Now, Greer is a fairly smart operator, but on this occasion she really didn’t need to be, since the media (broadcast and paper) were falling over themselves to help get her message out there. Consider the facts. First, she is invited by Cardiff University to give a talk - a pretty un-newsworthy event, in truth; then the Women’s Officer of the SU starts a petition to no-platform her, and that gets a bit of traction. Immediately she is invited onto Newsnight to say that she’s pulling out – cue protests at the infringement of her free speech (even though the invitation hadn’t been withdrawn), and predictable outrage at the transgender "lobby" (even though the person who started the petition wasn’t trans).
But that was a lie, because of course she didn’t pull out at all, and in fact gave the talk last Wednesday. This was then reported as her bravely standing up to the trans bullies who’d been out to silence her, a narrative the rattled university duly legitimised by arranging for police to be on hand to hold back the raging hordes. (In fact there were I believe about a dozen peaceful protestors.)
In the talk, apparently, she declared “I don’t believe a woman is a man without a cock” – a statement reported as if it were some kind of slam-dunk anti-trans zinger rather than a statement of the obvious. Does anybody believe in the equivalence of those terms? (The only men without cocks I know are trans men – but something tells me she wasn’t trying to affirm the authenticity of their identity.)
More interesting than such click-bait apothegms themselves is the way they’ve been reported - often with a prurient glee at being able to repeat something rude because it’s in quotation marks, sometimes with a defiant “Je suis Germaine” flourish, as if it were only the freedom to insult transsexuals that stood between us and ISIS (though, to be fair to ISIS, they’d love to join in the fun and would certainly top off the evening by killing us en masse). In general, either the media has been very stupid in not seeing what’s going on under their noses with the whole business of Greer and the sacred right to Free Publicity, or else they’ve been happy to go along with her narrative. While I would never want to underestimate the stupidity of the Press, I’m pretty sure the latter is the case here, partly because many of them agree with her, and partly because she always makes good copy, allowing them to alternate between “You are awful – but I like you” articles and ones hailing her as a victim of the All-powerful Trans Cabal (whose voices, despite their cultural dominance, were as ever strangely absent from the papers, Newsnight, etc., almost as if they weren’t that powerful at all). In this way she’s a rather similar figure to, say, Jeremy Clarkson – and indeed, both have found similar niches on programmes like Grumpy Old (Wo)men and Have I Got News for You. The main difference is that my university is unlikely to invite Clarkson to give a distinguished address on the future of race relations.
And now I’m bored of talking about it. But please consider the above a kind of warm-up act for two excellent articles that came out of this latest incarnation of the same row we’ve seen so many times before. Both focus on the reporting, and (from different directions) effectively skewer the hypocrisies of the liberal left. Do read.
First, the excellent Julia Serano (of Whipping Girl fame), on writing a “Political Correctness Run Amok” article from a liberal left perspective.
And, in a very different idiom, here’s Paris Lees on the hypocrisy of the Left. Read for the argument, but stay for the links that underpin that argument over and over and over again.
Oh, just before I go, I'm going to share something that's been knocking round my head for a while, but which I've been reluctant to air because I'm not a big fan of pop-psychological diagnoses of people I've never met. But in Greer's case, since she's diagnosed me as a Norman Bates figure not only without meeting me but without even being aware of my existence, I feel no such scruple is necessary.
One thing I've noticed over many years is that Greer's animus against trans women derives in large measure from her inability to believe that anyone could find the idea of being a woman anything other than horrific. Unless, that is, they're Norman Bates, or desperately trying to avoid facing up to their inadequacy as men, or involved in some kind of sinister attempt infiltrate womankind as a fifth column. And while there are of course some good reasons (cf. Patriarchy) why a woman's lot might seem less desirable than a man's on many fronts, in Greer's case her animus seems to derive very specifically from the idea of being in a female body. She talks about the horrors of menstruation and of pregnancy, and has repeatedly claimed that if it were possible for the full female reproductive system to be transplanted into male bodies we would see the end of trans women overnight, because of course even they wouldn't want that horror. This remark is of course notable on the one hand because it shows just how laughably unacquainted Greer is with trans experience and desires; but it's just as remarkable in showing how unpleasant - indeed, repellent, she finds the female body. Which is kind of problematic for a feminist.
This thought saddens me, in fact, because the one thing I remember from reading The Female Eunuch back in the 1970s (it was a friend's copy and I'm afraid I didn't finish it) was a kind of hymn to the vagina, in all its wonderful flexibility and sensitivity - a passage I read as a teenager with a good deal of wistful envy. But more recently they've become "big, hairy, smelly vaginas", and I now suspect that she always rather wished she didn't have one - not because I think she's trans, necessarily! - but because, well, cooties.