Germaine Greer is not a woman.

Germaine Greer isn’t a woman.

According to Germaine, you see, trans women aren’t women. Because trans women, she says, don’t “look like, sound like, or behave like” women.

Womanhood: how you look, how you speak, and how you act.

Germaine Greer isn’t a woman. She doesn’t look like a woman: I don’t know anyone who looks like her. Everyone knows that real women have side-mullets. She doesn’t sound like a woman: that Australian accent? None of the women I know speak like that. If people don’t sound like my friends they are strange and wrong. Women- proper women- have Cork accents. Bai.

She definitely doesn’t behave like a woman. A real woman would never be mean to Wee Daniel.

You can’t have something if you work for it.

But you don’t have to take my word for Greer not being a woman. She told us herself! Listen to this: “I think misogyny plays a really big part in all of this, that a man who goes to these lengths to become a woman will be a better woman than someone who is just born a woman.”

In other words, we are not entitled to the things that we work for. Only to the things that we were given at birth.

You are not entitled to your gender if you have gone to any lengths for it. If you’ve faced discrimination and abuse for it. If you’ve had to navigate medical and legal obstacles for it. If you’ve had to come out to everyone in your life. If you have had to face up to workplace discrimination, street harassment, substandard medical care, rejection by your community, vastly increased risk of being attacked or murdered, and far far more.

As a noted feminist, Greer has spent her life working hard for her gender. She’s faced all sorts of adversity to have her conception of her womanhood recognised. She’s gone to absurd lengths to do so- just look at all the books she’s had published. People (myself included!) have said mean things to her about the kind of woman she is. By her own logic, then, we’d be misogynists if we recognise her as a woman. Or any other feminist. Or, for that matter, anyone who’s put any effort into being seen as a woman- so if you’ve ever put on a dress or plucked your eyebrows or even ticked F on a form, you’re right out. Also right out: if anyone has ever questioned your perfect performance of womanhood. Womanhood is only valid if it’s been present since birth, if we’ve done nothing to work for it, and if nobody else has ever questioned it.

Germaine Greer’s gender is open for discussion.

All of our genders are. A person’s gender has nothing to do with their own experience of themselves. It is something that can only be imposed from outside by complete strangers.

In Greer’s world, she herself is the only person who doesn’t have the right to determine her gender. I have the right to tell Greer what her gender is and what it isn’t. She believes that gender is about how you look, speak and behave. And she feels that things that we fight for are worth less than things handed to us in a plate.

I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be allowed to go through being raised as girls who grow up to write books on feminism and be mean to wee Daniel on the telly. What I’m saying is that that doesn’t make them women. It happens to be an opinion. It’s not a prohibition. 

So this is just, like, my opinion man:  Germaine Greer is not and never will be a woman.

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49 thoughts on “Germaine Greer is not a woman.

  1. 2

    I’m not sure this works 100% but I think it’s so worth talking about. I’m ashamed to say, in a distance past (20 odd years ago) I agreed with her standpoint about women not being masculinity’s leavings, their not good enoughs. Not a man? Oh, well, you fit the women/whatever bracket. I could see where her anger was coming from.

    But I was quite young, and had fuck all exposure to anything other than the Binary. I’ve learned a lot from the internet in the ensuing years. I’m sorry Germaine hasn’t evolved past her earlier view to a more human one too.

  2. 7

    a willingness to examine her position and admit when she’s wrong

    Rather the point, I think, is that she has examined her position, repeatedly (do you really think she hasn’t?), and been questioned on it, and come to her conclusion. And rather than evade the question, or vilify the questioner for even having the temerity to ask, and especially no sidewise not-pology. Instead she’s said “Yes, this IS what I think. Deal with it.”

    And people are dealing with it. Which is fine, except there’s an element of hero-worship going on whereby how-dare-these-upstarts-do-this-to-her when dealing with it means holding her to a standard that doesn’t accommodate her views.

    No heros.

  3. AMM
    8

    I’m kind of meh about this.

    After you’ve heard the 100th transphobe spout off and heard the 200th self-appointed spokesman (<-gender intentional) for God tell you you're going to hell and read yet another supposedly feminist blogger tell you your birth anatomy determines your destiny and read another dozen arrogant ignoramuses sound off about how XX and XY and Logic and Reason and Science and other contemporary objects of worship prove you don't exist — one more feminist icon saying you're mentally ill doesn't even register.

    I'm saving my outrage for dealing with the people who are trying to prevent me from using a public toilet after I transition. And who actually do stuff to drive trans children (and adults) to suicide. Very few of whom have even heard of Germaine Greer.

    1. 8.1

      Absolutely legit.

      I do worry that there’s often an element of performance to this kind of thing- that people will protest against speakers like Greer but aren’t there for the tougher slog of dealing with bullying, access to bathrooms, inclusion, access to medical care, employment discrimination, housing discrimination… and so on and so on and so on.

  4. 10

    First the warning. I am a white, male, cis, European churchgoer. By your local standards I am racist, misogynist, bigoted, heteronormative, and transphobic. But if you are still interested, I have an argument.

    Suppose that I came on this blog and told you: “I identify as an American woman of colour. I am therefore part of two persecuted minority groups. And I would kindly have you keep your privileged mouths shut and listen, really listen, to what I have to say. It is people like me who should be centre stage.” Would you take me at my word? Or would you look at me, pale face, blond beard and all, and challenge my self-identification? I suspect that the Julie BIndels and the Germaine Greers of this world are in a similar situation. They see world in terms of the one, huge difference between (patriarchical, dominating) men and oppressed women. And the very idea that a man can come and pretend to speak for the sisterhood just because of how he says he feels, is not only ridiculous but offensive – to them.

    You are quite right that Germaine Greer’s gender is up for discussion – all gender is. Gender is a social concept (unlike sex, which is a biological one). So it is a collective, social decision who counts as a woman and who does not. It is not just up to me to decide what my gender is. Gender is about how the collective sees and accepts you, and no single individual – Greer, Aoife, or any trans person – can force their decisions on to the collective. Which makes Greer’s utterings a perfectly legitimate part of the discussion of where the collective should draw the line.

    That said, think her views are wrong. It would cause too much suffering to have a rigid sex-based system for determining gender. But there is a middle way between that and letting each individual decide (which, remember, would make me a woman of colour for the purposes of this debate). Why not treat gender like nationality?
    You do not become American just because you say you feel like one. You can become naturalised as a US citizen, but there are certain formalities. Even after the formalities, fellow US citizens would expect a minimum of loyalty and commitment from you as a condition of fully accepting you. You would still not be expected to hold forth on how it is to grow up in the US or live through 9/11 unless you have actually experienced it. And, do what you like, you cannot become president. Is that really an inhuman way to treat people?

    1. 10.1

      But what, in your mind, constitutes the necessary “formalities”?

      I think… political parties might be a better analogy/model. For normal, ordinary life, the bar is pretty high for saying “no, you’re not really a (X)” all you have to do is check the right box on your voter registration form. But, to actually run for *office* (and win), you need to more or less match the actual views of the party. The parallels would be… for most purposes, you should be treated as whatever gender you typically call yourself and present yourself as, though if you are attempting to, eg, present yourself as a representative for your gender, the standards may be a bit higher, requiring the “formalities” you alluded to.

      I will also note that you are conflating 3 separate and at least somewhat dissimilar issues: gender, race/ethnicity, and nationality. Whether or not you are an American is something that has a legal definition. Outside of people of recently mixed ethnic origin, race/ethnicity is pretty much treated as a strict matter of who your recent ancestors were, and it’s not considered nearly as central to identity as gender is.

      1. Necessary formalities? More or less what they already are, I guess. The change from ‘considered male’ to ‘considered female’ is officially registered, with some rules to ensure that this is being treated as a major and (ideally) irrevocable decision. In practice there would probably be some delays, but few rejections. For the trans person that admittedly has some clearly unpleasant consequences: your gender is not something you just are (like it for the cis’) but something that other people must first sign off on. Which follows from the fact that what is being considered is not the intimate nature of the person, but the assigned social role. For the rest of us it means that you do not need to redefine ‘woman’ to mean ‘person with a female gender identity’ but can leave it as ‘person of female gender’, with the added proviso that people of male (biological) sex can be officially deemed to be of female gender in some circumstances. In other words, in that model it is still (generally) true that ‘women have vaginas’.

        Political parties are not a good model, IMHO. For most people you neither know nor care what their politics are, let alone whether they are describing them correctly. If you happen to disagree with somebody’s political self-identification, you can ignore it without anybody noticing, or challenge it with no particular consequences. For gender you have to treat people according to one or the other – so that your gender choice becomes a demand on my behaviour.

  5. 11

    I am a white, male, cis, European churchgoer. By your local standards I am racist, misogynist, bigoted, heteronormative, and transphobic.

    Way to start out with a huge warning sign, unless the two sentences have nothing to do with each other. The first sentence is fine and most of us wouldn’t draw any conclusions from it beyond our likely disagreement on the existence of God. However, if you think that we think B because of A, well like I said, a huge warning sign. If the first sentence was just stating who and what you are, but the second sentence was just letting us know how conservative you are, then it’s just a little warning sign.

    But if you are still interested, I have an argument.

    If you meant “I am A so you must think I’m B”, I’m probably not interested. That being said, I’ll be fair and read your argument.

    *Reads argument*

    Yeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh… That’s not how it works except in the fevered minds of people who don’t listen to the lived experiences of trans people or decades of study on the subject matter.

    1. 11.1

      I especially <3 how gjenganger assumes that they're the only cishet white guy here. In fairness, I've no idea what gender/ethnicity/sexuality most of the commenters here have, but I'll be willing to bet there's at LEAST one or two more cishet white guys knockin' about.

  6. 12

    Explanation:

    – “I am white male etc. ” True, and shows what kind of lived experience I have. Might as well declare it, since it is sure to come up.

    – “By your local standards I am etc.”. Slight exaggeration, but also true. No because of who I am, but my rather unprogressive opinions sometimes gets me called those things. By owning it up front I hope to short-circuit the discussion of what kind of person I am, and get directly to discussing the actual argument if anyone is interested. Not a great success so far, but it was worth a try.

  7. 13

    She actually said….a man who goes to these lengths to become a woman will be a ….better woman….. than someone who is just born a woman.”
    Please get it right.
    We can’t even call ourselves women anymore without being labelled transphobes. Women fought more than a century to be seen as a woman, now to be told I am not a woman but a cis-woman. Yeah, um, next.

    1. 13.1

      You’re a woman. You’re also a cis woman.

      I’m an Irish woman, a queer women, a white woman, a cis woman, a short-ish woman, an atheist woman, a writer woman..
      I could go on. None of the words I put before “woman” take from my woman-ness.

  8. 14

    gjenganger: Fellow white cis het male here. Occasional churchgoer. Unitarian atheist, though.

    Saying a trans person has to get their “official” gender changed is not as reasonable a requirement as it may at first seem. In many places, it is very hard to get one’s gender changed on documentation, and it can be expensive. Some places even require getting genital surgery–which many trans people have good reasons to avoid or even can’t get, because it is expensive, medically risky, and often difficult to obtain.

    One of many sources on this subject:
    http://www.transequality.org/issues/identity-documents-privacy

    You probably didn’t know how difficult it was and how many obstacles there are. But these obstacles make it, in my opinion, a demand that can’t legitimately be made of trans people, even trans people who want to speak as representatives of their gender. (A concept that I also think is troubled–I don’t really consider either cis people or trans people to be able to *speak for* their gender, only to *speak as* one of their gender.)

    You’re also basically saying the bar should be higher for a trans person to get the same treatment as a cis person. This is advocating a double standard, by which I mean placing a bigger burden on trans people than we place on cis people. In a world where trans people already get the short end of the stick at every single turn, we should be very careful not to put even more unnecessary burdens on trans people–unless you can provide very good evidence that it is necessary. The harm of putting such a burden on trans people would surely far, far outweigh any benefit obtained to cis people by doing so, unless we just throw up our hands and say trans people’s suffering matters less than cis people’s suffering–which I think we shouldn’t do, although it is the route many people (implicitly and covertly, not explicitly and honestly) end up taking. Surely you’ll agree we need to be fair.

    Double standards that disproportionately impact an already-marginalized group of people can’t be justified without VERY good reasons. Personally, I’ve never seen a justification for any of the many double standards on trans people. All the arguments for double standards–and I’ve read a lot–always turn out to be really weak.

    And I say this as someone who used to find some of these arguments compelling. For example, a couple of years ago I used to think maybe it could be reasonable to ask trans people to use a different bathroom than the one they preferred, to avoid making cis people uncomfortable. But I’ve since learned how this particular double standard really, really harms trans people, while it doesn’t actually benefit cis people at all–despite the propaganda to the contrary that I had wrongly believed might be plausible.

    It’s very common for people (usually cis people) to impose very harsh demands on trans people. I think we should always tend not to ask trans people to do more than we ask of cis people, and that we should take trans people’s stated genders for granted just as we take cis people’s stated genders for granted.

    Yes, a rare few people might pretend to be trans and not be serious about it, which is the common fear and common justification for placing high demands on trans people. But this very rarely happens, and the “precautions” people take to try and avoid it always turn out to be much more harmful to trans people everywhere.

    I’m also not sure what demands are placed on anyone’s behavior by trans people’s genders, except simply “call them by their preferred name, gender, and pronoun, and don’t hold them to a standard you wouldn’t hold cis people to.” And this doesn’t seem like much of a demand. Maybe you were thinking of something else.

    Additionally, your suggestion that there might be a relevant similarity between a transgender person and a transracial person merits a response. I think the idea of relevant similarity be rebutted quite strongly, because there seem to be very substantial differences between the concepts of race and gender (both of which are socially constructed–but in very different ways) and between transgender people and transracial people. (Perhaps the biggest difference is that there is no condition of racial dysphoria similar to gender dysphoria.)

    Many articles were written on this topic in the aftermath of Jenner coming out as trans and Dolezal turning out to be white. Here are two of them. I think there are more differences between transgender and transracial in addition to these, and that these articles are imperfect, but they’re a good starting point.

    http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2015/06/15/rachel_dolezal_caitlyn_jenner_how_transgender_is_different_from_transracial.html

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/barrierbreaker/no-its-not-like-gender-dysphoria-5-thoughts-on-rachel-dolezal/ (this article has nothing to do with atheism)

    Finally, if you read just one book on transgender issues, I recommend “Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity” by Julia Serano.
    http://www.amazon.com/Whipping-Girl-Transsexual-Scapegoating-Femininity/dp/1580051545

    1. 14.1

      Your calm and informative post is much appreciated. I shall have to read your refs and think about your post before I can come up with any answer – so that might take a while.

    2. 14.3

      @Megaritz 14.
      It is getting late, but your thoughtful post deserves an answer.

      It is not that trans people’s suffering matters less than that of cis people. It is just that the suffering is real on both sides. Trans people are obviously getting the short end of the stick. The trouble is: what can you do about it – and who pays the price? ‘Double standards’ are neither here nor there, and saying that trans people should get ‘the same treatment as a cis person’ depends on a fairly arbitrary definition of what ‘the same’ means. Trans people, like cis people, want to live in a culture that matches their experience and way of seeing the world, where they are normal and their assumptions are universally shared. Unfortunately you cannot organise the world to fit well to both groups – and cis people are much more numerous.

      Gender is a social convention. As all such conventions, it serves to make people’s behaviour predictable, and to guide how we should respond in any situation. As an added bonus it makes the world more comfortable and recognisable to live in. People’s gender and the appropriate way to react is something we determine without conscious thought. Conventions should optimally match the life and world-view of the people living under them, but if you have a minority that is radically different from the majority that cannot happen for all. The problem then becomes how to distribute the pain, which becomes a matter of ‘the greatest good for the greatest number’.

      For extremely small minorities (one in a million, say) the minority has to do all the adjusting. People will not make major changes to their lives for so few.

      For large enough groups the mainstream has no choice but to adjust. If each child had a one-in-four chance of being allergic to nuts , or of growing up deaf, nuts would be banned from all kitchens as a deadly poison, and we would all speak sign language (or sign-and-speech). That is equality, but the cost, to the majority, is obvious.

      For in-between groups like trans people the majority (quite reasonably) wants to hold on to a world that suits them, but may collectively spend quite considerable resources on each minority member as long as the cost to each majority individual is limited. It becomes a matter of trade-offs. And the pain and trouble of cis people is real too. For starters, it is clearly more demanding and stressful when you need to concentrate on seeing somebody as a woman even while your every automatic reactions says ‘male’. Much like talking in a foreign language, actually. Worse, cis people have identities and feelings too, and some feel profoundly troubled that their identity is taken over and their safe, intimate spaces are invaded by a (to them) foreign and hostile group. You can dismiss cis feelings as irrelevant, of course – but is that not exactly what trans people are saying you should not do – in their case?

      Up to this point the cost is limited and well worth it to alleviate the suffering of trans people. I see the insistence on rules as cis people’s way of keeping it within bounds. Basically we are willing to oblige for people who have a deep-felt need, and who will also cooperate in keeping it easy for both sides. Admittedly that still leaves trans people with formalities to overcome and limitations on their behaviour that cis people do not have to endure. But abandoning the rules and moving on to full equality would extract a heavy price from the cis: Re-thinking gender so that it becomes only a question of what people say they feel – where what is now ‘women’ becomes ‘womb-bearers’ and where a penis is a female sex organ when carried by somebody who claims to be female – means changing everybody’s mental map of the world to something unrecognisable and illogical to 98+% of the population. Breaking the link between gender and appearance – so that someone who has taken great pains to look like a Clint Eastwoood cowboy, stubble, cigar and all, can still insist on being seen and treated as a woman – would mean that we could no longer classify strangers by gender on sight, but would have to painstakingly finding out and remembering how to behave and think towards each. Here, I would say ‘the price is wrong’. Sad as it is, trans people cannot expect to have the benefits that accrue to the dominant majority when they are so few – and so different – as they are.

      On the minor points you raise:

      – The process of getting your gender officially reassigned may well be so hard as to be impracticable, but the solution is to give support to make it easier, not to turn gender into a free-for-all.

      – The arguments (in your references) for race and gender being different rely on:

      1) Privilege. Dolezai, being white and therefore privileged, is wrong, and trans people, being underprivileged, are right. Not convincing, unless you are among those who benefit from the argument.

      2) The idea that gender is real, important, and biologically based, through ‘brain sex’. Even at the level of averages that would mean that existing gender roles are biologically founded, hence ‘natural’ and impossible to get rid of, and would justify the differences between male and female life outcomes (if their brains are different, ….). Worse, biology only ‘justifies’ trans people if you can determine gender reliably from brain structure for individuals. Which a) is unfortunately impossible, b) would lead to a new biological determinism, based on ‘brain sex’ rather than anatomy.

      I would actually like many of these consequences to be true, even though (or rather: because) they knock much feminist gender theory to smithereens. But I do suspect few progressive people would agree with the ‘brain sex’ idea if they had thought the matter through.

        1. Comprehensive Abbey:
          The things I favour I define as ‘civil rights’ – that means that no one is allowed to be against them.

          Are you in favour of replacing English by sign language, to make the deaf minority fully equal? If not, why not?

          1. Ah, forgot the quotation marks. That should be: “The things I favour I define as ‘civil rights’ – that means that no one is allowed to be against them.”

          2. That is a remarkable lack of comprehension of how equality works right there.

            But yes, it would be pretty great if people knew enough of their local sign language to get by, as well as spoken languages. Only makes sense, really.

          3. Aoife, WMDkitty
            Everybody knowing a bit of sign language would not be nearly enough for equality – as long as most conversations were spoken, the deaf would be disadvantaged. But you are consistent, I will give you that. Provided, of course, that you have learned the sign language that you think should be mandatory for everybody. Have you?

          4. I am so envious of USians learning ASL! Because it’s used by so many more people than ISL there are so many more resources out there.

          5. @Aoife, WMDkitty
            That is truly impressive! Still it is way beyond what you can reasonably expect so many to do for so few. I do not plan to follow your example – or Mother Teresa’s.

  9. 16

    First the warning. I am a white, male, cis, European churchgoer. By your local standards I am racist, misogynist, bigoted, heteronormative, and transphobic. But if you are still interested, I have an argument.

    For the lurkers: gjenganger has mistaken the common observation that being white, cishet, and male makes it more likely that one will fail to liberate one’s mind from societal programming vis-a-vis social inequalities that fall along the lines of the characteristics he named for a prescriptive belief that all cishet white men are bigots.

    In other words, the real argument is that being X predisposes you to be Y. gjenganger is pretending, dishonestly since he’s been commenting on FTB enough to know the different, that this means that all X are automatically Y without exception.

    Boringly transparent bad faith right there. And the following argument was no departure.

    1. 16.1

      Incorrect. Whatever my race and sexuality I am, by your standards and norms, a bigot. I know it. I admit it. Indeed, I would be ashamed to be anything else – since I am not terribly impressed by your standards and norms, and certainly do not share them.

      So, since we already agree, there is nothing left to discuss on that point. But I am happy to discuss the social status of trans people with anyone who is still interested. As I am to leave people in peace if they prefer to exercise their right not to listen.

  10. 18

    No because of who I am, but my rather unprogressive opinions sometimes gets me called those things. By owning it up front I hope to short-circuit the discussion of what kind of person I am, and get directly to discussing the actual argument if anyone is interested. Not a great success so far, but it was worth a try.

    See? He actually does know the difference between “Being X predisposes you to being Y” and “All X are Y without exception.”

    The observation that being in a class that accrues benefits from social inequalities rather than suffers the deficits of such inequalities predisposes one to endorse bigotry that supports such inequalities is an inconvenient one for gjenganger, since it suggests that his beliefs aren’t rooted in rational arguments and accurate observations about reality but rather self-serving self-imposed myopia and motivated reasoning. So he had to try to preemptively undermine the credibility of that observation. And indeed, it didn’t work. When you express bigoted views then the conversation will inevitably turn around to whether you are a bigot. Don’t like having that discussion? Stop expressing bigoted views.

    1. 18.1

      It is unlikely that the two of us will end up having a fruitful conversation. But, seeing as you left the goal open:

      being in a class that accrues benefits from social inequalities […]suggests that [your] beliefs aren’t rooted in rational arguments and accurate observations about reality but rather self-serving self-imposed myopia and motivated reasoning.

      So, if you do not benefit from social inequalities you are immune from being irrational? You will not let your thinking be swayed by self-interest? You will not be in any way biased in what you choose to notice? Is this idea rooted in some established psychological theory, and can you give me a link? Or might it just be a variant on the ancient principle that ‘my friends are clear-thinking and selfless, but my enemies are irrational and care only about themsleves’?

      The naïve observer would think that the arguments of trans people were quite as strongly rooted in self-interest as those of their opponents. But, OK, you know them to be nothing but dispassionate observers of the truth.

  11. 19

    I fell about laughing at her “you’re not a woman if you don’t have a great big hairy vagina” nonsense. Quite apart from her obvious inability to tell a vagina from a vulva, she’s 76. She’s been through menopause and sex hormone levels have fallen drastically. One side effect of this is considerably less pubic hair.

    What an idiot.

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