Transmisogyny, Greer and The Female Eunuch

It’s often refrained that Greer found her hatred of trans people, in particular trans women, later in her life (90s). This is a myth. The foundations of Greer’s transmisogyny lie in a lineage of ‘radical’ white cis middle class ‘feminism’ that The Female Eunuch exemplifies.

Marilyn Lake notes that The Female Eunuch found popularity through Greer’s white middle class transnational social capital; links to prestigious universities of the western Metropole; its heterosexual focus; lack of historical grounding; and the fact many men found Greer a more respectable second wave feminist.[1]

I found reading Greer’s work upsetting and confusing in many ways. Surprisingly, The Female Eunuch centres a trans woman. Under ‘Soul’, Greer attacks one of the first trans women models in the UK: April Ashley, who was sensationally outed by the mainstream media in 1961. Greer associates with the ‘feminine woman’ submission and superficiality that both reeks of femmephobia and transmisogyny. For Greer, the trans woman is central to her work, because in her framework she is another sort of ‘eunuch’. She loads all her disgust at the trans woman that is ‘female eunuch’, the ultimate desexualised ‘castrate’. At least the feminine cis woman, the proper ‘female eunuch’ is taken seriously as a person.

While it is true historical and cultural context dramatically changes how we understand gender / sexuality, Greer had a choice and she sided with the mainstream that hated trans women. In contrast, Emma Goldman decades earlier in the 1920s chose to side with those marginalised according to gender / sexuality.[2]

Another ongoing tension in Greer’s work is her appropriation of Black struggles. Curiously, she cites many Black men but erases Black women. As Marilyn Lake writes she strategically omits the power relations of privilege of White women over Black women.[3]  Further, Greer reproduces the racist white feminist trope of Black men and sexual violence.

Greer exhibits a kind of feminism whose foundation leads to the same sorts of marginalisations. For Greer, questioning the agency of sex workers goes along with hating on feminine women and trans women, and ignoring plus appropriating Black women. Some have questioned how such an anti-intersectional feminism can be considered ‘radical’.[4]

There are many occasional oddities that litter Greer’s work with colourful confetti. Apparently, cuddling is an ‘infantile pleasure’ (73), she knows a lot about lesbian sex (239), and Marxism can be quickly dismissed in favour of Marcuse.

However, some parts of Greer’s writing I find agreeable and insightful. In the ‘Abuse’ section she analyses lineages of abusive words for women; in another she critiques possessive love; further, she continues some feminist critiques of marriage, nuclear family, and the burden of social reproduction falling onto women; finally, she calls for some form of collective rebellion where women withdraw their labour. But all of this is generally coming from a place that lacks understanding outside of a particular tenured ‘radical’ white middle class ‘feminist’ politics.

While most University courses have zero trans feminist voices, gender studies is reduced to Judith Butler (see Viviane Namaste for a strong critique),[5] Germaine Greer is both widely taught (without contestation) and her archives were bought for millions by the University of Melbourne.[6] With the same amount of money, the University of Melbourne bought Greer’s work — including insatiably long love letters to a man — they could have established clinics and research to help trans people deal with distress and dysphoria. Instead, they worship the second wave white trans exclusive feminist with all the social capital, while recently saying goodbye to another—Shelia Jeffreys.[7] Unsurprisingly, much of academia remains hostile to marginalised voices and reproduces marginalisation.

It took until after the 2014 direct action of the Queer Avengers group for “transphobia” and “Germaine Greer” to appear in newspaper articles.[8] Their brazen and brilliant action involved glitter bombing Greer and it has contributed to changing the framing of Greer since.

The 1960s to 1970s (and onwards) were scenes of dramatic debates in feminism that contested the existence of trans women. Thankfully, those debates tended to be won to some extent by trans women and supporters. But we shouldn’t forget how close to being lost those debates were, and how having to debate one’s existence over and over again limits the actually interesting debates we could be having. What the incessant attacks on trans women demonstrate again is that there are no universal experiences of womanhood.

Transmisogyny has a long and continuing presence on the radical left that has popped up in recent debates over responses to Greer’s platform. Socialist Alternative minimises Greer’s transmisogyny and emptily calls for ‘free speech’ in the wake of trans feminist influenced social movements contesting Greer’s platform.[9] There literally is no point debating someone whose premise denies your existence. You automatically lose.[10] This kind of debate has consequences. Materially, in 1997 Greer opposed the appointment of a trans woman at Cambridge University.[11]

Trans feminism too has many problems that in some way mirrors problems with Greer. Julia Serano, who coined the term transmisogyny, universalises her experiences as a middle class white trans woman to produce a universal theory.[12] In response, B Binaohan comprehensively tears apart Serano’s narrative that is rooted in white supremacy. They challenge the formulation with a  different approach highlighted in decolonising trans/gender 101.[13]

If feminism is to become less white cis middle class ‘feminist’, it’s important to challenge and contest the historical formulation of feminism and the feminist ‘heroes’ that have made feminism so limited. The Female Eunuch is no ‘feminist masterpiece’, in parts it seems to have significantly aged in the current context of liberal ‘equality’ feminism. Greer lives on not just through the prestige of her work but through the appeal of her gross outrage that sits inside the heads of many who belittle women who are Black / trans / sex workers / too feminine, disabled and more. Will the bad ideas of Greer be actively countered, her gender police dearmed, and can feminism transform completely? Is it possible for liberal to more ‘radical’ white cis middle class feminism and social movements to kill the Germaine Greer that sits in its brain?

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[1] Lake, M. (2016). “Revolution for the hell of it”: the transatlantic genesis and serial provocations of The Female Eunuch. Australian Feminist Studies, 31(87), 7–21. http://doi.org/10.1080/08164649.2016.1174926

[2] https://queerlymad.com/2012/03/25/proof-emma-goldman-would-be-a-tranarchist/

[3] Lake, M. (2016). “Revolution for the hell of it”: the transatlantic genesis and serial provocations of The Female Eunuch. Australian Feminist Studies, 31(87), 7–21. http://doi.org/10.1080/08164649.2016.1174926

[4] https://scarlettwoman.com.au/2015/12/07/terfs-swerfs-arent-radical-feminists/

[5] Namaste, V. (2000). Invisible lives: The erasure of transsexual and transgendered people. University of Chicago Press. Plus see here for another take and look at Butler’s changing views: https://quinnae.com/2011/03/20/subjectifying-trans-people-explorations-in-transgender-studies-part-i/

[6] http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/germaine-greer-sells-archive-to-melbourne-university-20131028-2wbho.html

[7] http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/radical-feminist-sheila-jeffreys-retires-after-24-years-at-the-university-of-melbourne-20150522-gh7g1c.html

[8] https://www.facebook.com/QAvengers/posts/409588789055871 and http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2012/03/14/in-photos-germaine-greer-glitter-bombed-for-trans-comments/

[9] https://redflag.org.au/article/germaine-greer-and-new-left-authoritarianism

[10] See a much better socialist response here: https://rs21.org.uk/2015/10/29/our-existence-is-not-up-for-debate-a-reply-to-germaine-greer-and-her-defenders/

[11] Henning C. (26/6/1997),‘Transsexual At Women’s College Upsets Greer’, Sydney Morning Herald, p. 10.

[12] Serano, J. (2016). Whipping girl: A transsexual woman on sexism and the scapegoating of femininity. Seal Press.

[13] b. binaohan. (2014). decolonizing trans/gender 101. Toronto: biyuti publishing. Retrieved from https://publishbiyuti.org/decolonizingtransgender101/

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