Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

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"That’s the Second Time You’ve Killed Me, But This Time You Showed Me Your Technique"
And so, with this Sunday’s papers, the end of the latest Greer spat has probably been reached. Much of it has covered extremely familiar, indeed predictable territory, and it’s not really worth going into what Greer had to say, none of it being new, true or helpful to know. Besides, there's masses of comment out there already, and has been for years - for she is repetitious. Such interest as there is lies in the complicity of the media with her shenanigans.

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that she’s pulling out – cue protests at the infringement of her free speech (even though the invitation hadn’t been withdrawn), and predictable outrage at the transgender "lobby" (even though the person who started the petition wasn’t trans).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.

“I don’t believe a woman is a man without a cock”

I know I slept an hour and a half last night, but I still had to read that sentence twice to parse it.

Which is kind of problematic for a feminist.

Also it just seems personally very unhelpful.

[edit] Thank you for the links.

Edited at 2015-11-22 06:32 pm (UTC)

“I don’t believe a woman is a man without a cock”

Yes, it's a bit too similar to Margaret Thatcher's line about William Whitelaw: "Every Prime Minister needs a Willie."

What a sheltered life you lead. Plenty of men had injuries to the groin in wartime and lost their cocks. Does Greer want us to get into a "What is a woman?" debate? I was going to ask for your opinion on whether Benedict Cumberbatch is transphobic but may not bother now;)

Greer has spent much of the last few decades working as a border guard on the "What is a woman?" debate. She seems to think it a far more urgent question for feminism than most people.

Yes, of course men have lost their cocks in many circumstances - but the only men I know who fit the description (as far as I'm aware - it's not something I generally ask people) happen to be trans.

I've not heard anything about Benedict Cumberbatch...

It is easy to loathe the female body one is born into if it isnt attractive enough and it puts you through bloody hell with pain, vomiting and fainting every month. Also did she not have children? Maybe she wanted them and couldnt have them. Under all those circumstances it is easy to imagine that nobody in their right minds would want to be a woman.

The female reproductive system can definitely put you through hell. I had little trouble with periods when I was young, they were light and relatively pain free, but in my 40s things changed for the worse and I had years of problems until a hysterectomy freed me from all that. And of course as a woman, unless one remains celibate, you have the constant worry about pregnancy. You're either hoping you aren't or you're hoping you are. It's the one compensation of old age that you can put all that behind you! So it is difficult at times to see any advantages in being a female.

Still, I think I'm right in saying that there are many millions of women who would not swap their female body for a male one, given the choice. Do you think Greer believes they are not in their right minds?

I am not a fan of the female repro system, but would not want to swap because:

A). There's always bloody something wrong with you no matter what sex or gender you are, especially as you age

and

B). I've not found it the be all and end all of being human. I wouldn't want to swap places with anyone, in fact, because I am accustomed to being who I am.

Fair enough!

I like my female repro system well enough--despite some troubles and with the help of modern medicine it produced my son and has stood me in pretty good stead throughout my life--and I wouldn't switch, and I don't think I'm out of my mind. That's how I know trans people must be experiencing something very strong and very different from what I experience.

But that particular kind of misogyny--disgust at the cis female body--is a strain in the second-wave, alas. I'm thinking of Shulamith Firestone.

Yes, I've always wanted to redesign the female body because anyone could do a better job than the first fool or sadist who made it. So I do think one could be a feminist and think that. But I wouldn't want to change because I hate the idea of medication, especially surgery, unless it's unavoidable. Too much trouble...

Katha Pollitt, around 25 years ago, wrote a review of a Germaine Greer book (can't remember which one) in which she observed that Greer's analysis always seemed to come down to projecting her own feelings on to everybody else. "The only woman Greer really cares about is Greer," or something along those lines. So I suspect you're on to something.

Edited at 2015-11-22 09:31 pm (UTC)

This is just a particular case of the wide-spread phenomenon of people who can't imagine that other people have different tastes and preferences from themselves, and so they spend their time scratching their heads over what perversity or downright evil (in this case, trans women as a plot for men to infiltrate women's restrooms) is causing them to act that way.

The "Why do you hate freedom?" line directed by supporters to opponents of the Iraq war was an example of this, and you see it a lot in the issue of homosexuality, from two different perspectives: straight homophobes who don't believe anybody is really homosexual, and who therefore hold that gays are merely being perverse or provocative; and self-loathing closeted gay homophobes who think that everybody is secretly gay and that therefore it's only the strictest laws against homosexuality which are keeping everyone from going gay and dooming humanity to reproductive sterility.

I've also encountered occasional gay people who think, or who act as if they think, that everyone is really gay, but so far I've never met a trans person who thinks that everybody is really trans. On the other hand, the belief that nobody is really trans gets stated explicitly in a way I haven't seen of the implicit belief that nobody is really gay.

Yes to all this!

I think Greer is a narcissist. She red flags me on a number of NPD traits.

I remember reading that review and thinking, phew, it's not just me then, someone else sees the Self Proclaimed Empress of Feminism has no clothes /arguments worth more than a cursory glance to confirm that yes, it's still All About Her and frequently viciously bigoted against anyone Not Her.

Since Greer's writing has never rung true tested against my cis het mother of two experience, I would never expect her to have the remotest insight into something as complex as trans issues. For one thing I recall something or other she was going on about when my kids were small where her so-called facts were a decade out of date. She's so convinced of her own intuitive genius she doesn't bother with research as far as I can see.

Her manipulation of the media and others over all this has been blatant and contemptible as far as I am concerned. The damage she does to all women and to our contemporary, inclusive, intersectional feminism makes me furious.

(I really don't like her, can you tell?)

I'm pretty good at picking up on subtext! ;)

My favourite example of her reluctance/inability to do research beyond asking her gut what it thinks concerns her piece on intersex (CAIS) women. I'm sure I've pointed to this before, but the links at the bottom of this page are very enlightening in showing how she reacts when caught out in blustering ignorance by people with real expertise and experience.

She also appears to have no sense of humour - I've seen this several times now when she's been interviewed.

By which I don't mean she refuses to play along when someone tries to make fun of her, but she seems to completely, genuinely fail to recognise when someone is being humorous about well, anything.

That's always been a major red flag for me, when interacting with people.

(Margaret Thatcher was the same by all accounts.)

I have the distinct impression her first period was traumatic and embarrassing. Also that she resents having a female body, but is stuck with it, so needs everyone to know about all the Major Pain it involves.

I'm lucky in that I am comfortable in the gender and orientation is was assigned by society and my family. I get the distinct impression she isn't, but is incapable of thinking beyond a binary.

Agreed. She's a very inflexible and dogmatic person.

The one thing I remember from TFE is the bit about how one should be willing to taste one's own menstrual blood. Why? No idea. (Spoiler: pretty much like when you cut your finger.)

Well, obvs, you're not a Real Woman if you haven't tasted it - and indeed made popsicles from it.

Oh, I remember that. Anyone who's had a bleeding gum will be able to tell you what blood tastes like. But hey, why stop there? Urine? Poo? Ear wax? Go for it, Germaine!

I did taste it in college just because of this sort of nonsense, and was kind of baffled at the experience. It tastes...kind of salty and iron-y. I didn't feel any more womanly afterward than I did before. Maybe I did it wrong.

If you did, I did.

That rules me out... I used to have terrible periods. I love being a woman and would never want to be anything else and as far as I'm concerned, trans women are women. Everyone's experiences are different. I don't get Greer at all.

Thanks, Kath.

'if it were possible for the full female reproductive system to be transplanted'

When I was in my late teens I'd certainly have said 'yes please', something that throws Greer and her ilk rather badly, I believe! :o)

You're far from alone!

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