On Thursday, feminist Germaine Greer published a short article in the Guardian about Caster Semenya, the woman who is being forced to undergo gender testing by the IAAF because she won a race while having an appearance that is considered masculine. As a result of the case, many are writing about the question of “what makes a man or a woman,” and, of course, that can be a recipe for disaster.
Greer’s piece is a perfect example. After reading it over several times, I honestly haven’t the slightest clue what her overall argument is. One moment she seems to rightly accept that a person who understands herself as a woman and identifies as a woman is a woman, and the next she is mocking and undgendering women who don’t meet her own personal, cis-supremacist standards. I don’t know what she ultimately thinks about Caster Semenya, but I do know blatant, unapologetic transphobia when I see it screaming out at me from the page.
In plainer terms what the academic feminists could be taken to be saying is that (a) you’re a woman if you think you are and (b) you’re a woman if other people think you are. Unfortunately (b) cannot be made to follow from (a).
Nowadays we are all likely to meet people who think they are women, have women’s names, and feminine clothes and lots of eyeshadow, who seem to us to be some kind of ghastly parody, though it isn’t polite to say so. We pretend that all the people passing for female really are. Other delusions may be challenged, but not a man’s delusion that he is female.
Let’s add it up, shall we? She starts out with 1) “you can’t make me call you a woman, nyah nayh nyah, nyah nyah nyah,”* easily segueing into the ever popular bullshit line 2) “trans women are really men,” which then is precariously propped up with the myths that 3) “you can easily tell a trans woman from a cis woman!” and 4) “trans women are all hyper-feminine (no such thing as a butch trans woman, no-sirree!),” giving way to the age old implication that 5) “trans women are not only really men, they’re misogynist men who want to co-opt the lives of us normal women,” and ending in a lament that 6) “the only reason we [cis people] treat trans women as women is because we’re being held hostage to the transgender tyranny (which is really the same as patriarchy).”
The above assessment could also probably be taken as a rough summary of Janice Raymond’s infamous 1979 book The Transsexual Empire. Greer’s thinking on the subject seemingly hasn’t evolved since that period a single bit.
The real kick of it is that Greer can whine about how she’s not allowed to say these things precisely because it’s so acceptable for her to say them. She can pretend that we live in a world where trans people’s gender identities are actually respected and not mocked and devalued on an everyday basis and then moan about how awful that is for her, because the vast majority of heads will be willing to nod along to this delusion with her. She can conjure up the image of “a man in a dress (and lots and lots of lipstick),” because most people still think of trans women that way, and fail to see it for what it really is — misogynistic as well as transphobic. She can “defiantly” say that a trans woman cannot make other people accept her as a woman because she knows there will be a loud and angry chorus of “yeah!” And she can pretend that it’s cis women whose gender identities are under attack because, as is always the case, there’s nothing a dominant group loves more than to pretend that they’re the ones who are really oppressed by minorities demanding their rights.
And yeah, unfortunately, a good number of those agreeing with her will be cis feminists.
My initial instinct was to respond to Greer’s “ghastly parody” line by quipping that her article is a ghastly parody of feminism. And indeed, I personally stopped taking her seriously as any kind of feminist spokesperson years ago. But I quickly realized that it’s just not the case. This isn’t a parody of my feminism — it looks absolutely nothing like my feminism. And it isn’t a parody of the feminism held by the most transphobic cis feminists; it’s an accurate depiction.
But that doesn’t mean we can let her speak for all of feminism and cis feminists, period. It doesn’t mean that we can stand by as she portrays feminism as a strictly cis affair, or tries to spread her ignorance as the official feminist line. This article doesn’t speak for my feminism, and I don’t want a single thing to do with a feminism that it does.
*EDIT: It seems that I may have misunderstood what Greer was getting at here, as I already stated that I found the article rather incoherent. It was pointed out in the comments that the section from the first quoted paragraph might have been referring to Semenya, who Greer seems to agree is a woman. If that is indeed the case, she’s setting up her means to throw trans women under the bus to make some kind of point with regards to cis women’s right to not be feminine, not saying that she doesn’t have to view trans women as women — and instead saving that point for a couple sentences later (“a man’s delusion that he is female”). Thus, “you can’t make me call you a woman” would be 6) instead of 1).
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