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The Whole Woman – Andy hadn’t realised Aunty Germaine was such a transphobic, homophobic, heteronormative old twat

January 13, 2014

Yes. Yes, I do realise Germaine Greer would be shittier about being called “Aunty” and possibly “an old twat” than she would about the phobias bits and bobs. And look, to be honest, heteronormative is maybe a bit of a push..

But first, a confession.

Last year saw Netty and I read only six books in common – one every two months. We separately read one book a month from our own bookshelves – books we owned but had not previously read. Early on I decided the books I read from my bookshelves each month would be (drum roll, please) written by women. So I have read 12 (13, actually, cos Fay Weldon was so shite) books from my shelves written by women. When you include the handful or so of other books by (mostly Australian) women I read this year – including Vanessa Russell’s Holy Bible, Cory Taylor’s My Beautiful Enemy, Maria Takolander’s The Double and Anna Krein’s Night Games – the total almost certainly eclipses the number of books by women I have ever read in any previous year. Which, as most women would tell me, is nothing to brag about. But as I said on this blog at least twice last year I am a bit of a literary sexist. I think Netty wants me to start a band called The Literary Sexists. Not sure about that. Netty, incidentally, did not pick up on the emerging pattern of my reading as the months ticked by. Probably because she’s a bit of a literary sexist herself.

womanSpeaking of sexism … Germaine Greer’s The Whole Woman, follow-up to The Female Eunuch, which I read almost exactly 20 years ago.

I remember being much more impressed by Eunuch than I was by Woman. Although I seem to remember Germaine having a few nasty things to say about lesbians in her first book. Granted, that memory may be erroneous.

My memory of the bigotry Greer displays in The Whole Woman is not erroneous. Sections of this book, published 15 years ago, are simply appalling. Less than two pages in we get this: “In June 1998 an overwhelming vote of the British House of Commons recognised the right of sixteen-year-old homosexual men ‘to have sex’, by which they meant, apparently, for it was never explained, the right to penetrate and be penetrated anally. This the MPs saw as granting homosexual men the same rights as heterosexuals. For them at least rectum and vagina were equivalent.” Perhaps, as one of those homosexual men (although not a sixteen-year-old one, obviously), I take more offence at this than is necessarily appropriate. But I’m sorry: she is implying that men can’t “have sex” with each other – that gay sex isn’t really sex – and she is saying that physical intimacy between men is inferior to that between men and women. Even though she totally, totally hates men.

Pardon the pun, but Fuck you, Germaine.

This, if memory serves, is probably the strongest argument for me claim that Greer is heteronormative. There are later, bizarre sections that undermine that claim, including this closing sentence to the “chapterkin”, as she calls them (pfft), called The love of women: “… none of us needs lose hope that she may yet meet the woman of her dreams and love as she has never loved before.” Naaaaw, Germaine’s got a little lesbian fantasy going on in her dotage. Towards the end of the book she champions the idea of children being raised in man-free, women-only households. So yes, heteronormative is a stretch.

Transphobic, however, is not. Fifteen years down the track Greer is still unapologetically hateful towards trans people, something that resulted in her being glittered by activists at an appearance in New Zealand a few years ago.

This is the title of Greer’s chapterkin about trans people: “Pantomime dames”. Do I actually need to write anything else? For 14 pages Greer spews the sort of deranged bile I’d expect from the Australian Christian Lobby or a blogger like Bill Muehlenberg. But of course, as the chapterkin title suggests, Greer’s vitriol is aimed squarely at only one element of the trans community: women who were born in biologically male bodies. She’s actually quite nice about FTM trans people. These pages are littered with reprehensible language – “spurious females”, “so-called sex change”, “pseudo-vagina”, “wannabe women”, “not a woman but a failed male”. And perhaps most cruelly, as she herself blithely acknowledges, “women should not automatically accept all those who do not wish to be male as being ex gratia females.” The last paragraph of this chapterkin suggests that all MTF trans people want to murder mum and thus become her, a la Norman Bates in Psycho.

Again. Fuck you, Germaine.

In her last chapterkin, titled Liberation, Greer says “There has always been a confederacy between women and rebels against masculinist conditioning, be they homosexual, transvestite or transsexual, and these are relationships that feminists should continue to foster but not at the cost of denying their own perception of female reality.” There is something disturbingly Stalinist about this sentiment, especially given Greer’s dismissal of MTF trans people as “pantomime dames”. Use the power these groups have if it helps us achieve our own ends, Greer is saying. But stuff what they want.

Although maybe it was Trotsky, not Stalin. I always get that lot mixed up.

There are other things here that deserve to be condemned, including her fatuous defence of female genital mutilation in Africa and elsewhere. And there are plenty of other things that deserve to be applauded. It’s just that, for me, what deserves to be condemned overshadows any of this book’s positives.

In the first lines of the chapterkin Loathing, Greer makes reference to a famous line from Eunuch: “Women have very little idea of how much men hate them.” A few pages later she claims “It is as easy to vilify women as man-haters, which they most emphatically are not, as it is difficult to challenge men on the grounds of their woman-hatred, which is real, pervasive and obvious.” Greer slips this garbage in between genuinely horrific, sickening details about the way raped women have been treated at trial; it’s her way of saying “All men (even them ones what want a cock up their arse) are rapists.” The simple reality is men and women probably hate each other pretty much equally. Women’s hatred of men is probably, often, more explicable than men’s hatred of women. Greer’s hatred of men, though – of gay men, of “men” who are in fact women, of pretty much every single man on the face of the planet – is irrational and carcinogenic. I don’t remember thinking this when I finished reading Eunuch, all those years ago; it’s certainly the overwhelming impression I took away from The Whole Woman.

On a rather different point, I have to admit, having read Netty’s rant about Tropic of Cancer, that my impression of that book as not being terribly sexist was a load of old bollocks.

That said: Germaine? Fuck you.

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