The Excluder Excluded: What does it say about the state of identity politics in New Zealand and around the world that if Germaine Greer, the Matriarch of Second Wave Feminism, announced she was intending to participate in the Auckland Pride Parade, then Labour's Manurewa MP, Louisa Wall, would do everything in her power to exclude her?
WHAT DOES IT MEAN that Labour’s Louisa Wall would ban Germaine Greer from the Auckland Pride Parade? What offence could the Matriarch of Second Wave Feminism possibly have committed to merit Wall’s exclusion?
Greer’s “crime” is deceptively innocuous. She refuses to abandon her opinion that human-beings come into this world as either women or men, and that simply declaring oneself to be a man or a woman is insufficient from an evidentiary perspective. Greer believes that gender is a matter of straightforward human biology. That it cannot be an act of will – or surgery.
When BBC Newsnight’s Kirsty Walk challenged her with the question: “If a man has his gender reassigned and outwardly – and he feels, inwardly – he is a woman. In your view can he be a woman or not?” Greer responded, with typical Australian bluntness: “No.” And when Walk observed that, to some people, her reaction might be considered insulting, the 76-year-old scholar replied: “I don’t care. People get insulted all the time. Australians get insulted every day of the week!”
That October 2015 interview contributed hugely to the steadily worsening ideological stand-off responsible for introducing the abbreviation “TERF” – Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist – to the vocabulary of progressives around the world. Including, we now know, Louisa Wall, who was secretly recorded telling participants at a recent Pride Parade hui: “My whole thing is that I don’t want any f...ing TERFs at the Pride Parade!”
Wall’s position would appear to be that in the name of inclusion it is necessary to exclude the excluders. The Pride Parade, she says, must never be anything less than a celebration of the whole Rainbow Community. To challenge the right of trans individuals to define their own gender identity constitutes a hateful denial of their human rights. In Wall’s opinion it is vital that TERFs be prevented from disputing those rights.
Greer’s objection to the celebration of Male-to-Female transformers is classic Second Wave Feminist. When BBC Newsnight’s Walk confronted Greer with the example of Caitlyn Jenner, the former football hero and medal-winning Olympic decathlete who later became a glamorous participant in Keeping Up With The Kardashians, she replied: “I think it’s misogynist. I think misogyny plays a really big part in all of this. That a man who goes to these lengths will be a better woman than someone who was just born a woman.”
Greer’s charge of misogyny goes to the heart of the conflict. Here is the author of The Female Eunuch, whose determination that women should embrace their femaleness fully and fearlessly made her a feminist icon for the whole Baby Boom Generation, rebelling angrily against the notion that gender is a fickle, fluid concept. Greer simply will not accept that womanhood is no less a cultural creation than a Versace gown – and just as easily knocked-off.
But, if gender is, indeed, a cultural artefact, then maleness is every bit as artificial as femaleness. What’s more, in a world dominated by aggressive and intolerant upholders of patriarchal values, the covering which males are expected to fasten over and around their bodies resembles much more a suit of medieval armour than it does a Versace gown.
What, therefore, could be more radical – more liberating – than the idea that all those human-beings who feel uncomfortable, confined, oppressed in their suit of armour can simply strip it off and throw it away? Or, conversely, that all those human-beings who long for the reassurance of iron and steel have every right to seek redemption in the armourer’s forge?
“Reject all binary choices!”, declare the singers of this new freedom song. “We can become the people our hearts have always told us we were.”
The Marxists would wearily interject that they have been here before. That human-beings become what the exigencies of existence require them to be. Hunters/gatherers, warriors/wives, workers/homemakers. The computers that define post-industrial societies may follow the logic of zeroes and ones, but the civilisation they are rapidly bringing into existence will have less to do with either/or dichotomies than any of the civilisations which preceded it. Hitherto, the chief preoccupation of human communities has been with survival. The new age which beckons to us from beyond the great test of climate change may be preoccupied with becoming.
The conservative clings to what was and what works. The radical reaches for what s/he yet may be.
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 30 November 2018.