Germaine Greer has said a lot of foolish things in her long career. She’s defended female genital mutilation and polygyny. She’s said that what really matters to women isn’t sex but children—this from the author of The Female Eunuch, a feminist classic that urged women to claim freedom and sexual pleasure just like men! I reviewed The Change, her 1992 book about menopause, for The New Yorker, and found it an entertaining mess: On one page, she blamed society for ignoring the sexuality of middle-aged women; on the next, she urged those same women to stop fighting nature and embrace their inner crones. Still, when I was invited to interview her a few years ago about Shakespeare’s Wife, her biography of Anne Hathaway, I was delighted. I did not start a petition to have her invitation canceled on the grounds that anyone who approves of cutting off little girls’ clitorises has no place on a podium talking about any subject, even Elizabethan England. I thought: Here’s a woman who has lived a big life and, at 70, has written a book that tries to rescue one of history’s most famous wives from oblivion and misogyny. That’s feminism.
Not to Rachael Melhuish, a women’s officer at the Cardiff University Students’ Union in Wales, it seems. She’s trying to get Greer disinvited from speaking at her school. But she isn’t particularly concerned with Greer’s views on female genital mutilation or patriarchal family structures in the developing world. What she objects to is Greer’s “transphobia”—her “misogynistic” belief, expressed with characteristic exasperation on the BBC and elsewhere, that trans women are not real women. In a Change.org petition, Melhuish writes:
Trans-exclusionary views should have no place in feminism or society. Such attitudes contribute to the high levels of stigma, hatred and violence towards trans people—particularly trans women—both in the UK and across the world.
While debate in a University should be encouraged, hosting a speaker with such problematic and hateful views towards marginalised and vulnerable groups is dangerous. Allowing Greer a platform endorses her views, and by extension, the transmisogyny which she continues to perpetuate.
Where to begin? Violence against trans women is the fault of feminists? I doubt the brutal men who assault and murder trans women have even heard of Greer—or are likely to attend her proposed lecture on feminism in the 20th century (which, she says, will not touch on the subject of trans women at all). And if you believe that inviting someone to lecture on campus is an endorsement of their views—even on subjects they’re not lecturing about—it doesn’t sound as if you’re really all that keen on debate. It sounds more like you want the university to invite only people who think like yourself.
I don’t want to make too much of this incident. The petition hasn’t proved very popular, Cardiff has said the lecture is on, and Greer has said she’ll be there. But it’s only the latest in a series of incidents, in the United Kingdom and the United States, in which campus feminists and leftists have tried to force universities to cancel speakers they’ve decided are beyond the pale. It’s both unfortunate and bizarre that at a moment when feminism is showing renewed signs of life, the first impulse is to narrow the conversation and throw rotten vegetables at everyone who isn’t singing 100 percent in unison. And did I mention ageism? That prejudice seems to be completely acceptable. A typical tweet: “Germaine Greer is an insane old woman. Just watched the interview, she should be in an old peoples home.” In the UK, the National Union of Students has “no-platformed” (attempted to prevent from speaking anywhere) the lesbian feminist writer and activist Julie Bindel for “transphobia” stemming from a 2004 article in The Guardian in which she mocked the notion that having a sex change made someone a woman. (Although she’s apologized for the tone of that piece, it doesn’t matter: She questions the use of sex-reassignment surgery, especially for children, and that’s enough.) Transgender-rights activists argue that trans women are real women, irrespective of their physical attributes, and have always been so. But even if that view prevails, the movement has taken a wrong turn somewhere if Bindel—a decades-long campaigner for lesbian rights and against male violence toward women—is the misogynist, and the feminists include male “allies” screaming at her to shut up.