Germaine Greer, esteemed second wave feminist, has sparked outrage and cancelled her appearance at an event in Cardiff University after its women’s society campaigned for her to be ‘no-platformed’ (this means not given a platform to speak on). Rachael Melhuish, women’s officer at the university had set up a petition to have Germaine banned from the talk, which was called ‘Women & Power: The Lessons of the 20th Century’.
The petition has gained 2,403 supporters and, although Cardiff University have decided that they would happily see Germaine talk, stating the Australian ‘has demonstrated time and time again her misogynistic views towards trans women, including continually misgendering trans women and denying the existence of transphobia altogether’.
At the time, Germaine said, ‘I don’t really know what I think of it. It strikes me as a bit of a put-up job, really, because I am not even going to talk about the issue that they are on about. What they are saying is that because I don’t think surgery will turn a man into a woman I should not be allowed to speak anywhere.’
She then went onto Newsnight to discuss her ideas, saying, ‘People have decided that, because I don’t think that post-operative transgender men... are women, I’m not to be allowed to talk.’
Germaine added that ‘a great many women’ who aren’t trans – otherwise known as ‘cis’ – think that trans women (or what Germaine calls ‘male to female transgender people’) do not ‘look like, sound like or behave like women’.
She also said that Caitlyn Jenner transitioned, because she was jealous of all the attention the rest of the Kardashian-Jenners were getting. Oh, and she’s cancelled her appearance at the university, worried that people would throw things at her.
Aside from clearly not knowing that Caitlyn Jenner wanted to transition long before Kylie or her lips even existed, and that she told Kim she was trans ten years ago, when Kim was nothing but a lowly assistant to Paris Hilton, she’s royally upset a lot of trans people. Commentators defending Germaine have suggested that Germaine has been ‘silenced’, but the kickback means her opinions on trans people are being heard louder than ever before.
And it’s not the first time.
You see, this tussle between trans people and second wave feminists such as Germaine Greer is just one battle in a long-running war.
Bubbling within feminist-queer-trans circles has been a dispute between certain feminists (known as TERFs trans-exclusionary radical feminists) and trans people.
Trans people, especially those who don’t ‘pass’ very easily as the gender they’re transitioning to, have a tough time. They’re at a higher risk of suicide, self-harm and violent attack. They’re routinely harassed and ostracised from society. And while Caitlyn Jenner coming out has helped their lives, there is a long way to go for them to be accepted.
The TERFs (they don’t like to call themselves that, it’s more a name that trans people have given them) pose a threat to trans people because they deny their existence. It’s not that they don’t think they exist as in they are not walking, talking people, it’s that the TERFS don’t want trans women to speak about gender equality as women, because they don’t think that a person born with male genitalia can go on to become a woman. Germaine isn’t the only TERF out there to have been no-platformed. Recently, Manchester University’s Student Union banned radical lesbian commentator Julie Bindel from a talk there about the very subject of no-platforming.
TERFs’ mentality relies on a shaky principle: that it’s a womb that makes a woman a woman. Anyone with a hysterectomy or dodgy periods or small tits could then think, ‘Oh God, am I not woman enough to be in this fight for gender equality?’ It also results in situations where pre-operative transwomen are banished from female spaces such as toilets as their presence might upset women who’ve been abused or harassed by straight cis men in the past. That is a problem in itself, because, well, where are trans people meant to go? In the men’s toilets? And is any person in ownership of a penis in ownership of a violent weapon?
Meanwhile, trans women have spent the past few years – since Twitter and other forms of social media where you speak to strangers have become so abundantly popular – gaining a much bigger community online. It’s no surprise trans people find it easy to be vocal online – maybe it’s the only place they really can be vocal.
This is why it seems as if their voices are getting louder. Their feminism – one which says that, you know, the strict binaries of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ can and should be blurred a bit – is particularly popular with younger people. Maybe it’s because young people have grown up in a time that is increasingly open to alternative sexualities and genders. Or maybe it’s because younger feminists have realised that the spoils of the second wave are sort of impossible to be seen right now when we’re all still dealing with bullshit.
But the more Germaine uses her increased platform to bang on about trans people and her dislike for them in interviews where she could be speaking about the matter she was actually invited to comment on, the more it seems like she really has nothing better to say than to slag off trans people. Within conversations between TERFs and trans people, yes, there might be tussling. But when you’re speaking to the nation via Newsnight, to people who don’t even understand feminism, let alone its waves, its intricacies, its in-fights and transfeminism, it’s just plain irresponsible to cast transwomen as the enemy. As for transmen? Their struggle to be accepted within feminism – as some TERFs might consider them now too male to be part of the movement – goes unnoticed, like so much else about their lives.
That said, no-platforming will always be emotive, especially when students are paying extortionate fees that make them feel like customers. They don’t want to effectively subsidise or endorse someone with views they disagree with to be on their campus. They want a safe space to work and live. However, to our knowledge, Germaine has never explicitly incited transphobic violence, and Julie Bindel was no-platformed at the same event an indignant men’s right’s activist was due to attend. He too has since been dropped from the bill.
While it makes sense that someone like Dapper Laughs might be banned from Cardiff University – his act was obviously filtering into his crowds’ behaviour – when it comes to accomplished academics who simply want to muse upon theory, is the danger still present? That is for universities – and their students – to decide. One thing’s for sure, though: it would’ve been far more productive to have Germaine in a room with people who disagreed with her, instead of simply speaking via national interviews. It might not feel nice at all to have her on campus, but at the moment, it looks as if the only alternative is handing her a megaphone to dilute the worst, most offensive things she wants to say.
Like this? You might also be interested in:
Follow Sophie on Twitter @sophwilkinson
This article originally appeared on The Debrief.