The first impulse is to narrow the conversation

Katha Pollitt on Germaine Greer and the fatuous attempt to no-platform her and the absurd demand that a feminist be 100% perfect (in the sense of: agrees with me in all particulars) or be banished.

She starts with the fact that Greer has always been all over the place. There’s always plenty to disagree with in what she writes and says. Nobody could agree with everything she says.

Still, when I was invited to interview her a few years ago about Shakespeare’s Wife, her biography of Anne Hathaway, I was delighted. I did not start a petition to have her invitation canceled on the grounds that anyone who approves of cutting off little girls’ clitorises has no place on a podium talking about any subject, even Elizabethan England. I thought: Here’s a woman who has lived a big life and, at 70, has written a book that tries to rescue one of history’s most famous wives from oblivion and misogyny. That’s feminism.

Also, it’s interesting. Being interesting is a virtue. Greer is interesting. Few of her detractors are.

(Do I mean none of them are? Yes, probably. But I haven’t examined them all, so I can’t be sure. On the other hand I can be pretty sure that the kind of person who thinks Greer should be shunned is not interesting. People who are interesting don’t think that way. It’s a crude way to think, and that’s not compatible with interesting thought.)

Then Katha quotes from Rachael Melhuish’s petition.

Where to begin? Violence against trans women is the fault of feminists? I doubt the brutal men who assault and murder trans women have even heard of Greer­­—or are likely to attend her proposed lecture on feminism in the 20th century (which, she says, will not touch on the subject of trans women at all). And if you believe that inviting someone to lecture on campus is an endorsement of their views—even on subjects they’re not lecturing about—it doesn’t sound as if you’re really all that keen on debate. It sounds more like you want the university to invite only people who think like yourself.

Which would be a disaster, because they would all be so unlikely to be interesting.

It’s both unfortunate and bizarre that at a moment when feminism is showing renewed signs of life, the first impulse is to narrow the conversation and throw rotten vegetables at everyone who isn’t singing 100 percent in unison. And did I mention ageism? That prejudice seems to be completely acceptable. A typical tweet: “Germaine Greer is an insane old woman. Just watched the interview, she should be in an old peoples home.”

Feminism doesn’t apply to women over 40. Once you’re past 40 you’re in the wrong wave, and you should be locked up.

In the UK, the National Union of Students has “no-platformed” (attempted to prevent from speaking anywhere) the lesbian feminist writer and activist Julie Bindel for “transphobia” stemming from a 2004 article in The Guardian in which she mocked the notion that having a sex change made someone a woman. (Although she’s apologized for the tone of that piece, it doesn’t matter: She questions the use of sex-reassignment surgery, especially for children, and that’s enough.) Transgender-rights activists argue that trans women are real women, irrespective of their physical attributes, and have always been so. But even if that view prevails, the movement has taken a wrong turn somewhere if Bindel—a decades-long campaigner for lesbian rights and against male violence toward women—is the misogynist, and the feminists include male “allies” screaming at her to shut up.

Tell me about it. All those male “allies” screaming at feminist women to shut up – screaming it in full, throbbing confidence that they’re on the Right Correct Pure side, the social justice side, the intersectional side, the fight privilege side, the listen to marginalized people side. I could compile a list of those fuckers.

Even abortion isn’t as divisive a subject as transgender rights: No one pickets a campus talk by Sister Helen Prejean because she belongs to a church that demands that raped 10-year-olds give birth. You don’t see anyone no-platforming conservatives who support cuts in government programs that devastate poor women and families, or foreign officials representing governments that deny women basic human rights. There’s a virtual standing army of prominent people—people with actual real-world power—who are more intimately connected with the subjection of women than Germaine Greer or Julie Bindel; to say nothing of the numerous people, like the classics scholar Mary Beard and the gay-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who have supported their campus appearances and found themselves in the same crosshairs.

Strange, isn’t it. Counter-productive. Embarrassing. Narcissism of small differences.

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