Friday Hoyden: Germaine Greer

I found this image on this media release page at the Southern Cross University website, which uses it to illustrate promotional information for “An Evening With Germaine Greer” that took place in early 2008. I chose it because it is a relatively neutral portrait, unlike the usual photos that emphasise either her strident aspect or her hedonistic aspect.

The introduction from the SCU media release is this: “Germaine Greer has been in the business of jolting people out of established theories and complacent thought for decades” which is a rather neat piece of understated ambiguity. Controversy has been raging around Greer in Australia this week as she has discussed her new work “On Rage” examining the tendency towards violence in indigenous communities with respect to the alienation of Aboriginal men. The media has been quick to denounce her at great length as not worth any attention, which raises the question (as others have noted) as to why they pay her so much attention themselves, and especially why they pay so much attention to her personality rather than pay attention to addressing the meat of her arguments, (There’s been some heated discussion over at Larvatus Prodeo)

Also, if it’s accurate that she only gets this level of personal hostility in Australia whereas elsewhere it is her ideas that get dissected and challenged instead (a claim Greer is alleged to have made), what does that say about the Australian media?

I myself have mixed responses to what i have read of Greer’s work (which is far from all of it, particularly not much of her literary analysis), but I suspect she deliberately writes to avoid anyone’s comfort zone. Some people decry her as a contrarian who courts denunciations, while others make the fine distinction of describing her a provocateur who may seek an element of controversy but not for its own sake, rather for the sake of inspiring wider debate. I lean more toward the second view, but I can see why the first view persists.

Where do you stand on Greer? What work of hers tempts you to applaud, and what efforts have tempted you to hurl it from the room? How do you think she compares with other public intellectuals in respect of how much she gets right versus what she gets wrong, and why aren’t some others with far less rigorous arguments not held to the same strict standard?

As an aside, what do you think of the way that the media has historically represented successful/popular feminist authors (most of whom are also academics) as if they are thus feminist leaders? This appears to happen less in actual journalism than it used to, but it’s a continuing trope in online debates about feminism with non-feminists, and several prominent US feminist bloggers have aldo been referred to as feminist “leaders” in various forums. Yet a talent for wrapping up a concept in a succinct and memorable way is not the same as either the ability or the desire to lead others. Is this continued conflation of authors with leaders an artefact of a deep discomfort with the idea that feminism does not follow the standard model of a leader-driven hierarchical movement?



Categories: culture wars, gender & feminism, history, indigenous, media

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86 replies

  1. [link]
    Below is a letter I wrote to The Age newspaper in response to Trace Hutchison’s article on Germaine Greer (above). It was not published.
    I am in the process of setting up my own blogsite at present which will mostly focus on theatre, but theatre also a springboard to other cultural matters –
    Cheers James Waites
    From: James Waites
    To: letters@theage.com.au
    Sent: Saturday, August 16, 2008 3:58 PM
    Subject: Greer the Seer
    Why have so many journalists, mostly white women, responded with such viciousness to On Rage, Germaine Greer’s latest attempt to raise an important topic for public debate?
    Especially disturbing are comments by Tracee Hutchison’s in this paper (Greer’s Latest Rage More Glib Than Lib, August 16). Her response is to some random remarks made by Greer in a brief television appearance (ABC’s Q&A), hardly a controlled environment for the dissemination of complex ideas.
    What becomes increasingly alarming as one reads through Hutchison’s attack, is the likelihood that she has not yet read Greer’s book before choosing to respond to its content. In an altogether unrelated spray at the end of the article, this is what Hutchison accuses Greer of doing over a previous storm in a teacup over a play by Melbourne writer Joanna Murray-Smith. Surely Hutchison cannot have it both ways?
    Nor, I presume, was Hutchison at the book launch (in Sydney) that took place immediately prior to Greer’s appearance on Q&A. If she had been, Hutchison would not be able to attack Greer for allegedly raising the subject for debate from ‘the comfort of her English garden’. I was at the launch, and Greer not only delivered a most informed and passionate summary of the content of her book, Greer also revealed she has made many visits to the outback communities she is talking about, going back to the 1970s through to quite recently; she has read voluminously across the topic – including all major public documents (see the index to her book); and she has also talked one-to-one with many Aboriginal men and women.
    I have since read the book in horrified gulps at the truths Greer lays down – in black and white (yes literally).
    To paraphrase just one example: ‘there would have been no Stolen Generation had white men kept their hands off Aboriginal women, or taken responsibility for the progeny’. Any arguments with that? An observation surely worth pondering for a minute or two? Classic Greer? No? Yet, our gut reaction – among female peers in particular – is to spit on Greer. I remember when this happened to Helen Garner over The First Stone; and they were equally high-ranking women journalists who led the hysterical, and later disproved, attack on Lindy Chamberlain.
    To sneer over whether what Greer calls ‘rage’ is better described as ‘grief’ is as productive as correcting someone for calling ‘silverbeet’ ‘spinach’. It’s the feelings of Aboriginal men (alongside those of the women and children) Greer is asking for us to stop and consider. And at no point in her launch speech or in the book does she excuse the violence Aboriginal men have inflicted on the women and children in their lives. Quite the opposite. She is merely attempting to add more data and fresh perspectives to the issues, in the hope that we may all work more effectively towards solutions.
    James Waites

  2. “I remember when this happened to Helen Garner over The First Stone”
    Yes, but in The First Stone Helen Garner suggested that sexual harrassment wasn’t really that bad, and that two young women who brought a case against (I think from memory) a professor at their university were overreacting and shouldn’t have brought the case because they ruined his life.
    So if she then got a thumping from journalists, of either sex, well, it was well deserved if my memory of the book is correct.
    It was a shame, really, she’s a great author but it really put me off reading anything she’s written since.

  3. Yeah, the interview on Lateline http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2008/s2334393.htm
    was shocking for that stuff I found and while I have not read that much of Greers, her final retort which I’ll past below makes me love her.
    PROFESSOR GERMAINE GREER: Isn’t it a curious thing that I write about the pathology of rage in this situation and it suddenly turns into a conversation about whether or not these people can “get over it”. What I am saying is they can’t get over it and it’s inhuman to ask them to get over it. It has to be recognised that they have undergone a series of the most appalling outrages and abuses. That they’ve been jerked from pillar to post, that constant variation in their legal status, in the Government’s approach to them, in their ordinary rights and the conditions of their every day lives, they’ve been driven back and forth across the country, they’ve ended up in one concentration camp after another. To me, it’s outrageous that you back off and say “why can’t they take responsibility”. Actually they would take responsibility but someone has got to register the savagery of what has been done to them instead of constantly minimalising it. I do think reconciliation is a bitter joke. We have nothing to forgive and yet we say magnanimously we will carry on as if there was no serious problem. I think that is outrageous and disrespectful.
    Fuckin’A.

  4. Germaine Greer gets quite a rough ride over in Europe, too. The press give her a lot of critical coverage and even in the Guardian, where she has a column, there has been criticism of her radical stance.
    Of course, my problem with her comes from her radical stance against transsexual women and I’m afraid that the hatred she shows us makes it extremely difficult for me to value her work.

  5. Yeah. Fair call…I haven’t read any quotes/writing regarding trans individuals/issues, but I was pretty appalled to hear third hand a rough approximation of her views.

  6. Emily S, those passages of hers on transsexualism (and intersex as well) were basically what I was thinking of when I wrote about material of Greer’s that makes one want to hurl it from the room. She also seemed far too generous towards cultural apologetics for female genital mutilation.
    Yet there’s other material she has written which is insightful, analytic, scathing and valuable. She’s not simple to evaluate.

  7. FP: here’s one excerpt from The Whole Woman.

  8. Lauredhel: Thanks for the link, though I can’t help wishing I *hadn’t* read it. Sigh.

  9. I gave up on Germaine Greer when she approved arranged marriage because young women are ‘healthy animals ready to be mated’ in Sex and Destiny: it disgusts me that a feminist can underwrite the classical patriarchal treatment of women as domestic animals; this is the treatment underpins women’s subordination as chattel in cultures which use women’s bodies and labour as objects to be sold, traded and exchanged. Her contrarian and relatvist tendencies deeply undermine any humanitarian position.

  10. Hunourless, po-faced, one-dimensional women will never get women like Germaine Greer. Why even try?

  11. The tall poppy syndrome is clearly alive and kicking in Australia and I wouldn’t be surprised if GG moderates her personal views for public consumption and censors herself more than we’ll ever know–but then don’t we all. Germaine is foremostly an academic. She researches her work thoroughly, she’s not perfect and makes mistakes (apparently, but she doesn’t rely on being clever with words and having an original and timely point of view.
    The only book I’ve tried to read of her’s was Daddy we Hardly Knew You. It was humourless, well half of it was, I couldn’t keep going. It was also boringly academic, every iota had been researched to the nth degree–really detracted from it.
    I wonder how we would receive her were she not an ex-pat,i.e, had she never lived here. There seems to be some mindless tradition in the Australian media of Germs bashing.

  12. Bub at #10, to whomever could you be referring?

  13. Weird. Daddy, We Hardly Knew You is not at all an academic book. It is a very personal, conversational piece of writing. It’s primarily an exploration of family history undertaken with the aim of finding out the truth about the newly discovered (for GG) conundrum of the true identity of her father.
    It’s a brave and honest book, perhaps the bravest and most personally and emotionally self-revealing of all her books. Like the best mysteries it is exciting, a page-turner, as this superb writer and communicator traverses the continent of her birth and others her father visited in war. The truth about her father and his mother and foster mother is stranger and more poignant than any thing fiction could devise and reveals much about the social situation of so many men and women of her parents’ generation.
    It’s an absolute gem of a book.

  14. At the risk of opening a big ole can of nationalistic worms, the commentary on Steve Irwin made me laugh out loud, particularly:

    The animal world has finally taken its revenge on Irwin, but probably not before a whole generation of kids in shorts seven sizes too small has learned to shout in the ears of animals with hearing 10 times more acute than theirs, determined to become millionaire animal-loving zoo-owners in their turn.

  15. Bub: hunourless? Who’re you calling hunourless??!

  16. Well I love her, even though I have read things of hers that have made me extremely uncomfortable.
    Her position on transgendered people I think is theoretically defensible and rhetorically effective, but falls in a dreadful heap once real people enter the picture (as of course it is irresponsible and cruel to pretend they don’t.)
    Galloise Blonde, I value her for her contrarian tendencies. It’s probably what has given her the energy to keep up the fight for so long.

  17. Laura: she falls into a giant heap once actual biological knowledge comes into her picture, too. Her “understanding” of intersex conditions is ridiculous no matter what theoretical angle you’re coming from. Sadly, her lack of knowledge and hand-waving on other biological science issues has made me want to throw some of her other stuff at the wall, too.
    Greer is one of those writers where I’ll read some stuff that really grabs me; I love that she’s an older female academic who doesn’t pull her punches; but it’s really hard to get past this stuff (and I’m not sure how much I want to). It bugs me when someone claims special insights way, way outside of their area of experience or knowledge, and sticks to those guns no matter what evidence is presented to the contrary.

  18. Lauredhel said: “It bugs me when someone claims special insights way, way outside of their area of experience or knowledge, and sticks to those guns no matter what evidence is presented to the contrary.”
    Yes, that’s what makes me ask myself how much of the rest of her work I can trust. She *is* a remarkable woman and we need more people like her, but the way I feel about her trans comments is simple: She’s a bigot.
    That doesn’t mean she hasn’t written some excellent work, it just means that at least on the TG/TS/IS front she is one of the most anti-trans feminists and she legitimises discrimination of us without even understanding us.
    A man having such views of a woman? Indefensible. A straight person having such views of a gay person? Likewise. Germaine Greer having such opinions of a transsexual? It’s “theoretically defensible”
    Sorry… She is an intelligent woman and she’s done a great deal of good fighting for basic women’s rights, but there are too many areas where she scares me. (Wow… That actually is right… She *does* scare me.)

  19. If people are so dead set opposed to her point of view that they’ll actually throw her books at the wall (I have always found this a strange concept, btw – is in literally what you do? Or do you just stop reading?) then it’s probably best I don’t engage in discussing it further.
    cheers all, and have a nice weekend 🙂

  20. what Laura said.

    Weird.

    Out of here.

  21. I’m not out of here 🙂 I just don’t want to get carried away and debate this, cos I know I’ll feel bad about it later. Sorry to be meta. Carry on.

  22. If people are so dead set opposed to her point of view that they’ll actually throw her books at the wall (I have always found this a strange concept, btw – is in literally what you do? Or do you just stop reading?)

    It’s more of a literary nod to Dorothy Parker, I think. Although I did actually hurl a Heinlein once.
    I think Greer is definitely brilliant in many ways. I certainly wouldn’t reject Greer in her entirety because some of her work is flawed (especially when it applies to biological science). When she keeps her focus on literature/history/anthropology, she writes some eye-openingly important stuff, as (from reviews only, I haven’t read it yet) it appears that On Rage will be.
    It should be possible to discuss both her strengths and her flaws, surely?

  23. A guy drops in here and you dont even say hi…
    by the look of what most of you have to say about Germaine Greer I suspect I’m not missing much…
    and to the trnn – just in case yr gonno go off an another ‘it’s all about me’ tangent – I’m a poof!

    [content in breach of our comments policy has been disemvowelled – moderator]

  24. James Waites #23,
    ???
    Rebekka and fuckpoliteness both responded directly to points you raised in your post, and you haven’t responded in turn.
    Grow a thicker skin, mate.

  25. Laura #21,
    my comment at #22 crossed with yours, and I only just saw it. Glad that you’re not out of here.
    (edited to add: I find it bemusing that the stoush on Greer over at LP is on whether she’s worth reading at all, and the objections here are about some suggestions that not everything she’s written is as perfectly brilliant as her very best work)

  26. A guy drops in here and you don’t even say hi…
    *sigh* (Altogether now..) “Hi James.”
    I guess what I most admire about Greer is that she is a real 100% human being. Her opinions aren’t 100% consistent and like most of us she probably can’t be sure what she believes herself more than 75% of the time, but she’s at least willing to put some time into thinking about it until she develops a clearer idea.

  27. “and to the tranny – just in case yr gonno go off an another ‘it’s all about me’ tangent – I’m a poof!”
    Lovely.

  28. Sorry, Emily S – it’s been disemvowelled now.

  29. Thanks, tigtog… That’s kind of you! 🙂

  30. I actually find the more I read of Germaine Greer’s work, the more I dislike her.
    When I hadn’t read anything, the public persona of loud, outspoken and unapologetic was really appealing. I really wanted to like her, but just can’t.
    Reading her stuff, well, mixed to say the least. I think over time she’s gotten increasingly likely to express her own rage chiefly at other women, and that’s quite disturbing. Her Guardian column is frequently an exercise in wtf lulz? She’s funny, to be sure, but the cost of that wicked wit is pretty much any chance of any real insight. Everything’s very polarised with her.
    So no, I don’t think she *is* much of an academic, or a public intellectual. She’s an often-witty polemicist whose work is, in my opinion, ultimately not very helpful to anyone at all. Agent provocateur is extremely generous really, given that many of her views now dovetail nicely with the most retrogressive women-hating views around.
    Respect for the galvanising effect the Female Eunuch had, but I kinda agree with “did some good despite herself” verdict in one biography I read.
    And yeah, her trans stuff is.. uh.. special, and rather relevant to her legacy. It’s far from theoretical – she rather famously outed (trans) professor Rachel Padman to the UK tabloid press in a concerted effort to get her fired. Nasty, nasty stuff.

  31. I read The Female Eunuch when I was eighteen, in my first year of uni (although not for any course I was studying– just of my own accord). At that stage, I was someone who wanted to identify as a feminist, but I was scared by all of the straw feminists out there. Greer did a lot to allay those fears. One of the things I remember most about that book was her positive attitude that women can change things. Unfortunately, I think this played into a preconception I had at the time that ending sexism is solely the responsibility of women (because we can’t ask that poor little menz to do anything), but I can’t blame Greer for my own mindset, and it felt very empowering (and I’m sure it still would, if I re-read the book) to have someone talking about women as powerful, active beings.
    I also admire her willingness to speak her mind and cause a bit of fuss, even if I don’t agree with everything that she says. It’s nice to see a woman who doesn’t apologise for having opinions and talking about them.
    Having said that, of course, I agree with everyone who has said that her views on trans* people and intersex people are simply… ugh– not to mention under-researched to an extent that is indefensible for someone who works as an academic. It doesn’t matter if her field is literature and anthropology– my field is literature, and I know how to search scientific journals if I need to.

  32. Honestly? I don’t really take Greer seriously and didn’t think that many others did either. So I guess you learn something new every day. Not judging! Just saying.
    I was not at all impressed with this essay (which I think is from On Rage? Or a summary? I’m not sure which). And if the other stuff she’s accused of saying is true . . . and hey, maybe it was taken WILDLY, WILDLY out of context . . . well then. (Discussion here.) Then there’s the transgender stuff, the fact that I once read a (feminist) review of a speech she gave about how the Gardasil vaccine is bad because it encourages sex with underage girls (what?), and now to hear the (entirely contradictory) support of arranged marriage . . .
    I’m not going to throw her books across the room. I just have huge piles of books to read as it is, and won’t be spending any time adding hers to the stack. Honestly, when the anti-trans stuff starts, I just shut off. Maybe that’s short-sighted, but it’s honest. I view it as bigotry, and it takes a hell of a lot of other good to get me to have any time for the person spouting it. Unfortunately, there seems to be an awful lot of other bad floating around, so . . .

  33. I think you’ll find, James, that my comment addresses yours. (Oh jeez, just noted that tigtog’s pointed this out) Adressing your point and continuing was including you into the space and conversation rather than screaming “Look. A dude! HERE!!Quick, come take a look”.
    It was adressed fleetingly mind you, given the point is Greer, and the way her real words are often not engaged with and not “a DUDE pointed this out not a woman: compare and contrast”. Anyway, I’ve just seen the disemvowelled section so think I may have had enough explaining myself to you right now thanks.
    Sheesh. I was struggling with this thread last night as I do love Germaine as a public figure and I felt like I’d skipped over that love and the joy she brings to me when she says something outrageous and into the bad stuff.
    A woman unafraid to get in people’s faces and make an effort to stay there, to unsettle and disturb, to unapologetically be loud and opinionated and sexy and scathingly funny to boot means that I adore and admire her for that role which is much needed in Australia.
    However, as many have pointed out her thinking and writing on trans issues is ill-informed and bigoted, and no matter how much I love her, and wanna be her when I think of the outrageous things she’s done and said to unsettle Aussie masculinity/a conservative public – I don’t love that, or want to be that, or to support that in her in any way. It’s frightening and dangerous and mean and unnecessary. As tigtog says, it SHOULD be possible to discuss her strengths and flaws.
    I hate it when she’s being attacked by people who are deliberately misconstruing her arguments (and I think it’s a common tactic employed against feminists and left wing figures), missing the point etc etc…but with the trans stuff, it IS her actual words, arguments and points which are bigoted, dangerous and ultimately violent. I can’t back that play no matter how much joy she brings me in other areas. And I don’t want to be told that that means I “don’t love her”.
    I do love her, and I think more loud-mouthed, opinionated, quick witted, fiery, fiesty feminists are desperately needed in public spaces in Australia…but she is still accountable for the ethics of her views, and in this area I think she’s not just wrong, but is causing damage, distress and violence.

  34. If you thought the Hutchison’s piece was bad the Devine one was utter, envious horror. I’ve just written a post on it after seeing GG speak last night in Melbourne.
    Perhaps it is easier to denounce a woman for not being a real woman because she hasn’t had children or lived in ‘domestic bliss’ with a man (from Devine) than actually address the issue of our own transgressions against the custodians of this land. Greer was spot on when she said that The Apology was for us, the white people, to make us feel better. An uncomfortable truth. But Hutchison and Devine don’t actually debate her thesis, examine her call for a treaty if we truly want to heal the wounds, no it is much easier to attack her for being attention seeking and not a real woman.
    another outspoken females last blog post..the Greer hat trick

  35. Yeah, see THAT’s the shit I hate! It’s SO nasty, SO destructive…I love Greer for the fact she’s able to sail those storms (and other storms from more reputable dissenters), I think I would collapse in an exhausted heap. I couldn’t bear to read Devine’s character assasination – written by someone WITH no character it was just going to be too much for me. I did get to the bit where she said Greer had contributed nothing to society…excuse me? What exactly has DEVINE ever contributed except to fuel the ignorant hatred of anything that questions the status quo.

  36. FP: When I took a step back from these two articles I realised they said so much more about the authors than Greer. I got the feeling that Devine was radiating pure envy – of Greers standing, attention and what she can get away with. As for Hutchison, she’s got her own shit to deal with. I’d like to see her take on Devine over the issue that a woman without a man remains emotionally stunted. Now that could be fun!

  37. There was this Greer quote on Andrew Bolt’s blog yesterday, I think. It was meant to be critical of her, but it made me like her a hell of a lot – possibly may make me buy her latest book.
    I’m not sure whether Germaine sets out to be a controversialist, but she certainly succeeds. In a strange way, I like that she defends the apparently indefensible, and comes across as a ‘bigot’ – I think it’s demonstrative of a courageous commitment to utter intellectual honesty that is rare, exceedingly rare.

  38. I see where you’re going there Tim, and I do admire so much about her, and generally speaking like her courting controversy in the name of challenging the status quo.
    If I’ve misinterpreted your comment, in taking you to say that her indefensible stance on trans issues is a commitment to intellectual honesty please let me know.
    Because if so, I’m not sure that misrepresenting or misunderstanding her ‘evidence’ to back up an offensive and dangerous argument which causes real harm to real people (and seems here to reinforce the status quo of trans-fear/trans-hate) can be seen as intellectual ‘honesty’.

  39. I don’t think Greer’s opinions are indefensible, that’s what I’m driving at. She argues powerfully, if not convincingly, about a number of different topics, and it’s simply because she shows that such topics can be argued about – that they are a point of contention – that she stirs up controversy.
    Examples: her tract from some years back about the physical beauty of teenage boys. Her Quarterly Essay, ‘Whitefella Jump Up’, arguing for the necessity of an ‘Aboriginal’ viewpoint of Australia. Her stance on transexuals.
    I think it’s a mark of her honesty, the way in which she approaches each of these issues and applies a critical eye to them. This is rare; there are few writers and thinkers who do this consistently. It’s often the assumption that certain thoughts, or arguments, or positions on these issues are ‘indefensible’ that really needs to be challenged.

  40. But as Lauredhel has noted at 17, her knowledge of intersex issues which she uses as a platform for her views on transgender/transexual identities/bodies/individuals/issues is really quite inadequate and misguided.
    So it doesn’t appear that in this particular situation she *has* applied a critical eye to it. This is my objection.
    I have no problem with the other issues you raised. I have a problem with her using spurious claims and grounding them in science as a platform which then encourages dismissal of genuine experiences and needs of human beings and encourages misguided attitudes and bigotry. It isn’t the idea that we cannot *discuss* a subject because it is *taboo* – it’s that she doesn’t actually seem to understand the things she grounds her arguments in in this matter.

  41. I think she understand quite a lot about the construction of gender. I’d even venture to say it is her area of expertise. I don’t know that science has all the answers here, or even much right to be listened to on every aspect of gender assignment, how it is decided, and what it means, since it’s got a bad track record in that department. I agree with Greer that gender assignment is not rational or objective, it’s not uncontroversially based in observation of nature.
    If the subject was racial identity rather than gender identity, we might be more sympathetic to her position. everyone here knows that people of different ‘races’ are negligibly different genetically (though science has only recently acknowledged this) but how would we deal with it if a ‘white’ person had herself reassigned ‘black’? I don’t like to engage in this sort of casuistic reasoning but this is the form of the position I understand Greer to be holding and proposing.
    I don’t personally agree with her position but I understand it, and I don’t feel the need to call her evil or mean or frightening (although she did frighten me when I met her last year) or say ‘ugh’ because she holds it.

  42. And I don’t think anything Germaine Greer says on this topic will encourage bigotry. It doesn’t appear to have had that effect on any of the people commenting here.

  43. [A pre-note: Race is perhaps not the best analogy to use for gender, especially in the here and now, because the idea of rigid binaries has been thrown out by most people when it comes to race; but the stark gender binary is still a dominant idea. It’s also an analogy I try to be very careful with, since I’m white myself, as well as gender and race functioning differently. I hope people can bear that care in mind while reading/discussing these analogies.]

    how would we deal with it if a ‘white’ person had herself reassigned ‘black’?

    A closer analogy to what she is saying about intersex people would be the situation of a multiracial person (or, perhaps, a black person with a single white great-great-grandfather), calling herself “black” – and Greer objecting to that self-identity on the grounds that she wasn’t a “real” black person, insisting that she was a “spurious” or “damaged” black person, claiming that her claim to blackness damaged “real black people’s” claim to blackness.
    Greer calls female-identified people with intersex conditions “failed males”, “damaged males”, and “spurious females”, and insists that they cannot be girls/women on purely chromosomal grounds. I can agree with her on some practical issues – like, for example, her opposition to imposing genital surgery on intersex babies – without agreeing with this premise.
    ”…her tolerance of spurious femaleness, her consent to treat it as if it is the same as her own gender identity weakens her claim to have a sex of her own …”
    I just can’t see this as any different, in essence, from straight conservatives insisting that homosexual marriage will somehow magically damage their own marriages.

  44. I thought carefully about the analogy.

  45. everyone here knows that people of different ‘races’ are negligibly different genetically (though science has only recently acknowledged this) but how would we deal with it if a ‘white’ person had herself reassigned ‘black’?

    Another parent at my kids’ primary school was a woman who looks not just white, but Irish white, who was the mother of two children who had strong Arnhem Land aboriginal looks. Like many others I presumed that they got their looks only from their father. I knew she had been adopted into her husband’s tribe, but thought this was her only personal claim to aboriginality. It was not until I had known her for several years that I met other members of her family and realised that she herself was of indigenous descent, with full siblings who appeared obviously Koori.
    So is she a blackfella, because she was born into a blackfella family, or is she a whitefella, because her skin is as pale as mine? Most people looking at her would definitely assign her as whitefella, but I don’t think that’s how she feels about herself.

  46. I was thinking more of medical reassignment – as if Asian people had surgery and took drugs to make themselves Caucasian. That’s how I read Greer as viewing sex reassignment. I don’t share her anger about it.

  47. OK, I think I understand your point better now. Still, views on race are complicated by the histories of people like in my example, and views on gender are also complicated by people whose subconscious view of themselves doesn’t matter the gender assignment given them based on their appearance at birth. Those challenges to rigid views make some people very angry, and others of us far less so.
    My own prediction is that we will see more and more surgical and pharmaceutical alterations to natural appearances over the coming decades, many if not most will be for purely decorative considerations, and recreational self-decoration at that. I suspect that our current angst and anguish over changing one’s body will seem rather quaint in a few generations.

  48. Her position on transgendered people I think is theoretically defensible and rhetorically effective, but falls in a dreadful heap once real people enter the picture (as of course it is irresponsible and cruel to pretend they don’t.)

    Of course it does – my mother helped me transition, and I’m still on good terms with her.
    Plus, that whole line about trans women refusing to change sex if we were required to have uterus and ovaries? I’ll be first in line when the ovary revolution comes. Her assertions are meaningless when real people are there saying “This isn’t my life at all.”

  49. Also: I don’t think her writings on transsexual people are even theoretically defensible, to be honest. People shouldn’t be used as rhetorical points.

  50. Right, after that I went off and found Greer’s comments on trans people and the intersexed as I wasn’t aware of them, and now I’m quite appalled.
    As for being theoretically defensible…yeah, I guess so, if you’re stuck in the theoretical understanding of forty years ago, sure. For someone who’s so keen on women not being put into boxes, she sure has a binary understanding of gender and sex.

  51. I don’t think her writings on transsexual people are even theoretically defensible, to be honest. People shouldn’t be used as rhetorical points.

    While I totally empathise with that response, I do see “theoretically defensible” as a class of argument which still has power even when the results of that argument would be an unethical and unjust result.
    For example, take human overpopulation and the mass extinction of other species, and the argument that the planet would be better off if a contagious plague wiped out 90% of the human population.
    I would class that argument as theoretically defensible. Of course, when it comes to looking at the actual people who would lose their lives, to advocate deliberately releasing such a plague would be callous in the extreme. Then when it comes to imagining actual people one knows and loves dying, it becomes horrifically obscene.
    To say that Greer’s base argument is theoretically defensible is not therefore to agree or approve of all Greer’s conclusions.

  52. For someone who’s so keen on women not being put into boxes, she sure has a binary understanding of gender and sex.

    Yes, this is where she loses me as well.
    (Edited to add: It seems that while she passionately desires to transform traditional stereotypes of women that have arisen from the gender system, she’s unwilling to extend the process to transforming the tradition of gender mapping to biological sex and that’s that.)

  53. What I mean is that Greer’s arguments about trans women are riddled with category errors – describing us as being like serial killers, insisting that we’re obsessed with the appearance of womanhood and dismissing everything known about trans people to that point.
    I don’t see her argument as being comparable to the idea that wiping out 90% of the population. She’s arguing from stereotypes – and offensive stereotypes at that. Perhaps a comparison to The Bell Curve would be more appropriate?
    The premise is already wrong.

  54. Lisa, I agree that those arguments you describe above are highly offensive and category errors as well, plus simple errors of fact when it comes to discussing chromosomal variants and congenital hormonal conditions.
    Laura’s use of “theoretically defensible” was I think a very academic one, referring to a kernel of constructivist gender analysis underlying all this dross that you so rightly point out. I would hesitate to say that she’s entirely wrong on this simply because the rest of Greer’s arguments are highly challengeable.

  55. While biology is used as a weapon of subjugation against women Greer has the right to insist that those particular goalposts not be moved without scrutiny.

  56. That wasn’t scrutiny. There’s a difference between scrutiny and making several frankly ignorant assertions intended to position one or more groups of people as, well, as she positioned trans and intersex people.
    The problem with a lot of second wave scrutiny of trans people is like this – the arguments presented are more about the author herself than about real, living trans people. If the theory presented is based entirely on the author’s prejudices, what’s the point of the theory in the first place?

  57. Incidentally, I do not mean to ignore the other stuff brought up here – I haven’t been happy with what I’ve read from Germaine Greer in other contexts – her criticism of women’s cleavage recently, or her words about Madonna.
    I found her comments about aboriginal domestic violence to be highly problematic, in context with the information that the abused women are trying to get help. I realize that the history here is particularly bitter, but I’m trying to understand how it’s okay to let this go on?
    Or did I misunderstand her point when I got that impression?

  58. Greer’s points on indigenous family violence are definitely not meant to defend it or argue against the women who are seeking help.
    She is arguing that Australians of colonial descent need to understand what aspects of our ancestors’ behaviour (and the continuing sexual exploitation of indigenous women by non-indigenous men) have led to the immense rage that indigenous men feel, because if we just ignore the actual reasons for the rage then our programs to address indigenous family violence will continue to get everything wrong.

  59. “For someone who’s so keen on women not being put into boxes, she sure has a binary understanding of gender and sex”
    That’s almost opposite to what I take her to be saying: she argues that sex-change surgery is a conservative reinforcement of strict gender binaries which shapes people to match either one of the two boxes rather than recreating the boxing system of gender to accurately reflect the full variety of gender identites.
    But I might be misunderstanding which binary you are describing – is it gender = male or female, or ways of thinking human sexuality = gender or sex?

  60. Greer does seem to be arguing that SRS reinforces strict gender M/F binaries some of the time, and I can see that in some ways it does. Her arguments from that point seems to progress to saying that trans folks should be prevented from identifying as one of the two existing boxes because of some perceived philosophical obligation to create a third box? Even if their own subconscious utterly rejects the notion of a third box, insisting that they belong in the traditional second box that wasn’t the one they were assigned at birth?
    That’s where she goes seriously off the rails regarding her own view of the box around womanhood, in my view.

  61. She’s always been just as severe and unsympathetic with ‘women’ who she’s perceived as clinging to the chains of femininity.

  62. Technically speaking, SRS is something that a patient requests, not something that is imposed upon anyone, and those who request it typically do so because, for us, it’s really a matter of life and death – not in the literal sense that we’ll die if we don’t get surgery, but in the sense that the dissonance is bad enough for many of us that we attempt suicide. There are SOC that pretty much require waiting 1-2 years before being able to get surgery, but those who can pull it off will get surgery as soon as they can.
    I think that saying SRS reinforces strict gender M/F binaries is putting it backward. The enforcement is already there, and has always been there. Surgery isn’t adding to it – I would argue that if anything, surgery is capitulating to it.
    But there isn’t, relative to trans people, an industry based on forcing anyone into surgery. Lots of trans people never have surgery – for money or health concerns – and those who do have it aren’t adding to the enforced gender binary on any level that matters, as compared to the billions of people who are born conforming to the gender binary.
    And I think the fact that the vast majority of human beings who are born automatically conforming tend to be discounted when discussion about whether transitioning and surgery reinforce the gender binary.
    Look at Angie Zapata – Allan Ray Andrade’s story boils down to one thing: He killed Angie because she had a penis. Trans people suffer more from the gender binary than we enforce it. Not just the way Angie died, but: Shemale/tranny porn, for example, or the fact that in most states in the US you need surgery in order to legally change your sex on documentation – and if you don’t change your sex, social security outs you to your employer. Your passport is required to read your birth sex until you can get surgery and change your birth certificate. A couple states don’t even allow you to change that much. Some states have annulled marriages involving a trans person on the basis that the trans person is not really the sex they say they are, on the basis of birth sex and chromosomes and not even taking surgery into account. Even for many people who do accept that SRS changes your sex, they won’t accept that you’re a real member of your target gender until you do get surgery.
    There is a point where genital surgery is used to reinforce the gender binary – on intersex infants and children. For a long time, when an intersex child was born, that condition was declared an emergency and a doctor was brought in to construct a penis or (more often) a vagina (I forget who said “It’s easier to make a hole than a pole” but I’d bet it was John Money, who’d performed many of these surgeries).
    That is oppressive, it’s forcing a reality onto children without giving them any chance for self-determination. I also don’t know how common it is now vs. the time before ISNA’s (now inactive) activism.

  63. Laura: In terms of my comment in 50, see tigtog’s statement in 60 and Lisa’s in 62 regarding the issues of intersexuality. Please excuse me if this isn’t super clear as it’s 1 AM here in the US.
    Basically, the impression I got from what I read of The Hidden Woman is that she has every interest in demolishing the stereotypes of being a woman, but that she would gladly dump people into the ‘man’ box because of physicality, regardless of experience. That basically undermines the idea that gender is a social construct–and for cis-women, it’s okay to defy that construct. However, anyone ambiguous is not-woman and therefore screwing it up for the cis. This shows a complete lack of understanding of biology, for starters, and also a refusal to understand the unified problem of the patriarchy/TPTB.
    That said, even if her issues are worth bringing up, I’ve seen the issue of whether or not trans people and SRS reinforce the binary discussed in a manner that was considerably less rigid and offensive than Greer’s POV. Just because she’s being harsh to cis-women too does not make this any less repulsive to me.

  64. Bene, the book is called The Whole Woman and “she would gladly dump people into the ‘man’ box” is not right. The book is worth reading. She argues, in the very small part of the book that talks about these issues, that patriarchy dumps everyone not fitting its arbitrary, completely constructed definition of ‘male’, into a ‘female’ box – literally, since a woman is defined as a void, a vacancy, a sheath, an incubator, a vessel, a receptacle, a ‘hole.’ It’s the default not-male sex.
    She argues, convincingly to me, that ‘female’ has hitherto existed only as a sex with absolutely no positive, autonomous, self-defined attributes. And why I think it’s a precious book in the last analysis, even though it has points I dislike, is that she doesn’t want to thereby entirely discard the possibility of reconstructing or reclaiming a female sex with positive attributes and endowments. Other feminists argue we will have to discard the concept of sexes altogether.

  65. {watches her credibility plummet} That’s what I get for not checking my sources at 1 AM.
    But wouldn’t you say that her insistence on putting those who don’t fit back where she thinks they belong is problematic? I’d like to read her, but I honestly can’t get past this kind of thing.

  66. It’s political theory and not about singling out individuals. She specifically writes that women must feel sympathy and compassion for transgendered people, but as feminists the priorities are different.
    If you haven’t read Greer then do, she is a very engaging writer and her work allows ample room for dissent – she doesn’t rhetorically browbeat the reader into agreeing with her. If nothing else, reading what she actually writes will give you a firmer footing for criticising it in situations like this one.

  67. Stating that you should be compassionate to a group of people right before demonizing them does not give you a free pass to demonize them. Greer says in Pantomime Dames:

    ”The only way a man can get rid of healthy genitals is to say that he is convinced that he is a woman. Then another man will remove them and gladly. In order to justify sex-change surgery a new disorder called gender dysphoria has come into being. The disease has no biological marker; its presence is discerned by a history of inappropriately gendered behaviour, social disability and affective disorder. . . .

    Governments that consist of very few women have hurried to recognize as women men who believe that they are women and have had themselves castrated to prove it, because they see women not as another sex but as a non-sex. No so-called sex-change has ever begged for a uterus-and-ovaries transplant; if uterus-and-ovaries transplants were made mandatory for wannabe women they would disappear overnight. The insistence that manmade women be accepted as women is the institutional expression of the mistaken conviction that women are defective males.

    The transsexual is identified as such solely on his/her own script, which can be as learned as any sex-typed behaviour and as editorialized as autobiographies usually are. The lack of insight that MTF transsexu¬als usually show about the extent of their acceptance as females should be an indication that their behaviour is less rational than it seems. There is a witness to the transsexual’s script, a witness who is never consulted. She is the person who built the transsexual’s body of her own flesh and brought it up as her son or daughter, the transsexual’s worst enemy, his/her mother. Whatever else it is gender reassignment is an exorcism of the mother. When a man decides to spend his life impersonating his mother (like Norman Bates in Psycho) it is as if he murders her and gets away with it, proving at a stroke that there was nothing to her. His intentions are no more honourable than any female impersonator’s; his achievement is to gag all those who would call his bluff. When he forces his way into the few private spaces women may enjoy and shouts down their objections, and bombards the women who will not accept him with threats and hate mail, he does as rapists have always done.”

    So: characterized as serial killers, as rapists, as unable to describe ourselves honestly, describing surgery and hormonal treatments as mutilation. A blanket assertion about how no trans woman would ever want uterus and ovaries. All of these arguments are not about what trans women do but instead focuses on what Germaine Greer says we are. She’s making assertions about what happens inside our heads while simultaneously saying that when we describe what happens inside our heads, we should not be believed.
    I don’t see anything feminist or responsible about characterizing an entire group of women as self-mutilating serial killers and rapists. Her insistence on degendering us by calling us “sex change males” doesn’t help either.
    And she has made it personal. She tried to block Rachel Padman’s election to a fellowship at Newnham College because Rachel was a trans woman.
    Is it really a feminist priority to demonize a minority and justify further oppression of that minority?

  68. Have you read ‘A Room of One’s Own’?

  69. I’m not talking about Greer’s tone.

  70. You aren’t? OK, but I was wondering if you’d read ‘A Room of One’s Own’ as it’d save some time if you had.

  71. Actually, ignore that question, I really need to get on with my work. Thanks for the discussion.

  72. I was thinking of something else:
    One doesn’t have to look far at my blog to see that I totally see the value of polemic writing, but what you will not find is any essays blaming entire groups of people for stuff they’re not and cannot be responsible for. And that’s where Greer goes off the rails in Pantomime Dames. She’s selected an oppressed minority – one she has privilege over – and characterized them in offensive, stereotyped ways. And this is irresponsible, and not justifiable. I don’t care if she says that trans people deserve compassion – and I don’t believe she meant it if she did. One of my friends has been personally snubbed by Greer in the past for being trans, and there’s the stuff I quote above.
    I don’t see the political, feminist value of selecting a group of women and marking them as potential serial killers and rapists. I don’t see how A Room of One’s Own justifies that specific kind of attack. Justifies describing in detail what she believes are in trans women’s heads while simultaneously stating that trans women are incapable of telling the truth about ourselves.
    Perhaps you feel it’s reasonable, but perhaps you aren’t the target of her polemic. Perhaps you don’t realize how much her writing has mischaracterized trans women.

  73. I’m with Lisa, over and again (with apologies for coming in so very late!) I’m also a bit bemused by the claims to Greer’s expertise here: she continually refers with cheerful nonchalance to biology as a grounding for maleness and femaleness, even as she’s trying to maintain some sense of the cultural production of masculinity and femininity. I’m particularly thinking of a line in the excerpt that Lauredhel linked to earlier, which says “AIS ‘females’ have no female organs and not a female cell in their bodies.” I sympathise with the difficulty in thinking through the production of sex, on the one hand, but on the other, it’s also one that has been negotiated with extremely usefully, and is taught at undergrad level across numerous universities. Contemporary feminist theory, trans* studies, and a fair bit of other stuff that intersects with critical medical studies or STS, not to mention most of the stuff about those deemed “intersexed,” queries whether even our ideas about the ‘biological’ are as straight-forward as we always assume. I get that Greer writes predominantly for a popular audience, but I really can’t let that make her biological essentialism (however delimited she might claim it to be) just stand, especially when she’s often treated as popularising feminism (that’d be the ‘leader’ thing mentioned above). And it is, in the end, biological essentialism to claim that (most) intersexed people and transwomen (and there’s a fun little collapse going on in that text around these two albeit interlinked categories) aren’t women. Although I do understand that her claimed motive for doing so might be to move beyond binary sexes, she reinforces that binary by claiming that “cells and organs” are the basis of sex.
    As much as Alice Dreger is rightly in the midst of controversy right now, I keep coming back to her quote from the beginning of “Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex” (which was published in 1998, a year before “The Whole Woman”):

    What makes a person a male or a female or a hermaphrodite? This is the problem. Today my own students, college students in history classes, sometimes in exasperation ask these questions of me at the end of a discussion of the history of sex, as if I am hiding the “real” answer from them. “What really is the key to being male, female, or other?” But, as I tell them, and as we shall see, the answer necessarily changes with time, with place, with technology, and with the many serious implications—theoretical and practical, scientific and political—of any given answer. The answer is, in a critical sense, historical—specific to time and place. There is no “back of the book” final answer to what must count for humans as “truly” male, female, or hermaphroditic, even though the decisions we make about such boundaries have important implications. Certainly we can observe some basic and important patterns in the bodies we call “male” and the bodies we call “female”. And the patterns we notice depend in part on the cognitivie and material tools available at a given moment. But the development of new tools doesn’t get us closer and close to some final, definite answer of what it is to be “truly” male, female or hermaphroditic. Instead it only alters the paramters of possible answers.” p. 19

    She goes on to elaborate that at one point the gonads were key to maleness or femaleness (so definining, in fact, that middle-aged married women found to have ‘streak’ gonads or testes were required to simply, overnight, become men). Now we seem to be obsessed with the apparent simplicity of ‘chromosomes’ (which really aren’t that simple, not to mention the fact that the vast majority of people just assume they know what chromosomes they have) or genital appearance (if the continual use of intersex ‘corrective’ surgery is any indication).
    Anyway, the point of all of this is that there’s a lot of really good, thorough-going work out there that Greer doesn’t even seem to address, instead reiterating a problematic reification of some “biological truths” which are up for question even (gasp) within the scientific community. That she does this to ground the astonishing vitriol (and thoroughly questionable pop psych) Lisa reminds us of above makes the whole thing a problem. Yeah, Greer plays an important role, and sassy, feisty women are rare and awesome, but, like tigtog says, let’s be able to be critical too. And let’s not be blind to the really important conversations she ensures we don’t quite get to have. Or to the abuse of transpeople and intersexuals that her text enacts. (And yeah, I thought about posting this over on that other thread, but it felt even ruder to come in even later over there!)

  74. I think deconstructing gender is a good thing, but I think that it doesn’t help much when it’s not accompanied with a similar deconstruction of sex – of course, I do think to a large extent, sex is socially constructed along with gender.
    I mainly have trouble sitting down and locating maleness or femaleness in any particular body parts, or collections of those parts. I know these parts signify maleness or femaleness, but too many people currently live with bodies that aren’t consistent with their apparent sex – and I also think that hormones have more effect on one’s biology than whether one has a penis or a vagina.

  75. Yeah, that would be the short way of putting it, Lisa 🙂 [hides her wordy head]
    I do just find it fascinating, though, if this isn’t too OT, that people seem so determined to find an underlying truth to it all, whether it be in chromosomes, gonads, genitalia or hormones. It’s not to say that these things don’t have effects, but that these effects are not simple and that it is us that attaches them (the effects) to sex (or gender, depending on how thorough-going our deconstruction is). When mAndrea keeps claiming that she wants something unchangeable, I’m guessing that’s what she means. I suppose that’s what I really want, to bring this vaguely back on topic, is for that discussion to be made possible in a larger way; and repeating biological essentialism doesn’t seem to me to be the way to get to that conversation. But of course, if the world was made of what I wanted, Johnny Depp’s cheekbones and David Tennant’s grins wouldn’t be quite so rare. 😉

  76. I do not think we have succeeded in not talking past each other, and I feel that any more from me will be futile not to mention possibly upsetting in particular to the people here who identify themselves as trans.
    I’m sorry for the offence I feel myself to be inevitably giving, in continuing to say that there is something worth listening to in Greer’s work, even the confronting bits, and in not choosing to pay mere lip service to the cuddlier parts of her persona and personal history.
    I have reread the relevant pages of The Whole Woman about eight times over the last couple of days and I still believe than in keeping with the rest of the book it is arguing that the problem lies in the standard, current concept of what a ‘normal’ woman is (and what ‘normal’ men are, which I think is the *real* undiscussed issue raised by this chapter), and not with individuals who have to negotiate personal transition across the divide. If it was not for the divide then ergo nobody would need to bridge it. It is the divide that creates and remains the problem not the people made unhappy and vulnerable by it.
    Lisa, you are not right to say that Greer equates transsexuals as serial killers. The point she wants you to look at there (in the Norman Bates analogy) is the assumption of some of the mother’s physical characteristics.
    More generally, I am slightly disappointed that a post which asked for critical discussion of the discomfort Greer and her work occasions has produced a discussion mainly given over to enacting or performing that discomfort, not critically addressing it.

  77. I don’t think you’re being entirely fair to the others who have responded to this post, Laura. The post requested that people suggest what made them cheer about Greer’s work, and what made them angry. In most cases, this has been accompanied by a critical analysis of the discomfort experienced: that is, people have explained why particular points of her work make them uncomfortable: because they think it’s wrong in some way, or because it contributes to larger patterns of bigotry, for example.
    I also think that my point above that the repetition of biological essentialism from a major popular feminist figure might prevent the discussion of alternative ways of understanding sex is a critical discussion of how Greer’s work, and the discomfort and celebration it occasions, functions. I understand that you read her as not being biologically essentialist, and as challenging a binary system of the sexes, but she oscillates on this point, and winds up arguing that transwomen are not women and ought not to be considered women because they are not ‘female’ at the level fo cells and organs… For me, the discomfort I feel in relation to this lies in the suggestion that this is a) accurate and b) a radical position, rather than a conservative one. It prevents analysis of the social construction of sex, as Lisa suggested, which has been going on for a long while now with only minimal popular recognition.
    Finally, in relation to the transpeople as serial killers point, I have to ask: why are young girls who grow up to be women not characterised as assuming their mother’s physical characteristics? The use of the Norman Bates character doesn’t get at some truth about transsexuals, but more at our culture’s anxiety about transsexuality more generally (and the tendency to characterise it as simply a mental illness).

  78. Because they don’t change their gender identities in doing so?

  79. Trans people don’t change gender identities. We change our bodies to match our gender identities.

  80. I’m speaking in terms of how individuals are characterised, as Wildly Parenthetical asked, not necessarily of how they define themselves.

  81. Yes, but Greer doesn’t think that this is about the characterisation of transsexuals, she thinks she’s articulating a truth about them: that they are stealing their mother’s bodies, somehow. I suggested it might be about the characterisation of those transwomen or young girls and their relationships to their mothers.

  82. I can only go by what she writes rather than what she really thinks, as with any person.

  83. Yes, of course, that’s true of every text. But my point is that she makes these claims not about, say, the problematic conception of transsexuals in mainstream culture, but about transsexuals themselves. She argues that transwomen are killing their mothers. My question is why is it that young girls growing up are thought to not kill their mothers. You suggested it was because they didn’t change their gender identity, while transwomen did. First, transwomen don’t necessarily change their identity, as Lisa pointed out, and in this respect, the distinction between transwomen and little girls demonstrates that she has selected Norman Bates because she is wanting to suggest that transwomen are pathological and murderous; but second, I’m not sure why a change in identity is being characterised as a murder of one’s mother anyway (we all change, all the time…).
    I think you’re saying that she’s not saying that transwomen are really serial killers; sure, maybe not. But she is trying to suggest that transwomen are particularly pathological and murderous because they allegedly ‘assume’ their mother’s characteristics and thereby kill her (metaphorically at least). I’m not sure what you think is worth attending to in that claim, that I might be missing because I’m discomforted by it? I mean this sincerely. I am discomforted by the suggestion that transwomen in becoming women are stealing something from other women. I am discomforted by the idea that womanhood is something that can be taken away by the fact of someone else becoming/being a woman. I am discomforted by the supposed singular nature of womanhood. As Lauredhel pointed out way back on the other trans* thread, there are lots and lots of very different women, and I want there to be space for them. I am discomforted by womanhood being characterised as, at base, a matter of organs and cells. At the same time, you seem to be suggesting that I’m missing something important in this section of her work because I’m falling too easily into being discomforted by it? Am I missing something significant in this section of Greer’s work as a result of these discomforts? It’s not clear to me what that might be, if I am…?

  84. Please, I’m not going to argue with WP, Lisa, or with anybody else, about Greer, gender, sex, comfort levels or what Norman Bates signifies. If you are uncomfortable with Greer’s writing I sympathise and I don’t want to pursue it any further.

  85. I would argue that Germaine Greer’s position on trans issues reflects a more general problem both with her work and with her character, which is that she is drawn to positions which enable her to be personally offensive to people who lack her status. She is a very successful woman who has nonetheless never quite fulfilled her potential as a thinker and writer, and seems to take personal pleasure in picking on communities and individuals who are not in a position to treat her in the same way.
    Her outing of Rachael Padman is a case in point, where she picked a totally unnecessary fight in order to humiliate an individual. I have personal experience of this as a not terribly distinguished writer and journalist – my then boss Carmen Callil, Germaine’s oldest friend, tried to introduce us at a party in Carmen’s house, and Germaine stormed out of the room rather than meet me.
    Her original remarks about April Ashley in ‘The Female Eunuch’ were not only offensive, but came at a point when April Ashley had been publicly vilified in the courtroom proceedings around the annulment of her marriage. At best, Greer was colosally insensitive in order to make a rhetorical point; at worst, she threw herself behind the gutter press because she likes being a bully.

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