Sunday, August 23, 2009

Every feminist is fallible. Some, unforgivably so.

We all have our idols. I'm rather keen on the musicians Thom Yorke and Amanda Palmer, the activist Julia Serrano, numerous talented and hard-working friends and family. Up until recently, there was also Germaine Greer. There's no denying it, she has written some iconic, challenging, revolutionary stuff in her time. Some of her work is nigh indispensable to the average feminist, providing a foundation to work from or awakening the anger we didn't know we had at the treatment of women. Unfortunately, and more and more often as of late, she has also caused the awakening another anger. Anger at being called non-existent. Anger at being seen as 'less than' - by the very people who claim to be fighting your side. To pick an example, she has belittled the latest generation of feminists, as if nothing has happened at all since the second wave. She has bought into the stereotype of the modern feminist, the female chauvinist pig, the girl for whom 'empowerment' is nothing but lipstick, pole-dancing and being seen as sexy, who sees anything else as dowdy, unimportant, outdated. This image is an insult for the millions who try to be so much more, who tirelessly speak out for our political, reproductive, social, HUMAN rights and are still being judged solely by their fondness for certain fashions.

And of course, she's transphobic.
There still lingers the line of thought, with her and many of her devoted followers, that only the cisgendered woman is truly a woman. That you must be both inwardly and outwardly female, chemically female, raised female to be female. That even if you felt so disconnected with your past gender that you went through years of humiliation and pain to be allowed to live as a woman, did so for decades, tried to 'pass' - no matter what, if you were at any point seen as 'male' before your transition, no matter how briefly, you will never be a woman, and thus it's okay for you to be talked about like some form of mutant. If you haven't transitioned, you will be ignored and dismissed as some wannabe man.

Hell, even when Greer is possibly* speaking in favour of a particular person** she cannot help but let her thoughts be heard on trans women.

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.

Think they are women. Ghastly parody. Delusion. Words written by a woman who has been lucky enough to never have any doubt as to what she is. To listen to her you'd think it was a breezy walk in the park, that every trans woman wakes up one day and thinks, "Gee, wouldn't it be swell to just, like, change? I think I shall be a lady today."

I've read the debate a thousand times, of how trans women will be threatening to cis women who have faced abuse when they show up in changing rooms and woman-only spaces, how they'll never know what it's like to be raised female, et cetera, ad nauseam. I'll admit I cannot speak for women who have faced years of abuse and just want a safe haven. I have not idea what it's like for them - but I also have no idea what it's like to be trans gendered, to be raised as something you have a powerful feeling that you are not. All I can say is that there is no excuse, at any point, to treat anyone as subhuman, to write about them in such hateful language, simply for trying to live their life. They aren't attempting to harm anyone else, yet to hear some of the vitriol directed at the trans community you'd think they want to wipe out the rest of the human race. Remove the 'trans' prefix, and what do you get? PEOPLE. As in, human beings. Men and women. Not monsters. It's little wonder that some just ain't feeling feminism.

The more I read from Greer, the less admiration I feel. I cannot happily align myself with someone who freely dismisses whole groups of people like this, no matter how great their past work has been. Articles like this, I'd expect to see in the Daily Mail. Not in the supposedly progressive Guardian - but we all know what Comment is Free is like.

*The article is so disconnected and fluctuating it's hard to tell exactly what she's getting at.
** My thoughts on Caster Semenya? An androgynous woman is still a woman.