Germaine Greer has written a frankly rather incoherent piece for The Guardian on the Semenya story, which seems to me little more than an excuse for a bit of trans women bashing. She uses the case to ask ‘What makes a woman?’, complaining that:
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.
How Greer can think that trans women living as men make the decision to transition to living as women based on a penchant for dresses and eye shadow when that transition will most probably involve putting oneself at further risk of harassment, discrimination, violence and even murder – due to both sexism and transphobia – is beyond me. She seems to think that because she’s Germaine Greer, it’s okay for her to call other people ‘ghastly parodies’ and refer to their lived experiences as ‘delusions’. And quite apart from her cruelty and transphobia, to refer to trans women’s appearance as a ‘parody’ of womanhood is to accept that there is a ‘true’ female appearance, which undermines any argument that femininity is a social construct.
Greer does make the salient point that employing the services of a psychologist as part of a sex test is illogical, as sex is a physical characteristic, but she uses this to reinforce the validity of cis women’s gender identity over trans women’s, claiming that ‘We [for which read “real, cis women” – trans women are excluded from Greer’s first person plural] don’t know if we think like women or not. We just think.’ Exactly, that’s what makes us cis: cis women do not experience any dissonance between the way we experience or feel gender in our heads and the sex assigned to us at birth according to our physical characteristics, and that lack of dissonance allows us to claim that gender isn’t something you ‘think’ or ‘feel’ at all. This gives us the privilege of being able to claim that gender doesn’t matter, that we’re above gender, all the while ignoring the experiences of trans people who have to deal with this dissonance, in a cissexist* and transphobic society no less.
Greer also enters into the waters of straight-out sexism in the piece, claiming that ‘People who don’t ovulate or menstruate will probably always physically outperform people who do’. While this may be true for human beings at the very peak of their physical abilities, such as top professional athletes, the vast majority of non-athlete men would clearly be outstripped by the women competing in the World Athletics Championships this week. And as Joshua Goldstein points out, the performance of individuals who work hard on their physical fitness does not bear out the assertion that men physically outperform women either:
[In the 1997 NY Marathon], although the median woman ran 11 percent slower than the median man, the great majority of men finish well behind the fastest women, and the great majority of women finish well ahead of the slowest men.
Germaine Greer has written a lot of intelligent, genuinely radical and helpful work, but that does not give her a pass to perpetuate hateful stereotypes of trans women, reinforce cissexist values and deny trans people’s identities and experiences, and I think it’s important that we counteract this rubbish whenever she’s given a platform – as a feminist – to spout it. She doesn’t speak for this feminist.
*Julia Serano defines cissexism as The belief that transsexual genders are less legitimate than, and mere imitations of, cissexual genders.