Photograph by Deepak Tolange
Last week I was in the basement of my mother’s house going through my belongings when I noticed my copy of The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer in a crate. This book played an instrumental role in my understanding of gender in society. This was the book which taught me that the teenage magazines were wrong. If a boy was mean to me, it did not mean that he actually secretly liked me.
I devoured this book aged 16 and felt empowered after reading it. It was like having an older sister demystify the adult world and then gave me the confidence to boldly and unapologetically march into it.
Germaine Greer wrote this book in 1970 and it was so progressive that it resonated with the sixteen-year-old me in 2001, thirty-one years later. It was perhaps naivety on my part to assume that the author would continue to be progressive in her thought.
But now when I look at the book, I feel sad and disappointed because the woman who wrote it is now most famous for her transphobic views. This woman who I had held in such high esteem was the same woman who in 2015 argued that:
“Just because you lop off your dick and then wear a dress, doesn’t make you a fucking woman”.
This week Germaine Greer has once again been in the news for her controversial and transphobic comments on Q&A, an Australian TV show. This time she said that it isn’t fair
“that a man who has lived for 40 years as a man and had children with a woman and enjoyed the services – the unpaid services of a wife, which most women will never know ... then decides that the whole time he’s been a woman”.
She did not touch on what her views are of trans men, nor did she qualify what she thought of women who are married to women. Do both partners benefit from the unpaid services of their wives, or are they, as women, exempt? This view to me also seemed slightly archaic, it is now much more common for labour both in and outside the house to be divided between genders if there are mixed genders in that household.
Germaine Greer’s attacks on the transgender seem particularly aimed at trans women which, for a feminist, seem particularly shocking. Her barbed comments appear to be ill-thought out. The use of phrases like ‘man in a dress’ seem spiteful and lazy.
I thought about this for a long time and something Marlon James, Booker Prize winner 2015, had posted on his Facebook page came to mind. It is what he describes as “The Liberal Limit”. This in essence is when people are liberal ‘to a point’, to the point where it is easy and convenient for them to adapt and evolve their liberal beliefs to stay inclusive. The liberal limit is not progressive, it is static. He goes on to address specific issues of racism and sexism as examples of when people can’t be bothered to update their beliefs and ideas in a constantly evolving world. When discussing trans people he says:
“You’re a progressive. You’re supposed to progress. You’re supposed to be more liberal today than you were yesterday…...My views on trans people are different in 2014 that they were in 2004. And you can bet your ass it will be even better in 2024 than it is now, because that's what makes me not conservative. The point to being a progressive is to fucking progress.”
This progress and evolution in thought is what I had expected from Germaine Greer. But instead she continues to stick to her beliefs in binary gender, with the occasional intersex exception. She believes men ‘decide’ to become women without considering that it is possible that the person making this decision was never a ‘man’ in the first place. Instead of updating her beliefs that these women are themselves victims of sexism and misogyny, she accuses them of being the perpetrators.
Marlon James’ comments seem to ring true for me in this instance. I believe that these transphobic comments stem from a place of insecurity. I am certainly not an apologist for Germaine Greer’s remarks, I wholeheartedly disagree with them but I believe that these spiteful comments are rooted in fear, which is the case with most bullies.
In 2015 she cancelled a talk she was due to give at Cardiff University after the initial backlash to her comments. She told Newsnight:
“I’m getting a bit old for all this. I’m 76, I don’t want to go down there and be screamed at and have things thrown at me. Bugger it.”
Her reference to her age, acknowledgement that she had angered people and her flippant use of ‘bugger it’, makes me think that her heart is no longer in it. She has realised that her feminism is now out of date and rather than trying to keep up with the times she has succumbed to a fear of change and progress. In short, she had reached her liberal limit.
It seems to me that she has decided that rather than progressing and evolving her brand of feminism, it is easier for her to say controversial things to gain publicity at the expense of transgender individuals. Whether this prejudice comes from a place of fear or not, it does not excuse what she is saying and my views on gender in 2016 don’t match Germaine Greer’s views on gender in 2016. It is a shame because she had such an influence on so many young feminists over the years, but the biggest shame is that she didn’t grow with us.
The book remains in a crate in the basement of my mother’s house and I wonder if I ever have a daughter will I pass it on to her? Or, is it best kept in the crate, obsolete and gathering dust?