Fiona Sullivan condemns the hostility of some feminists towards transgender people.
One of the most prominent pioneers of second wave feminism, Germaine Greer, recently came under fire for transphobic comments she made regarding famous reality TV star, Caitlyn Jenner. Earlier this year Jenner revealed she was transgender, identifying as female since birth. “Just because you lop off your dick and then wear a dress doesn’t make you a f***ing woman,” said Greer, once again bringing to attention a growing problem within the feminist movement: the battle of the generations.
Greer, who jokes that transgender people should “try being an old woman,” epitomises a feminism that is neglectful of the different intersections of oppression. Feminism was founded on the premise of fighting subjugation, and the truth is that some women are more oppressed than others. It must however be taken into account that Greer fought battles for women that young white British women now cannot even begin to comprehend. She lived at a time when there were very concrete institutional roles for women as homemakers and housewives. Whilst these pressures do subtly exist today (see the wage gap, thought to be caused by the economic complications of maternity leave), in Britain now young women are encouraged just as much as men to pursue careers outside of the realm of childcare.
Greer not only grew up in a time period where women were second class citizens, but also a society where transgender people resolutely had no voice. As a feminist Greer has pioneered societal change; surely she should practice what she preaches and encourage the changes that are now occurring in terms of attitudes towards oppressed minorities. Women gained a voice because of second wave feminism and we should be grateful for that; however it defeats the point of liberation if it comes at the cost of ignorance towards new voices.
But how, you may argue, can we label Greer as a transphobe when she later went on to say she would use the pronouns a person prefers “as a courtesy.” Wow what a saint! I love it when people are decent human beings! This culture of deflecting a persons’ responsibility to take account for their actions in an “I’m not homophobic – I have a gay friend” fashion is dangerous.
Trans-inclusivity is inalienable from modern feminism, which strives to be an intersectional movement that accounts for the fact that people experience oppression differently. This can be proven by the fact that the wage gap for non-white men is bigger than it is for white women. White women earn 78p for every white man’s pound, whilst black men earn 75 and Hispanic men an even lower 67. “It is simply not true that intersexual people suffer in a way that other people don’t suffer,” says Greer, communicating her obvious disdain of the third (or arguably even fourth) wave feminist movement. To ignore these explicit indicators that gender doesn’t exist in a separate paradigm of oppression is to uphold a type of feminism meaningless to the modern western world.
Greer’s protestations that trans-women do not “look like, sound like or behave like women” are quite frankly preposterous. Why a feminist, an advocate for equality of all genders, would use gender roles that are consistently used to oppress women as an argument against the validity of transgender identities is beyond me. Greer is regressing feminism and unfortunately she has the influence and prominence to do so.
YES, freedom of speech is an intrinsic human right and of the utmost importance, but do you know what else is an intrinsic human right? Being able to live happily, comfortably and freely without fear of persecution, without fear of having horrible words thrown at you in the street, without fear that this comfort will be disturbed by someone purposely misgendering you. These are the actions which Greer’s words inspire. Transphobia cannot be defended on the grounds of freedom of speech when trans-women are being murdered because of such speech. When people hear hate, they spread hate. These attitudes are perpetuated by allowing them.
That being said I do not agree with Greer being banned from several university campuses where she was due to give talks, completely unrelated to transgender issues. The idea of safe spaces is an important and prominent one currently in the media; students should feel able to fully express themselves without fear of being made to feel uncomfortable. However restricting the freedom of individuals like Greer to share their life experiences, whilst also providing students with a valuable learning opportunity, is redundant. Cardiff University stated, “We in no way condone discriminatory comments of any kind,” as justification for the cancelling of the lecture. Many argue this directly contrasts the legal right of universities “to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured,” and that ideas progress only through argument; by banning certain opinion we uphold the status quo and stunt change.
More outrage has been sparked over the repercussions of Greer’s remarks rather than the remarks themselves. This is because the effects of the repercussions, an affront to freedom of speech, anger and enthuse the majority; whilst the effects of the remarks anger a small minority: trans-people. This reflects the struggles of minorities in society to have their voice heard and we as feminists have a duty to amplify those voices, not vilify and alienate them.