Yes/No: That really grinds my Greers

YES Saffron Kershaw-Mee

As a passionate, queer, working-class feminist who adamantly believes that feminism is no longer about just women’s rights, I was absolutely disgusted by the hate speech spewed by Germaine Greer on Newsnight. As a consequence of her hateful language about trans* people, the governing body of Cardiff University, where Greer was scheduled to give a talk on ‘Women and Power’, ultimately decided to ‘no platform’ her (or rather, they chose for her not to speak). As someone who has fought vehemently for the rights of women, Germaine Greer should be an icon to someone like me or any student feminist activist. But in my opinion, it’s hard to listen to any woman who claims that, “Just because you lop off your penis and then wear a dress, doesn’t make you a woman.”

Upon hearing this, my snap response was to call her a dinosaur and burn my copy of the Female Eunuch. However, this brings up the complex issue of whether one comment can give proper cause for the dismissal of all the previous fights that Germaine Greer has fought for women all over the world. Of course it can’t, but Greer’s opinion on trans* women shows that she has failed to catch up with the progression feminism is making in society. She is stuck in the world of the second-wave, still being praised for those actions she took decades ago.

“It’s hard to listen to any woman who claims that ‘Just because you lop off your penis… doesn’t make you a woman’”

Trans* women are a vulnerable, marginalised group and deserve their own safe space in feminist politics. Should we have stifled our feelings and waited for her to start her talk before bombarding her with anti-Greer banners and glitterbombs? At least this way she would have seen the effect her ‘opinion’ had on the student body. Or was it right to instantly silence her before her views triggered panic and upset? I asked the Facebook community for their opinion on why silencing her was the right thing to do.

One person said to me that because she makes regular TV appearances and has an immense platform to assert her views, it is ridiculous to think that the action of not welcoming her to the university is infringing her free speech. Instead it “stands up for trans* students across the country who shouldn’t have to have views like this officially endorsed by their places of study.” It’s an act of protection, it does not encourage ignorance around the issue of transphobia – it displays that these hateful comments have consequences, even for people such as Greer. ComSoc committee member Victoria asserted to me that “she’s not been silenced, it’s just been made clear to her that her views are not welcome in a place of learning and rational thought.” However, other Facebook users believed that the issue should have been dealt with in another way. An opposer of the no platforming told me how rather than shunning Greer, we should have allowed her to speak, so that students could knock her opinions down. “It’s important to hold these views of Greer’s up to the light to show how unviable, outdated, and utterly unsympathetic they are.”

“Transphobic views will always be met with anger by the student community”

It seems to me that the general consensus is that the university did the right thing in not allowing Greer to give her talk on ‘Women and Power’. Her biting views would have been harmful to vulnerable students at the university, and protecting their students should be any university’s top priority. Greer already has the privilege of having such a strong female voice in a society rooted in patriarchy – the decision to no platform her will barely tarnish her ability to express herself.

It merely shows Greer that transphobic, hateful views will always be dismissed and met with anger and disappointment by the student community.

NO Jamie Cameron

The hallmark of any budding authoritarian and anti-intellectual movement is the restriction of debate and flow of information to suit its ideology. This is something expected of statist China and Putin’s Russia, but surely not in the democratic utopia of our Queen’s Great Britain? Well, sarcasm may be the lowest form of humour, but there’s nothing funny about the restriction of thought and speech into a narrow strait of ‘acceptability’. If the government’s wonderfully vague ban on “terrorism” defined as any movement even peacefully “opposed to British values” didn’t surprise you, then maybe a recent move to ban speech at Cardiff University by some of its student population will.

“Banning her from speaking does absolutely nothing to fight transphobia”

Centre of the attention is acclaimed Australian feminist Germaine Greer, who has faced harsh criticism and a petition against her invitation to speak at the university after she made comments arguing that post op transgender women are not actually women and hence do not properly belong to the feminist movement:

“I’m not saying that people should not be allowed to go through that [sex change] procedure. What I’m saying is that it doesn’t make them a woman. It happens to be an opinion. It’s not a prohibition.”

Greer, however, sounds less reasonable considering her inflammatory remarks that labelled Caityln (formerly Bruce) Jenner as attention-seeking.

All the same, is this truly grounds for banning her from speaking? Petition leader Rachael Melhuish considers these “hateful views towards marginalised and vulnerable groups”, yet hate is simply an inaccurate word to use. At no point did Greer state a hatred of trans women, imply they are less than human, or incite violence against them. Therefore banning her on the basis of “hate speech” is unfounded, and the move against her is merely because she may have hurt some people’s feelings and because she fundamentally disagrees with the petition-signers. The right to free speech does not exist so we may talk about the weather; non-violent speech frequently causes offence and avoiding this is nigh on impossible.

Even if her words were to motivate transphobic violence in others, banning her from speaking does absolutely nothing to fight transphobia, and merely lets the inhospitable status quo continue. The prohibition of ideas does not work, merely marginalising and radicalising those who hold them. It is by challenging and de-constructing Greer’s views in open, reasonable debate that they may be taken of their power and thrown to the side. At the very least it is better to talk openly about issues instead of to merely fuel resentment between people with different views, as that is precisely the cause of conflict, hate, and prejudice.

This writer does not agree with Greer’s comments, and that is precisely why I wish to see them argued down instead of being left to simmer and boil away civil discourse. Many trans women themselves oppose the petition, such as writer Emma Flowers:

“Although the comments have caused me much distress personally, I do not believe she should be banned from airing her views… I am a huge advocate of free speech. It is far better to win through reasoned argument and medical fact, rather than fuel ignorance by giving up the moral high ground.”

“The hallmark of any budding authoritarian movement is the restriction of debate and flow of information”

Banning speech is anti-intellectual and goes against all the moral principles of universities and learning. Throughout this, the major crux of the petition is that the claim Greer’s lecture gives a platform for transphobic views is very likely unfounded, as she claims her speech on ‘Women & Power: The Lessons of the 20th Century’ will have no reference to trans issues.

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