It was after a night out, sat in the kitchen, surrounded by my flatmate and a very much welcome cup of tea that I first encountered the topic of ‘no-platforming’. ‘No-platforming’, I was informed, is when someone with controversial beliefs is banned from talking at an institute. Interesting, I thought, and, as all good late night chats tend to do, we soon started discussing the morality behind it. It was then that my flatmate introduced me to Germaine Greer - a public intellectual and well-known feminist.
Germaine Greer, for those who don’t know, believes that post-operative transwomen are not ‘real’ women, for the reasoning that they have often benefitted from the privileges of being a male for most of their adult lives prior to their transitioning and did not experience childhood as a girl; obviously a key period where a person’s view on gender roles begins to develop. Greer even went as far as to criticize Murray Edwards College, Cambridge, for accepting transwomen into the female-only college. The crux of Greer’s argument is that transwomen were not brought up with the social pressures and gender norms that come with being a girl – they weren’t bought a Bratz doll by each of their aunties for Christmas or given the ‘girls’ toy with their happy meal.
On average, the majority of transgender people transition before the age of 44 - a fact which goes against the deemed stereotypical scenario where a married man with kids realises, once his children have left home, that he is really a woman. In this scenario Greer would argue that this man can’t experience true womanhood as they have benefitted from male privilege for the majority of their lives. Caitlyn Jenner is an example of this and someone whom Greer personally criticizes. If Caitlyn, a gold medal winning Olympic athlete, had been born a woman she wouldn’t have been allowed to compete against the athletes that she did, her prize winnings for the same competitions would have been far less, and, had she been born before 1928, she wouldn’t have been allowed to participate in any of her events! When known as Bruce, Caitlyn never had to face or overcome such hurdles within her sporting career, so does this make her less of a true woman today for lacking those experiences?
Naturally, as Jenner has such a celebrity status and a great deal of wealth she is a distorted view of your average transition – does the respect gained from achieving something generally viewed as masculine, such as her gold-medal, make it easier for someone to transition? And does being able to afford high quality surgery very quickly and, thus more easily, make it a smoother process? A plastic surgeon estimated that Caitlyn’s transformation cost $81,000; hardly the sort of money you find lying behind your sofa.
On the other hand it could be argued that despite benefitting from being male for part of their lives, transwomen then experience this social pressure of gender norm far more intensely as they try to validate themselves as a woman within society – wearing makeup and high heels in order to ‘prove’ to others that they are a fully transitioned female. Equally, despite benefitting from the economic advantage of being on the right side of the gender gap, it could be said that the patriarchy is still a disadvantage to transwomen as they were made to oppress their femininity that existed when they identified as a man, before they transitioned. Blatantly transgender people also experience a whole other wave of discrimination in the form of transphobia, which is ever-growing - statistics show a 58% increase in violent crimes towards transgender people over the last 2 years.
Although I fundamentally disagree with Greer’s belief that transwomen aren’t ‘real’ women (whatever the fuck a ‘real’ woman is) I can understand why she would believe that they lack often key experiences of misogyny that shape a woman’s view on feminism as they missed out on girlhood. This, however, does not mean that their experiences of sexism are not valid, or that they cannot relate to those experienced by many young girls. Nevertheless, feminism stands for the equality not just for the two genders but for all genders. Women and transwomen share the same enemies, so really, the real debate should be less about how we can decide about how ‘real’ a woman is, but more how we decide to tackle the ever present, very much real sexism in everyday society. Then, you know what? A woman will be ‘real’ without ever having to be cat called in her life.