Quantcast
Paris Lees: On Germaine Greer and the Hypocrisy of the 'Left'

Germaine Greer's "free speech" is "hate speech", so why is the commentariat rushing to defend it?

Illustration by Sam Taylor

When I was growing up there was always some tosser on the bus going on about how "You can't say anything these days" because someone had challenged them for being a prejudiced arsehole. In 2015 that arsehole is Germaine Greer. She made headlines last month when feminists from Cardiff University's student union called for her invitation to speak at their uni to be withdrawn. Some students didn't think it was right for a woman with a record of hate speech towards marginalised people to give a 'distinguished' lecture and not be challenged on it. It's taken these students and this "no platforming" attempt to expose 40 years of bigotry. Greer has been saying this stuff for decades but the difference now is that more people know a trans person and can put her hate into context. Good.

Should she be no platformed? Yes. For being fucking dull. What does one of the 20th century's great thinkers have to say about gender in 2015? "Trans women are men because they look like men." I'm only slightly paraphrasing there. I know, right? What an intellectual powerhouse, coughing up lazy prejudices you could hear any old drunk spouting down your local pub. Being a woman is all about how you look. OK, Germaine, if you say so. When questioned about her stance on trans people in Cardiff on Wednesday, she said that women who don't menstruate aren't real women.

Who is she to police the borders of womanhood? And why would she even want to? What does singling out trans women – she never talks about trans men, or genderqueer people – and pointing out that we are different achieve? Marking people out as inferior is pure discrimination. As US Attorney General Loretta Lynch stated, "No woman, whether cisgender or transgender, should ever be made to feel that simply being a woman opens her up to scorn, to abuse or to violence." I wonder if Greer's fans realise that their kids could turn out trans in the same way that, one day, they might have a gay child. And that the only thing to do, in either case, will be to love and support them unconditionally to be whoever they say they are.

"Greergate" didn't just expose her bigotry and stupidity, though. It revealed the gross hypocrisy of Britain's "Left". These boring old liberals keep telling me free speech is wonderful, so I've decided I'm going to try a bit of it. Let's get started!

FREE SPEECH OR HATE SPEECH?

Greer's acolytes have rushed to defend her right to "free speech" over the past month so let's take a look at precisely what sort of free speech they're defending:

"On the day that The Female Eunuch was issued in America, a person in flapping draperies rushed up to me and grabbed my hand. 'Thank you so much for all you've done for us girls!' I smirked and nodded and stepped backwards, trying to extricate my hand from the enormous, knuckly, hairy, be-ringed paw that clutched it... Against the bony ribs that could be counted through its flimsy scarf dress swung a polished steel women's liberation emblem. I should have said, 'You're a man. The Female Eunuch has done less than nothing for you. Piss off.' The transvestite [sic] held me in a rapist's grip." - Germaine Greer in The Independent: 'On why sex change is a lie', 22nd July 1989

It isn't "free speech", it is hate speech. This week there was outrage when the Daily Mail published a cartoon showing refugees crossing the border into Europe alongside rats. And when Katie Hopkins referred to "swarms of migrants" as "feral" and "cockroaches" earlier this year there was, quite rightly, widespread condemnation from Britain's ever-chattering classes. Referencing the holocaust and the Rwandan genocide, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, pointed out that freedom of expression is not absolute and words can lead to violence: "History has shown us time and again the dangers of demonising foreigners and minorities."

"Don't judge her on something she wrote 25 years ago, Paris!" cry Greer's defenders. People change, they say. And that's true. Even academics from Greer's generation who were once hostile towards trans people can change their minds, like feminist icon Gloria Steinem, who wrote in 2013 that: "[Trans people] are living out real, authentic lives. Those lives should be celebrated, not questioned." People can and do change. Bigots don't. That is what makes them bigots. Germaine Greer has been shitting on trans people for over 40 years. Germaine Greer is a bigot.

A BUNCH OF FUCKING HYPOCRITES

Here is Howard Jacobson, in the Wall Street Journal, on journalists who ignore the link between their anti-semitism and bloodshed on the streets of Gaza:

"It is hard to decide whether they were being cynical or naive. Could they really have supposed there would be no spillage from their hyperbole? The last century teaches that extremity can pass from refined discourse to street barbarism in no time at all. And if the mob detects the sweet cordite-like smell of anti-semitism in your prose, that's because it's there. To call out anti-semitism, unless blood has been spilt, is a hazardous enterprise in Britain. It draws the accusation of hypersensitivity."

I sympathise. To call out transphobia, unless blood has been spilled, is a also hazardous enterprise in Britain. It, too, draws the accusation of hypersensitivity. Just like that time HOWARD JACOBSON dismissed trans people as "touchy fools" for calling out Greer's bigotry:

"It isn't only in the name of free speech that the views of an itchy polemicist should be tolerated... To be easily offended is to be shut off from the invigoration of that argumentative give-and-take we call liberty; not to understand the poetics of provocation is to miss out on the joys of living in a literate and robust society that excels at satire and burlesque."

Ah well, not to worry then. It's not like a 21-year-old trans woman was found dead in a men's prison last week. Anti-semitism in the media can lead to barbarism in no time at all, but transphobia in the media is just a lovely, invigorating poem. The way people think about trans people and the way people treat trans people are clearly completely unrelated.

FREE SPEECH!

Now don't you go worrying about all those trans people who got raped and beaten and humiliated and disowned by their families and harassed in the street and forced into sex work and murdered, because there are far more important things to worry about, like that lovely Germaine Greer's free speech. You see, free speech is really important because can use it to speak out against abuses of power and systemic inequality. But you have to play nice and wait till someone offers you a platform before you can use your free speech. Don't go looking for creative ways – like "no platforming", for example – to get your voice heard and highlight discrimination. It's not like feminists or other activists of Greer's generation used every means possible to challenge discrimination back in the 60s and 70s, when universities were regularly brought to a halt by sit-down protests in canteens and shit like that. No, and it's not like there's a long tradition of marginalised people calling out sexists and racists and homophobes as stigmatised communities start to gain rights and social acceptance. Trans people should just shut up. Who do think they are? People?

And never mind that student activists were using their free speech to say they didn't want Germaine Greer to come to talk at their university. Never mind that journalists regularly abused trans people in the press for decades knowing fully well there was no one with a platform who'd challenge them because, for decades, most trans people were lucky if they could walk down the street without being spat on, let alone get a column in the Observer. Never mind that none of these free speech fetishists helped trans people get a voice back then. It's trans people's own fault they were marginalised. I can't for the life of me work out why they didn't just turn up at the Oxford Union or Broadcasting House or the fucking Times and demand to get their voices heard. It's not like a powerful status quo has ever been able to silence a marginalised group of people in public discourse through systemic discrimination and economic barriers to opportunity, is it?

FREEZE PEACH

OK. Now I'd like to do what no other brave freedom fighter has bothered to in their glorious defences of "free speech" – and that is to define it. So here we go. Free speech means you can say whatever you want and the state can't stop you. Hurrah! I think we can all get behind that. But there's something even better than free speech. Much, much better. It is called FREEZE PEACH and it is wonderful, magical stuff. FREEZE PEACH means you can say anything you like and never face any consequences! Doesn't it sound divine? FREEZE PEACH is even more powerful than that 'free speech' stuff your pathetic critics have to make do with. It is Free Speech Exec. It is Free Speech Extra. It is Super Free Speech. FREEZE PEACH!

Bigots like the former BNP leader Nick Griffin have enjoyed large media platforms over the years but the difference is that he was routinely challenged on his abhorrent views. I remember Bonnie Greer doing a grand job of standing up to his racism on Question Time. I remember there being a debate about whether or not he should be given a platform by the BBC. I remember lots of people saying what a massive dickhead he was. Imagine how you would feel as a person of colour if though Nick Griffin had been welcomed onto Question Time and no one so much as mentioned his racism. Well, that's kind of how I and many other trans people felt when they saw Germaine Greer fawned over on shows like Have I Got News For You. Nobody ever held her to account for the hateful things she wrote about trans people. It left me in no doubt as to the inferior position people like me occupied in society. As if I didn't already know. Beaten up at school for 'talking like a girl' and bullied at home by my dad for 'talking like a poof', Germaine Greer was the last in a long line of people reminding me of my place in the pecking order.

Basically, if you say some shit about refugees or black people or gay people or women (which people do all the time, of course) people with large media platforms will condemn you for the bad thing you said. Say something shitty about trans people and those same people will defend your free speech. What an absolute shower of cunts!

WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL, PARIS?

It's not true, as the New Statesman's Helen Lewis claims, that Greer's bigotry is being judged more harshly because she's a woman. When James Watson – who discovered DNA for fuck's sake – made racist comments about people from Africa, his reputation and career were ruined.

This week the "Left" has been getting all excited about Greer's love letters. Absolutely no mention of her prejudice and extremism. Because who cares? It's business as usual. The establishment has collectively told everyone that everything is OK and that it was all just an issue of free speech so it's fine to keep liking Germaine Greer and never, ever draw attention to all the disgusting, shocking hateful things she's said and done to trans people.

People just don't wanna hear a bad word said about her. And I think that's pretty fucking shit. I also think that anyone who believes in equality should protest her lectures, leave comments on articles about her and generally use our free fucking speech like they keep telling us to and make sure she never gets to speak again without being called out on her bigotry.

HYPOCRITES HALL OF FAME

"I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: 'I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action.'"- Extract from "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" by Martin Luther King, 16th April 1963

Martin Luther King was "gravely disappointed" in what he called "white moderates" during the black civil rights movement and I can really empathise. The biggest stumbling block for trans equality in 2015 isn't extreme, rabid bigots like Milo Yiannopoulos, but rather that giant mass of 'liberals' who support equality in word but not deed. I'm subjected to death threats and personal abuse on social media all the time – even from mainstream journalists – and does anybody condemn that? There is a shameful body of people who stay silent when they see others being abused or, indeed, deflect attention away from that abuse.

"OF COURSE it is terrible for trans people," cry Greer's supposedly liberal defenders... "BUT". It is always followed by "but". "I knew a trans person once and I'm really lovely," they tell us. This too is always followed by "but". And this "but" is always followed by some sermon on how wonderful it is that we have so many middle aged voices rallying to man the barricades in defence of free speech because of that unstoppable force – perhaps 0.05% of the population who are trans – threatening to destroy the very fabric of society. "Free speech is the cornerstone of a civilised society," they cry and it's a compelling argument. I'd hate to live in a savage world where people were made homeless and attacked and murdered and driven to suicide (like trans people routinely are in our current free speech utopia) because students had destroyed democracy.

Trans people are such a threat to our way of life now that those celebrated freedom fighters at the Daily Mail, the Christian Institute and Breitbart have all joined forces to protect civilisation from 'feminazis'. And don't worry, the Left are on hand too! When Greer finally pops her clogs (I know that's nasty, but FREEZE PEACH) I can just see the headlines: "Prominent people claim 'Free speech under threat' as Grim Reaper no-platforms Germaine Greer" and "Death accused of leading campaign to 'silence' outspoken academic." In 2015, being "silenced" seems to have been redefined to mean "offered wall-to-wall media coverage so millions of people hear what you've got to say". Let's look at some of her defenders:

• Oh look, it's another middle-aged white person telling off those noisy kids. Nicola Dandridge says, "Universities have a responsibility to promote free speech" and activists who try to 'silence' guests should be 'disciplined'. Watch out, here comes Dandridge with the cane! This is the same Nicola Dandridge, mind, who backs gender segregation at universities because she understands that, sometimes, women might want to come together without the presence of men. I guess it hasn't occurred to her that trans people might not feel safe around transphobes in the same way that women might not feel safe around misogynists. Brains of Britain, this one.


• Oh thank God, it's Bea Campbell come to save society. Bea OBE rushed to condemn her mate Julie Bindel (who advocates, among other things, dangerous reparative therapy for trans children) from being no-platformed. But as free speech fetishist Brendan O'Neill points out, when misogynist comedian Dapper Laughs was banned from performing at Cardiff University, nobody leapt to his defence in the name of free speech. How odd. The Student Union banned Dapper following A CAMPAIGN BY THE SAME ACTIVISTS WHO OPPOSED GREER'S TALK who said his comedy was dangerous because, among other things, he makes rape jokes. You know, like how students at the very same university regard Greer's views as dangerous because she implies that trans people are rapists? The Guardian's Stephanie Merritt accused ITV of "endorsing his damaging brand of lad culture" by offering Dapper his own TV show. Dapper did what every dickhead would do in a similar situation: he said he felt 'bullied' and cried 'Free speech!' Did Bea Campbell speak up for this 'free speech' of his? Did she fuck. Over to O'Neill: "If you signed a letter to the Observer criticising the banning of Kate Smurthwaite from Goldsmiths but you didn't say anything about the banning of Dapper Laughs from Cardiff, then your view on censorship is irrelevant." Don't cream your knickers Brendan, but I quite agree with you on this one. Bea Campbell is a hypocrite.

• Speaking of Kate Smurthwaite, she gets an honourable mention for signing a pledge to ban comedians who make rape jokes in 2012. In the same blog she admits she doesn't think Nick Griffin should have been given a platform on Question Time, claiming it was her "free speech" to say so but that there was an important distinction to be made between being able to say what you want and being offered a platform to say it. Well Kate, I quite agree! Fast forward to 2015 though, when Kate was supposedly "no platformed" herself (the evidence suggests her gig was actually pulled due to "no interest") and guess who is suddenly against no platforming? Kate Smurthwaite! Yeah! Another fucking hypocrite!

• Australia's human rights commissioner Tim Wilson told the Guardian that all this no platforming business means "we're not actually discussing and challenging ideas or opinions that sometimes need to be aired or challenged" which is a fantastic fucking point as the article he is quoted in fails to reference any of Greer's dehumanising language towards trans people or indeed that time she tried to get a trans woman sacked for being trans, just like most of the articles defending her free speech.

Germaine Greer. Yeah, she's as much as a hypocrite as her defenders. When Salman Rushdie was issued with a fatwa following the publication of The Satanic Verses in 1989, several academics came out to support Rushdie in one of those letters defending freedom of expression that do the rounds from time to time. Guess who didn't sign because, well, they just didn't really like Rushdie the "megalomaniac"? Why, it was free speech champion Germaine Greer, of course!

• And don't you forget old muddle brain Richard Dawkins, who defended Greer from being no platformed but called for creation theory advocate Ben Stein to be no platformed back in 2009 because he didn't see any point in arguing with creationists and lending credence the 'debate'. Dawkins wrote: "What kind of a signal do you think you will send to the world about the University of Vermont, if you honour this man?" Hypocrite!

This was such a tiny, tiny selection. I may well write a book about it one day. All this talk about no platforming your old chum Greer and political correctness gone mad distracts from Extremism Disruption Orders (EDOs), a VERY REAL THREAT TO FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION THAT HARDLY ANYONE IS TALKING ABOUT. Whatever your views on no platforming are, there can be no doubt the Left is pretty two faced. I'm sorry but we need to talk about a handful of hypocrites who are dressing up common bigotry behind debates about 'free speech' and 'feminism' and all their pals who let it slide. Do these wankers realise that being trans is just a thing? Just the way some people are? This is our life, not a fucking intellectual debate.

You may have the luxury of pretending that your friends aren't transphobes, and being super selective about just whose free speech you can be bothered to defend, but I don't. That's called privilege, baby. You're not defending free speech, you're defending Germaine Greer and what she stands for. You don't defend Dapper Laughs or Katie Hopkins or the Daily Mail's free speech and you're hypocrites. Enjoy your conspiracy of silence and doing nothing while your idols attack trans people. Stonewall, the LGBT equality charity, has a great campaign out called No Bystanders at the moment that encourages everyone to challenge prejudice wherever they see it.

If you have spoken up in defence of Greer over the past month but haven't written about Transgender Day of Remembrance – a time to raise awareness of all those trans people who were murdered or driven to suicide by a culture of prejudice and discrimination, of which Greer is a part – shame on you.

MY FINAL BIT OF FREE SPEECH

But hey, whatever! Use your platforms to defend your bigoted sacred cows. Ignore their hate speech. Ignore the widespread discrimination of trans people. Your icons will be dead before long and you'll be the generation staving off death. I'll be your age then. So will all those student activists and people who will have grown up seeing trans people speaking for themselves in the media and generally taking our seats at the table with everyone else in society. You'll be there shouting about how "It's a free country and I can say what I like". The majority of other people will question your priorities. The majority of other people will look at you the way millennials look at homophobes today. The majority of people will think you are tossers.

And you know what? Greer got her free speech this week and you got paid for your pompous, tedious fucking articles just like I'm getting paid for this sexy hot truth bomb. It's all a game when you're in the commentariat, isn't it old chums? Well fuck you, I'm Julie Burchill now! Hot Burchill. FREEZE PEACH! LOL!

@ParisLees

More from VICE:

My Transgender Tinder Adventure

Travelling as a Trans Person Is Exhausting and Dangerous

Dispelling the Myths Around Trans People Detransitioning