In November, Germaine Greer, world-renowned feminist since the 1960s, spoke at the University of Cardiff in the UK about “Women and power: the lessons of the 20th century.” It was a controversial speaking gig: a petition of more than 3,000 students, organised by the women’s officer of the student union, had appealed to the university powers-that-be to cancel the event. They did not want to give her a platform because of her “misogynistic views towards trans women.”
Feminists must oppose Greer’s transphobia. But appealing to institutional authority — university chancellors, government or police — to ban intolerable views is dangerously misplaced. These authorities exist to uphold and protect the status quo against ideas and actions that threaten it. The targets of their power are feminists, radicals, unionists, oppressed minorities and an increasingly angry working class.
We must use our collective, grassroots power to organise and speak out against Greer and all transphobic bigots. Feminists need to fight the battle of ideas and back this up with action — and be prepared to stand up to institutional authority to exercise this leadership.
Germaine Greer has a lot to say on the subject of women’s liberation. She was a pioneer for modern feminist academic writing. Her seminal and witty 1970 book, The Female Eunuch — which confronted women’s traditional role in the family — was revolutionary for its time. Germaine Greer has done a lot to advance the cause of women. Well, some women — those who are assigned female at birth (AFAB). Like many of her contemporaries, Greer demonises trans women for daring to challenge the patriarchal idea of what a woman is and should be.
Recently, Greer made her anti-trans views clear when, during an interview, she declaimed, “Lopping off your dick doesn’t make you a woman.” This is not the first statement of its type to be expressed by Greer — she also previously called trans women “ghastly parodies of women” — but it is certainly one of the most violent things she has said. In a later interview with the BBC, she announced that women who elect to have surgery are committing an “extraordinary act of violence on themselves.”
What spurred Greer’s most recent assault was Caitlyn Jenner (a prominent, white, wealthy trans woman) being given the title “Woman of the Year” by Glamour magazine. Greer and many feminists have questioned why Jenner would be voted Woman of the Year, because she is not AFAB. They ask, “Why does someone who’s not even a woman, get this honour?” They declare it another example of how “real” women are oppressed — this time, by men putting a “man” on the cover of a woman’s magazine.
It makes perfect sense that a magazine dedicated to selling products to women would use an idealised notion of beauty: white, abled and wealthy. But are Greer et al angry because beauty is being defined and women objectified in this way? No! They’re outraged because this rich, white, able-bodied woman is not AFAB.
At the heart of these attacks on transgender people is the radical feminist notion of biological determinism, viewing human relations in strictly biological terms. They believe women’s inferiority is based on their biology and that men are the enemy — this is patriarchal hatred of women in reverse.
The concept of a biological binary, and what it is to be woman (or man), comes with a slew of baggage. Women are the carers, the mothers, the calm-weavers. They’re more emotional than men, more frail, more weak. In reality, women aren’t more caring, or motherly, or more emotional, and we know they certainly aren’t weak!
Common struggle. This essentialising of gender was perfected in early capitalism to normalise and maintain the heterosexual and monogamous patriarchal nuclear family. Woman’s place is in the home, raising the next round of workers to supply grist to the capitalist mill. Woman holds the family together, she prepares the meals and ensures her husband and children are cared for and fed. She keeps the workforce healthy and productive, at no cost to the boss.
The nuclear family is capitalism’s anchor. It provides capitalism the maximum amount of output for the minimum amount of input. LGBTIQA people destabilise this! Queers challenge the biological roles that profit relies upon for its free and cheap labour. Transgenderism shows that biology does not set a person’s destiny, any more than it makes women less than men.
The idea of biological determinism solidifies the view that a woman’s domain is children, kitchen, and church. It also puts radical feminists, like Greer, in the same line of thought as the sexist men they have fought against. These feminists fail to see the economic basis of women’s inequality. So they blame men, not capitalism, for women’s oppression.
Right to self-determination. Caitlyn Jenner was lucky enough to be able to change what’s “between her legs.” But many trans women are not so privileged. A woman is not defined by her genitals, or society’s idea of woman, or by other women. A woman is defined by herself. All women should have autonomy over their bodies — their gender identity, sexuality, reproductive choices, everything.
For trans women who choose surgery, they should have access to this through a health system that is free, state of the art and respectful. All trans people must have free, unhindered access to treatment and health support. All discrimination must end.
Liberation bound together. The capitalist system works to divide the working class — using sex, gender, skin colour, sexuality, ability and so on. Biological essentialism contributes to this division by treating these diverse qualities as irreconcilable differences. By turning on our trans sisters, we are saying that only specific types of people deserve to be heard and fought for. This is the best way for capitalism to keep us fighting amongst ourselves.
Chelsea Manning is still housed in a men’s prison for exposing the U.S. government’s war crimes. Sista Girl Veronika Baxter is dead from hanging herself in her prison cell after she was denied her hormonal therapy. Sydney musician Stephanie McCarthy was beaten as she walked home in her usually safe, LGBTIQA neighbourhood.
Trans oppression and women’s subjugation are intertwined, and our freedom struggles are indivisible. We have the power to up-end capitalism’s anchor. With the rest of the working class, we’ll put an equal, harmonious system in its place.