Sunday October 25, 2015 2:26 pm Leave a comment
(if that video doesn’t work for you, here is an audio only version.)
Germaine Greer is surprisingly negative about certain transgender personalities. To the point that the twitterati can almost be forgiven for assuming that she is “Transphobic”. For example, she speculates, entirely, I suspect, without credible evidence, that Caitlyn (nee Bruce) Jenner has put hirself through the elaborate and somewhat risky procedures of gender reassignment primarily for the vanity advantages of stealing the limelight from hir other famous Kardashian family members.
That assessment of Jenner’s motives is cynical bordering on bitchy. Germaine must be having a bad hair day. Nevertheless, I think we can show that Germaine has a better case than she has chosen to make in public.
The argument she opposes can be summarised thus: “anyone who decides to have themselves surgically rebuilt as a woman, IS a woman”. The case for that position is that gender doesn’t entirely map to biological sex and is, at least in part, a sociocultural concept. As such gender can be seen as a matter of choice rather than biological determinism.
The main problem with that argument is an unintended consequence. It undermines opposition to the related homophobic argument that homosexuality is also a matter of choice; thus providing succour to the religious and authoritarian bigots who have a visceral opposition to homosexuality.
But I don’t think that is the basis for Greer’s objections. I think her objection is political. What she doesn’t want to see is biological males, restructuring themselves as females and then usurping the roles, recognition and benefits she has been struggling, for decades, to obtain for females. Her description of the rumoured decision by “Glamour” magazine to nominate Jenner as “woman of the year” is that “misogyny played a big part in that”. Frankly that is a bizarre assessment. My own – equally cynical – assessment is that, if that decision holds, it’ll be more driven by marketing analysis (how many more magazines will it sell) than anything else. But it illustrates her concern that reassigned men might be stepping onto the territory of Women.
And that’s not a wholly irrational objection. For example, if we’re setting up a workplace committee to review the problem of sexual harassment , and we want representatives of both men and women, to reflect the experiences of both genders, then it would be reasonable to demand that the representative of the women shared the full experience of women in that context. And unless the trans woman was reassigned before she even began to work for a living, she cannot make that claim. What she may be able to bring to the party, however, is the experience of sexual harassment for transgender individuals, so it might be a good idea to have her on the committee anyway, but not as a representative of her elective gender.
That’s not a black and white example as, over and above any gender considerations are the democratic ones. The people on that committee should, first and foremost, be those whom the rest of the community believe most capable of representing their interests and if the females in the workplace are fully aware of the previous male history of a now elective female but still freely choose her as their representative, their informed democratic consent overrides any other constraint.
But the more general case is that a strong argument can be made for social restitution to repair the damage done by thousands of years of gender based discrimination and oppression. Women could make a strong case for a “class action” against Men. Greer’s fundamental objection would be to any elective woman joining or benefitting from such a class action.
That’s a reasonable political objection and not, as her enemies seem to think, an ethical prejudice.