Feminist Germaine Greer sparks freedom of speech debate for views on transgender women and Caitlyn Jenner

Article by Sophie Aubrey /
PerthNow /
October 26, 2015 /
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AUSTRALIAN feminist Germaine Greer has refused to back down from fiery claims that transgender women are ‘not real women’ and accusing Caitlyn Jenner of misogyny for trying to steal the limelight from the females in the Kardashian clan.

Now, Greer’s explosive views have steered a public punch-on between those defending freedom of expression and those outraged by her ‘harmful’ remarks on transgender people.

In an interview with the BBC’s Newsnight to defend her views amid cries to cancel her upcoming lecture at the University of Cardiff, Greer said misogyny played a large role in the rumoured decision by Glamour magazine to award Jenner with its Woman of the Year title.

“I think misogyny plays a really big part in all of this, that a man who goes to these lengths to become a woman will be a better woman than someone who is just born a woman,” Greer said.

“It seems to me that what was going on there was that he/she wanted the limelight that the other, female, members of the family were enjoying and has conquered it.”

The Female Eunuch author labelled claims she was inciting violence against the transgender community as “absolute nonsense”.

“I’m not saying people shouldn’t be allowed to go through that procedure, what I’m saying is that doesn’t make them a woman. It happens to be an opinion not a prohibition.”

Greer, 76, believed many cisgender females felt, like her, that transgender women were not women because they did not “look like, sound like or behave like” real women.

Greer scoffed at accusations she was being hurtful.

“People are hurtful to me all the time. Try being an old woman. For goodness sake, people get hurt all the time, I’m not about to walk on egg shells.”

She also said she would be prepared to use female pronouns for transgender women if it was their preference, only “as a courtesy”.

More than 2200 people have so far signed a petition calling on Cardiff University to dump Greer’s lecture scheduled for November 18, titled ‘Women & Power: The Lessons of the 20th Century’. A counter-petition has also gained ground, attracting more than 2100 signatures.

Greer, who denies the existence of transphobia, has become known for her controversial views on transgender women. Earlier this year she suggested transgender women could never be women because they did not know what it was like to have a “big, hairy, smelly vagina”. In 2009 she wrote that transgender women were like ghastly parodies and were simply “a man’s delusion”.

“Greer has demonstrated time and time again her misogynistic views towards trans women,” the anti-Greer petition explains.

“While debate in a university should be encouraged, hosting a speaker with such problematic and hateful views towards marginalised and vulnerable groups is dangerous.”

Cardiff University has rejected calls to cancel Greer’s lecture in a nod to freedom of speech while also emphasising it did not condone discrimination.

Greer indicated that she might withdraw in the wake of the backlash if her safety could not be guaranteed and has described the petition as a “put-up job”.

She said she hadn’t planned to talk about transgender issues in her lecture.

“Apparently people have decided that because I don’t think that post-operative transgender men are women I’m not to be allowed to talk,” she said.

In defence of freedom of speech

University of Melbourne researcher on gender issues Dr Lauren Rosewarne told News Corp the role of universities was to foster intellectual freedom — even if that expression was politically incorrect or unpalatable.

“Universities exist to support academic expression so I think we can’t start picking and choosing the academic expressions we like and not give a platform to those we don’t like,” she said.

“Personally, my university has received over the years loads of emails and letters from people who don’t like my public output and the university response every time is ‘we support academic freedom’.”

“Even though I don’t support Germaine Greer’s comments at all, I support her right to express them at a university.”

“We need to be really careful about heightened political correctness.”

Dr Rosewarne said arguing Greer’s comments were outdated was an “underhanded way to try silence people”.

She believed that only audiences got to decide when a topic had been done and dusted.

“If the audience doesn’t show up, that’s when it’s over,” she said.

“People’s understanding of transgender is still emerging. I find it extraordinary that some are saying we’ve heard enough about (Greer’s stance).”

She said Greer represented radical feminists with a rigid understanding of gender.

She said if transgender people could successfully frame Greer’s views as hate speech inciting bullying, then they had grounds to protest against her — otherwise, diverse opinions deserved to be heard.

Margot Fink, a transgender woman and spokeswoman for the Minus18 Foundation supporting LGBTI teens, said Greer’s comments revealed a “profound misunderstanding of what it means to be transgender”.

“It’s like asking Germaine at what point did you realise you were a woman? Much in the same way, trans people feel it innately,” the 21-year-old Melburnian said.

“Comments like hers are extremely damaging in a society where transgender people are still massively over-represented in homelessness, in poor mental health, in violence and discrimination.”

She said her Facebook had “exploded with people angry, upset, distressed” and feeling very vulnerable.

“I understand the logic that for her it’s just an opinion … but this does impact people on a very individual level.”

Fink said it was a “shame” that Greer was using her public profile to harm the transgender community.

“I view Germaine as someone who at one point was fighting something good but is now … kicking the little guy,” she said.

“She could be doing so much to empower transgender women alongside other women, and instead she’s being divisive.”

Fink felt the furore that has ensued showed people no longer tolerated transphobia, and she hoped universities would be more careful in selecting what views they gave a platform to.

Sally Goldner, executive director of Transgender Victoria, questioned why Greer’s views continued to get so much air space, claiming they had fallen behind the times.

“When do we just say these views are not authoritative and not factual enough?”

“We know what her views are and we have gone through them many times, so what’s the point in causing distress for transgender people and their family members if it’s not going to add value (to the debate)?”

“Her views have run out of steam, the tank is empty, it doesn’t need to be refilled anymore.”

She said not only did her remarks leave transgender women feeling “ridiculed and vilified”, but she had heard from many women who emphasised they did not want Greer to speak on their behalf.

She hoped the discussion would move on from Greer’s archaic views and into a push for more inclusive and specialised health and support services for transgender people. She also called for stronger anti-discrimination laws and protections.

When drawn on the freedom of speech argument, Goldner said there had to be limits. She said she wasn’t entirely against Greer giving talks, but believed she should be banned from discussing transgender issues.