steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

Greer Ghastly

Germaine Greer was mentioned in the comments to my last post, and behold, I find that she too has been writing in the newspapers in recent days, this time in connection with the "gender-testing" of sprinter Caster Semenya. It's an interesting piece, because for once I actually find myself agreeing with the main point of her article - which, insofar as I understand it (it's kind of incoherent), is that Semenya is being treated unfairly, and that it's difficult to make hard-and-fast distinctions between male and female.

Admittedly, she finds time to pour out a half cup of irrelevant bile at the top of the article:

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.

Lest this seem like a needless dig at the late Barbara Cartland, let me hasten to say that it's really just Greer complaining - by no means for the first time - about the chutzpah shown by trans women in existing. But even this bit of nastiness falls far short of the Norman Bates comparisons she used in The Whole Woman, or the active campaign she led in the 1990s to get Rachel Padman dismissed from her job. (If you follow that link, you will be able to assess for yourself how well Padman fits the parody description quoted above.) Now she sounds more like an old buffer at the Athenenaeum, complaining about the kind of riff-raff they let into the club these days, whom we have to be polite to in public while badmouthing behind their backs. Could it be that she knows she's lost the fight? Poor Germaine! Or not so poor, for in this grumpy old woman persona she has perhaps found her natural metier.

Back to the main point of the article. Having got the transphobia out of her system, it's as if Greer has suddenly remembered, as in a dream, a couple of feminist ideas such as biology not being destiny, or women not being judged by their conformity to patriarchal standards of "femininity". Most intriguingly of all, she decries the lot of intersexed women in relation to sex-testing in sport:

Instead the tests picked up developmental sexual disorders in a number of women who didn't know they had them. The intersexual women could not be distinguished in appearance or performance from other XX female athletes. All the mass testing accomplished was the embarrassment of a small number of athletes and in one case at least her unfair exclusion from competition, and so it was abandoned.

Well, quite. But hang on - isn't this the same Dr Greer who spent the best part of a chapter in The Whole Woman complaining about intersexed women - specifically AIS women - being counted as women? What she said then was very different:

'Full-frontal honesty,' (the term is revealing) would have informed this patient that she was not a woman but a failed male who may pass for a female and even marry her long-term boyfriend because she was wrongly identified at birth as a female. AIS 'females' have no female organs and not a female cell in their bodies. We need to be sure that their being classified as female is not a reflection of a refusal on the part of entire males to recognize these damaged males as belonging to their sex. Cruel and unsympathetic though it may seem, women should not automatically accept all those who do not wish to be male as being ex gratia females.

In this case, of course, we are typically talking about women who discover they have AIS only when a medical problem (such as lack of menstruation) brings them to a doctor - having spent their entire lives as females. So yes, I think "cruel and unsympathetic" just about covers it - though I'd like to add "shoddily researched". You don't need to look very far into the subject of Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome to know that some AIS women, specifically those with the complete form of the syndrome, are actually hyperfeminine in appearance (since their bodies do not metabolize even the low levels of testosterone that are present in the bodies of most women), and do not, as Greer puts it, have "a masculine figure - broad shoulders, narrow hips, no waist, short legs - and progressive baldness and heavy facial hair". The links at the bottom of the page are well worth reading, showing people who have actual expertise and experience of the syndrome trying, patiently and clearly, to give Greer a clue on the subject, and coming up hard against an impregnable and arrogant stupidity.

But although Greer would not give an inch in her defence of the indefensible, perhaps she was actually listening with some part of her being? For, a decade or so later, here we have her admission that intersexed women are women, and that chromosomal sex is not the be-all-and-end-all of gender. She would of course earn much greater respect if she could come out and admit in plain terms that she was horribly and cruelly wrong, but I don't suppose that's the way her mind works. Perhaps, though, the latest article shows a Greer in transition?

On the subject of being wrong, it's beginning to look as if I was, when I said the idea that Michael Jackson was murdered was ludicrous. I haven't been following the case, but I hear that it's now been declared a homicide, so - well, mea culpa would perhaps not be the ideal phrase in the circumstances, but you know what I mean.
Tags: gender
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