—-A petition created by a Cardiff University student to ban Germaine Greer from delivering a lecture at the University due to her problematic views about transgender people has been met with widespread backlash, but is a necessary step in protecting the rights of a marginalised group. Greer was expected to participate in a lecture entitled ‘Women & Power: The Lessons of the 20th Century’, but was forced to withdraw after more than 30,000 students signed the petition which opposed her in light of her transphobic comments, such as claiming that surgery does not make a man into a woman. This denies the self-identification of transgender people, using language that is both offensive and deeply upsetting.
The no-platforming of Greer has been seized upon by defenders of free speech, as another example of censorship at British Universities: painting an image of an Orwellian university state with the crazed PC brigade chomping at the bit to deny the right of free speech to anyone they disagree with. If you are on this team, the chances are that you are someone for whom this definition of ‘free speech’ as an unchecked platform, despite the harm it may cause others, presents no problems.
You cannot claim to support the self-identification of the trans community, but then deny them agency in their university space. You cannot support trans people but then decide on their behalf what is offensive or upsetting.
By criticising the decision to ban someone who will cause distress to a group already marginalised in society, you become complicit in this marginalisation. Arguments that claim we are throwing Greer under the bus, ignoring all the work she has done and thereby limiting the feminist movement, are lacklustre in this case.
Her talk was about women, and when her views exclude a particular group of women, her presence becomes unwarranted. Yes, Greer is a towering figure in the feminist movement, and The Female Eunuch a seminal text, but Greer does not deserve special treatment because of who she is.
Is that not the driving force of the feminist movement? To challenge power structures in which some are able to dominate over others just because of who they are, leaving minority groups out of the conversation? Transgender people, and especially transgender women, are constantly marginalised, their identities undermined, and are at risk of violence and even murder simply for being themselves.
Studies suggest that suicide rates are eight times higher in transgender communities. Just this week, thousands have rallied around Tara Hudson, a British transgender woman who has lived most of her adult life as a woman, but has been sentenced to serve jail time in an all-male prison. These experiences cannot be ignored, and while banning Greer may seem like an unnecessary policing of the university environment, it is really a part of this wider culture of violence and oppression towards transgender people which cannot continue unchecked.
With Glamour magazine set to name Caitlyn Jenner as their ‘woman of the year’ – a woman whom, incidentally, Greer criticised for just wanting the attention given to other female members of the Kardashian-Jenner clan – transgender issues seem finally to be beginning to get the attention they deserve.
But Greer is out of step: the feminist movement has progressed, and she has failed to progress with it.
Image credit: Walnut Whippet