Germaine Greer: The blurred line between hate speech and freedom of expression


Germaine Greer, the 76 year-old Australian-born feminist writer and academic, could be barred from lecturing at Cardiff University after claims that her views are “problematic” for transgender people. The Cardiff Student’s Union has put together a petition to stop Greer from lecturing on Women and Power: Lessons of the 20th Century because of her recent controversial comments. Vice-chancellor Professor Colin Riordan also made it clear that the university does not condone “discriminatory comments of any kind”.

The comments in question were made during an interview where she mis-gendered Caitlyn Jenner and said that her gender reassignment surgery was an effort to take the limelight away from the Kardashians. She also rejected the notion of transphobia even though relevant statistics show otherwise. Transgender teen suicide rates are eight times greater than for 18-24 year olds in general. Crimes against trans people are also on the incline with more murders and assaults of trans men and women. However, Greer has said that she is no expert and that she hadn’t written an academic paper on the subject; she has also stressed that these were opinions and “not a prohibition” on trans people from transitioning or being referred to by their desired pronouns.

The petition has also seen the dawn of a new, progressive kind of feminism. It has become more inclusive, accepting and breaks down the walls of discrimination even further. However, the dark side of this new movement comes in the form of instantly being branded a heretic if you speak against the majority. Second wave feminists like Greer have always had controversial stances and those views, over the years, have become canonised and have formed the foundations of modern feminism. Can you really kick Germaine Greer out over one opinion that happens to differ with the majority?

However, the way in which she put forward her views was not executed in the most tactful way. It contradicts the foundations of feminism – equality and freedom. Freedom means you can be who are, say what you want, dress a certain way and do what you want without being constrained by traditional gender roles. Greer has the right to voice her opinion whether it is the right one or not and universities should be encouraging debates and different ways of thinking in order to form your own opinions. Despite the crassness of her comments, they were not meant to cause a rift between feminism and LGBT rights.

Greer was not invited to speak about transgender issues, she was invited to speak about something she was an expert on. Why would you want to needlessly censor someone who will not be lecturing on transgender issues? The double standard is even more evident when academics like Richard Dawkins who voice controversial opinions on everything from Islam to rape and paedophilia, are still invited by many universities.

Greer is not  completely in the wrong here; the student union women’s officer went as far as saying that Greer’s views had “no place in feminism”. Greer’s views on transgender issues may not have a place in feminism but saying that about all of her views, even the ones that shaped modern feminism by empowering women to speak their minds and brought about much of the equality that we take for granted, is a big mistake. The issues surrounding transgender politics and feminism are inextricably linked and they run much deeper than this but discrediting decades worth of Greer’s contributions to feminism because of a few crass comments amounts to nothing but needless censorship.

Do you think Germaine Greer should be banned from speaking at universities? Let us know in the comment section below.

Photo: Walnut Whippet/ Flickr

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