 226 people were reported as having been murdered between October 2013 and November 2014 due to being transgender, and this is a conservative figure.  

It is therefore urgent for us to address why it is so difficult to accept the experiences of transwomen in our society, and failing to do so means failing to face up to the multiple forms of our shapeshifting cultural misogyny. Violence towards transwomen is a different strain of the same social sickness.

With regards to Germaine Greer’s appearance at Cambridge University, we should continue to appreciate the potent social critique of her magnum opus, but it seems entirely anachronistic to invite her to a debate about a more inclusive, contemporary feminism. Whilst Greer has dismissed contemporary feminism as being divided between a “media phenomenon" and "an academic discipline”, leaving little space for the “vast realm of reality” in between, her choice to deny transphobia clearly neglects the heavy weight of real experience had by the transgender community, making her exclusive form of feminism doomed to failure.




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