In defence of Germaine

25 Oct



Germaine Greer.  Now banned from speaking on a university campus because her views on transgender women are perceived as hostile, and transphobic.

What Greer says is that she doesn’t believe a man who is surgically and hormonally transformed into a female, is as much of a woman as are those of us born with female genitalia.

If you think, as do I, that gender is a social construct, Greer’s argument is “problematic.” If you’re born with a vagina, a certain set of protocols come into play. Likewise if you’re born with a penis. The concept of “woman” is a social construct, and gender is a performance.

Be that as it may, where Greer is right is that the experience of being constructed as a woman is entirely different from the experience of being constructed as a man. In that sense, a male who undertakes sexual reassignment in adulthood has not been raised as a female construct, and so is lacking in that experience.

Where Greer is wrong is in claiming there is such a thing as being really a woman, or really a man: it is impossible to separate the sex from the gender bias in our current social arrangements, and conclude that we are really anything.

For some reason I can’t fathom, Glamour magazine decided to award Caitlin Jenner (formerly Bruce) its woman of the year accolade, a move that has further provoked Greer and caused her to escalate her irritation of transgender people. This may yet lead to the cancellation of more speaking engagements.

And for mine, this is the most scandalous thing of all. Not that a man might believe sexual reassignment makes him a woman. Not that a woman may disagree with his perspective. But that people believe it is acceptable to ban Greer from speaking because she has a particular point of view on this.

If your position cannot tolerate dissent, it is a very weak position. Greer is not advocating violence against transgender people. Greer is not marginalising transgender people. She is expressing her opinion, and there’s a huge difference between expressing an opinion, and advocating violence.

I think her opinion is based on a false premise, nonetheless she has every right to hold it, and anybody has the right, and even the responsibility, to challenge her. When debate is shut down we’re all the worse off, and the notion that we have no right to speak if we don’t agree with a particular perspective is completely abhorrent.


48 Responses to “In defence of Germaine”

  1. Forrest Gumpp (@ForrestGumpp) October 25, 2015 at 10:14 pm #

    Which is why I even bother to post here.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Anna Lickorish October 25, 2015 at 11:17 pm #

    She needs to read up on the latest research then and modify her approach somewhat. This is what science does. Otherwise you’d have people running round claiming bad smells cause pneumonia and getting upset when people who’s lives depend on the right treatment get pissy about it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • hudsongodfrey October 26, 2015 at 12:07 am #

      I’ll put it to you this way and you can tell me why I’m wrong, if you wish. I’ll welcome it if you do.

      As a bloke I have on the odd social occasion encountered the female equivalent of what we blokes would probably call a bonding session, a group of young mothers doting over their babies, counselling the pregnant one or otherwise casting an eye over eligible young men, gossiping, sharing girly stuff. Its a time when I know the subjects they want to discuss aren’t relatable to me, and I basically don’t fit in.

      That’s fine and I accept it. I also except and support transgender people including family members and colleagues I have known. I fully accept that they have in every sense and fibre of their identity a need to embrace their very real and genuine femininity in all its aspects. I wish for their sake that they could magically do so. But in the nicest and sincerely least offensive possible way I have my doubts they could seamlessly fit into the girly conversation.

      Don’t get me wrong, I hope that they’d be welcome and I expect they’d fit it far better than I, but there are facts to be faced about life experiences they can’t share, much as we may regret it on their behalf. It doesn’t mean we should regard them of lower status or appreciate them any less, but for the sake of any conversation that addresses itself to the authentic experience of femininity in all its aspects then there are some where like me they simply won’t quite fit in.

      Apparently this matters to Germaine Greer more than it does to me. But then it’ll never be more awkward for me to relate to a transgender female in the way it might for her, will it?


      • jaycee243 October 26, 2015 at 3:32 pm #

        In short..; one can’t really replace menstruation with imagination.

        Liked by 2 people

        • hudsongodfrey October 26, 2015 at 5:45 pm #

          Maybe. I’m definitely not sure, and it wasn’t what I was alluding to.

          I think there are elements of socialisation that come into play as well. Maybe I just hit on a bad example. The borderlands between biological characteristics we can’t change and social ones that we can’t are always dangerous territory, but necessary to traverse if we want to be able to push social change as far as we can.

          Its an important part of the objections people might have around how gendered conversations are conducted that all sorts of sensibilities are aroused that get in the way of honestly examining the subject as I think Jennifer tries to do. So its a problem for Greer to make some of the comments she has if she can’t defend them, though on pasts form the odds are good that she can. I’m really just trying to preempt some of that logic for the sake of furthering my own understanding.


        • Nick October 27, 2015 at 11:10 am #

          Many women can’t menstruate. Many women can’t have babies. I think you’ll find they’re still women.

          Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson October 26, 2015 at 12:22 am #

      I don’t agree with her. I think banning her is daft, however.


  3. LSWCHP October 25, 2015 at 11:29 pm #

    Thank you. I’m a bloke, and I thought that if I bought into this debate I’d be hammered for, well, commenting while being a bloke. However, you’ve expressed exactly what I think about the meta-topic, and much better than I could.

    I believe that Ms Greer has the right to hold her views, to express them and to have them challenged if people are so inclined. Censorship on the other hand represents intellectual death and the triumph of the dim who can’t defend their arguments. I despise it.

    For what it’s worth, I feel sympathy for the travails undergone by transgender people and I wish them well. However, for someone (eg Jenner) to go from birth to maturity as a man, and then claim to be a woman seems…errrmmm…dubious in my view. Someone in that situation has not experienced a lifetime of femaleness, if there is such a word, and I simply can’t believe that they will have the essence of what that implies at the centre of their being.

    For example, I like to go for long evening walks, even in winter when it’s dark. My ex-wife once told me she’d be very reluctant to do such a thing by herself, because she felt that it might not be safe for her to do so. That’s a sad indictment on our society, but it represents the truth of how she felt after 50 years of life as a woman in suburban Australia. I’m pretty sure though, that if I underwent gender reassignment I’d still be taking my evening strolls. My essence would still be that of a large man, regardless of the effects of hormones and surgery.

    Obviously, I’m prepared to have people disagree with me, and I’d be interested to hear other points of view. I’m not trying to offend anybody…that’s just how I see things.

    And finally Ms Wilson, I’ve been lurking around your blog for a while, but haven’t felt compelled to contribute until now. You write thoughtfully and well. I don’t always agree
    with you, but I love your work.

    And completely OT, I see that your doctorate is from SCU. Do you happen to know Annie Burrett or Susan Nancarrow by any chance? Both lovely women, and old friends, though many years have passed.

    Best wishes…LSWCHP

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson October 26, 2015 at 12:18 am #

      Hello, thanks for commenting after being silent! And I’m glad you enjoy the blog.
      No, I don’t know your friends, tho I stopped teaching a few years ago. Perhaps we were in a different faculty? I was in humanities & Social Science.
      The other thing with Jenner is her celebrity status and wealth – hardly ordinary situation for most women.
      Thanks again for contacting me. All the best, Jennifer.


  4. hudsongodfrey October 25, 2015 at 11:38 pm #

    Not that Germaine ever needs defending, but the point to make would be that she’ll front her critics as needs be and either prevail or hopefully modify her views slightly.

    The difference between her and others I could mention is that she’ll turn up to the debate rather than speaking exclusively to the choir!

    I think she may have the beginnings of a point despite a typically strident way of expressing it. There’s a slightly ridiculous sense of cloying political correctness about ignoring the fact that some differences remain. The change of gender identity may be both welcome and necessary. We may wish quite earnestly to offer our support. Yet, there’s a certain amount of undeniable social awkwardness to the fact that some life experiences are not and cannot be shared between people who weren’t born the same gender.

    I think authenticity matters to Greer because she places female liberation above equality in a way that I’m naturally going to find more challenging than I would were it just the other way around. I’d be brave to say she was wrong without hearing her out though and I think it’d be instructive regardless of outcome. On past performances I think what she’d probably offer would sound in her words a lot more like common sense than high flown feminist theory. I think I’d not only look forward to that, but her lecture would if held probably be standing room only!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson October 26, 2015 at 12:20 am #

      The Uni have refused student demands to ban her, & her lecture is sold out. It isn’t about transgender women – maybe she;ll talk about regenerating her Northern NSW farm back to rainforest. She’s hugely knowledgeable on this topic. And her place is glorious.


      • zoebrain October 26, 2015 at 12:53 am #

        She’s not coming though. Cardiff’s too far for august personages like her to go – they should come to her.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Matt Martin October 26, 2015 at 1:51 am #

    Hi Jen,

    Thanks for this, you’re spot on.

    Greer, whether we like her or not, is a important voice. She has more than established herself as a public intellectual and the idea that disgruntled undergraduates with too much time on their hands can silence her with shrill cries of “TRANSPHOBE!” should be chilling to those of us who relish robust discourse.


    Liked by 2 people

  6. Anna Lickorish October 26, 2015 at 7:10 am #

    Re. The comments about ‘fitting in’.

    I fit in just fine thank you very much. I’m lucky because I ‘appear’ cis. The times I don’t ‘fit in’ so well is when I am ‘outed’ and people treat me different my.

    Which means that particular problem comes from mainstream society not me.

    People of Colour still have that problem in some white dominated areas today.

    It’s a form of tribalism, of bothering, and it’s really unpleasant.

    Imagine how you would feel, respond, if the OP had attacked you for being male after flitting so long on the fringes of this blog. You’d feel hurt and upset, and probably wander off.

    Imagine if you felt deeply uncomfortable with your appearance, and people kept judging you on it.

    It’s complicated and difficult to understand. But focussing on differences of experience like that is a bit, well in other areas we’d call it racist, or homophobic somewhat.

    We know gay men often have a different culture or attitude to straight men. A lot of that is down to ‘othering’. Some of it is down to life experience.

    No surprises if some trans women are a bit different then. Much the same as people might say ‘gay men aren’t real men’ other people say ‘trans women aren’t real women’.

    Think about that for a bit.


    • hudsongodfrey October 26, 2015 at 9:19 am #

      This responds a little I think to something I asked, so if I may continue labouring an example just a bit. I think I could fit in too, but its where I fit that Greer seems to think might count. If there’s a new baby to be held I hope everyone including the blokes wants a piece of that. Its a basic human thing to want to nurture. I’m just saying motherhood isn’t my shared experience in terms of how I’d identify in that company.

      At that point the example peters out and I think, while perhaps an interesting mental exercise it isn’t one Greer would be much interested in. What she might argue instead is that role assignations are made to people according to the gender they’re given at their birth that in the way she tells it can circumscribe women’s aspirations in life. Whether those apply to a greater or lesser extent to trans people is something that, like motherhood, I can’t authentically speak to. I think it’ll vary. I imagine that in making a change of roles that trans people may notice social diminution of women more.

      I hope you’ll allow that I’ve used motherhood as an example here because it leads us into the notion of values, “motherhood statements” being the very term we use for that which we hold to be self evident. And when I say we I do mean men as much as women and everyone in between. We can value something without being it, but we can only speak authentically to the experiences we’ve lived.

      Black comedians make “n” word jokes, whitey’s like me are required in polite company to call it the “n” word. I AM just trying to be a good listener and think Greer has over a lifetime been worth a listen.


      • Jo Tamar October 26, 2015 at 2:44 pm #

        This has inspired one of my occasional delurks, with a rather long comment – apologies.

        I’m a cis woman and I will never have motherhood as a shared experience. I nevertheless manage to “bond” just fine with my friends (of various genders and sexualities) who have children. Even when they talk about their children and their experiences of being parents. I expect that trans* women – as all women and men and other gendered people – are perfectly capable of doing the same.

        Conversely, many of my cis woman friends who have babies would have been (and were) frustrated and bored in gatherings like the one described.

        My point being that not all cis women have exactly the same experience, either. What was described was not a “cis woman” experience. It was a “particular group of women” experience which, yes, people bond over. People bond over all kinds of things.

        And yes, it is true that someone who has been engaging with the world apparently as a man for 50 years and who then engages with the world as a woman will have a different experience of the world than someone who engages with the world as a woman for all of that time. That does not make the first person not-woman. Just a woman with a different experience of the world from many other women. (And a woman who is probably hyper aware that if she is large and “masculine” compared to society’s general ideas of a woman, she will be easily identifiable as trans* and so at significant risk.)

        This post by Aoife at Consider the Tea Cosy on gender fluidity is really worth reading:

        It’s on a different topic, but it’s relevant because of the way Aoife talks about how it can be a bit perplexing for many of us to understand what someone says when they “feel like a man” or “feel like a woman”. She articulates very well something I’ve thought for a while.

        But just because many of us – maybe a majority – are happy enough fitting in with our assigned gender not because we have a strong feeling one way or another about being that gender but because that’s “just the way it is”, doesn’t mean that trans* people are not sincere or “real” in the way they experience their gender.

        In fact – to be a bit cheeky – is a trans* woman, who strongly feels that she is a woman, possibly more of a “real” woman than a person who is a woman because that is her phenotype and the way she has been socialised, but who might have been just as happy as a man had things been different?

        (PS I don’t think any woman is more “real” than any other woman.)

        I have not been following the Greer thing closely enough, but I broadly agree with Jennifer in relation to the ban. I think she should educate herself more before she speaks. But she has always spoken from her own experience: that’s what she does. She has often been controversial. Cardiff knew all that when it invited her. And speakers often have expressed far more offensive views without being banned.

        By the way, regarding DQ’s comment below: the IOC’s rules are not solely (and maybe not even) about trans* people. There have been a couple of high profile cases where women who had been assigned female at birth were excluded from competing as women because of their hormonal profile. Caster Semenya is probably the most well known:

        Liked by 2 people

        • LSWCHP October 26, 2015 at 4:46 pm #

          Thank you. You have some interesting points points, particularly regarding the indifferent “real” woman versus the passionate trans woman. I’m going to give that some more thought.

          I guess I’m speaking only for myself and from my own life experience. I’ve experienced a lifetime of relative privilege due to being male. For me, there’d be more than a small amount of hubris involved in claiming to understand what it meant to be a woman as a result of gender reassignment. Everybody travels a different path through life though. It’s a complex subject, innit? 🙂

          Liked by 2 people

        • Jennifer Wilson October 26, 2015 at 5:19 pm #

          I do like it when you delurk, Jo.
          Thanks for the link, btw.


        • hudsongodfrey October 26, 2015 at 6:13 pm #

          That’s the first thing from freethoughtblogs I’ve seen in the gender area for a while that made good sense. They got themselves all tied in knots and controversial over feminist debates a while back. It may be relevant to add that at the point where they started banning folks it all got too hard to unravel.

          Yes agreed gender fluidity is a thing. Apparently Kinsey in his own inimitable way hinted at something along the same lines.

          Someone may have alluded to this kind of thing earlier and I really want to avoid being drawn into dramas, but part of that fluidity idea means not complaining, “how dare you say being transgender doesn’t make you fully a woman”. I hope those people could understand that I might be saying something better than that. I’m not committed to the view that being mostly heterosexual makes me fully a man. I think I just prefer to be around people who’re comfortable in their own skin.

          So in using an example of course I fall victim to the fallacy of using metaphors or generalisations. If somebody wants to argue the toss I guess it’s always going to happen. Exceptions will be found and they’ll probably be right, if argued I think at cross purposes.

          I hope there’s a scintilla of pause for thought that its given you as I know the conversation we’ve been having has done for me. I’m coming to the view that the point of unravelling the nexus between nature and nurture is basically to understand the way socialisation and culture shape and sometimes circumscribe the roles we all adopt in life.

          Sometimes it is hard not to step on toes or bunder into sacred cows while trying to work out what you think about these topics, but I hope you’ll agree the omelette could be worth the eggs 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

          • Jennifer Wilson October 27, 2015 at 7:12 am #

            I read that post, and the column that inspired it. I think both are an excellent example of why attempting to silence disagreement is the worst option.

            Liked by 1 person

            • hudsongodfrey October 27, 2015 at 10:16 am #

              I agree, but I think it makes all the difference when the disagreement occurs within a marketplace of ideas.

              There are times when it gets a whole lot harder though. What do you say when others start banning you?

              If people who hold opinions we disagree with are intolerant of our dissent, divisive and maybe even inciteful then we may well question how much latitude they’re entitled to. And if it reaches the point of violence it does seem to set a seal on the perpetrator having lost the war of words.

              Liked by 1 person

      • Anna Lickorish October 27, 2015 at 9:43 pm #

        hudsongodfrey, thank you for trying to understand rather than simply impose an opinion. That’s really unusual in the these discussions and rather interesting to engage with.

        I think Germaine has an opinion and tries to impose it, she has her model of gender and doesn’t like it challenged too much. It does, unfortunately, lead to transphobia of sorts because it doesn’t take into account something that trans people know, and others find difficult to grasp. When one is gender dysphoric, often your entire life is consumed by feeling uncomfortable not just with your body but the entire structure of the way you are supposed to live and interact with others. These effects intensify under puberty and when hormonal changes occur it has a really unfortunate effect on the mind too – it seems hormones can help or hinder certain brain types depending on how they are constructed.

        We’re still doing the science on this, but Zoe Brain has a blog with links to a lot of the research done on gender dysphoria and there are definite physical indications for dysphoria. The research suggests that a gender identity is not just psychological, imposed by socialisation, but is intricately tied to the way the brain is developed and how it responds to body organs and hormones. If they are awry, a dissonance is created. I won’t go in to details here as it offends intersex people somewhat, but there are often indications in a trans persons body that are more than just mental. My body shape and size, hips, butt, finger ratio, almost everything, are well within norms for females. With hormones, apart from genitalia and a slight deepening of voice, I am indistinguishable from your average female. I know I’m not necessarily the norm in transgender world, but neither am I much of an outlier. We actually don’t know enough about it to be sure. Most trans women simply do not stand out that much. The few that do, receive all the attention and lead to people like Germaine Greer assuming that we are all burly ex-sportsmen wanting a bit of gay sex and loving. As a matter of fact, a lot of trans women enter the armed forces to try and prove their masculinity It doesn’t work, because we’re not men.

        Ultimately, all our lives are different, and I would like to quickly discuss my own motherhood experience here. Mine is much like the lesbian mother who does not bear the child. I did supply the sperm, but since I have never considered myself male I was never the father. My experience was as female as any woman, only without the bearing part. I was there for support throughout the pregnancy, at the birth of my child, and I fed my daughter as frequently as my partner – since she couldn’t produce milk, my daughter was fully bottle few. So yes, I did not experience pregnancy but I have experienced motherhood in an almost identical fashion post birth to my then partner.

        Hope that helps go some way towards explaining things. And remember, this is my opinion and doesn’t necessarily hold true for all trans women or experience. And it doesn’t even touch genderqueer or non-binary people – I’m at the extreme end of the scale.

        Liked by 2 people

        • hudsongodfrey October 27, 2015 at 10:51 pm #

          That’s for writing and articulating those thoughts there’s are a lot connections you’re making that I intellectually recognise but hadn’t heard at first hand before and you do us an honour to take the time to share as you have.

          Insofar as I’m in any position to sympathise with Greer it does seem she’s spent a lifetime, and made quite a good fist of dealing with the limits society places on people of her gender. To that extent you may have some interests very much in common. Where you may diverge is at the point where somebody comes to be female but from a slightly different perspective she doesn’t think carries the same cultural baggage with it. I earlier alluded to aspects of that in terms of expectations and pressures around reproductive rights and imperatives. News of these comes to me quite directly as well so I’m sure they’re a real thing and quite unique to women in I suppose most societies. But I may be wrong, in fact I usually am, and for every perspective I agree with I expect to find two more that disagree with me.

          I expect for those trans people who’ve transitioned from male to female being judged for the first time solely on their appearance or spoken down to by men might be a heck of an initiation into sisterhood. I get it and the post someone added about gender fluidity also broadened my perspectives, There are intersex people who aren’t gender dysmorphic and I say good luck to them too when they want to identify as neither gender. If it isn’t for me or any person but you to judge you then maybe we can say nor is it really up to Greer to endorse.

          I think she was annoyed because Caitlyn Jenner accepted accolades for something that she ostensibly is rather than something she’s achieved on any great merit, and under those circumstances she may have a point, even if it’s a churlish sour kind of point. It’s also kind of just a matter of her taste in celebrities, and one that has nothing to do with this great public intellectual’s ability to lecture and be heard in a forum that welcomes the audience to go away disagreeing as they see fit.

          I hope you’ll stay in the conversation for as long as you can find the energy to. Society’s attitudes to diversity are neither so unreconstructed that you’re to be howled down nor so well informed as to do without the insights you have to offer. \

          And boy do I agree with your sentiments about stridency of opinions that speaks volumes of righteous closed mindedness. To those people in the words of The Dude “that’s just like, your opinion man!”


          • hudsongodfrey October 27, 2015 at 11:09 pm #

            1st word was meant to be Thanks. Ever since i sold my soul to Santa…….


        • Jennifer Wilson October 28, 2015 at 7:09 am #

          Anna, this post is so welcome, many many thanks.
          The trans woman I know best did indeed join the army & a variety of other “masculine” occupations prior to beginning transition.
          Germaine has always been polemic. I see something of where she is coming from in her opinions on this matter, however her manner of expression isn’t conducive to enquiry and discussion.
          I think she is reacting to a stereotype, or to an exception such as Caitlin Jenner, who is in a unique situation given her wealth and fame as context.
          What you have done, entering into the discussion on this blog without rancour, is brilliant, for mine.


    • LSWCHP October 26, 2015 at 4:52 pm #

      Racist and homophobic? Really? I’m utterly confused by the comparison. Seriously….I don’t see the equivalence.


  7. doug quixote October 26, 2015 at 12:15 pm #

    A gender-reassigned person is not a man or a woman for all purposes. The elite sporting associations such as the IOC skate around the issue:

    “Nothing in these Regulations is intended to make any determination of sex. Instead, these Regulations are designed to identify circumstances in which a particular athlete will not be eligible (by reason of hormonal characteristics) to participate in 2012 OG Competitions in the female category. In the event that the athlete has been declared ineligible to compete in the female category, the athlete may be eligible to compete as a male athlete, if the athlete qualifies for the male event of the sport.”

    I’m no fan of Greer, I never have been; but the banning of a person from speaking at a seminar or some such because they hold a different opinion on matters of who is or is not a woman or a man seems quite absurd.

    Liked by 1 person

    • hudsongodfrey October 26, 2015 at 2:12 pm #

      It amused me that joke about the Olympic authorities not bothering to give Princess Anne a gender test to compete in the Montreal games. Probably apocryphal but and amusing concept nonetheless.


    • Anna Lickorish October 27, 2015 at 9:52 pm #

      I’m not sure quoting the IOC as the be all and end all of gender studies is going to do anyone any favours, Essentially, they don’t want to question the binary model and have struggled with sportspeople who don’t fit the binary model, even those assigned a binary at birth that they are fully integrated with.

      If you were to judge my femininity on hormone levels, you would find I was a pregnant female unable to participate in sporting activities.

      Which is hilarious, let’s be fair 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      • Jennifer Wilson October 28, 2015 at 7:10 am #



      • doug quixote October 28, 2015 at 11:52 am #

        I only quote the IOC to note the point that Greer’s opinion is not wholly without foundation.

        There are medical and legal issues unresolved regarding transgender people.

        Personally, I care not a whit that a person is male female or some combination of the two; it is their own business.



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