Why I’ll be watching Germaine Greer at the Union

Despite the fact she’s transphobic, we should still listen to what she has to say

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Germaine Greer is speaking at the Union on Monday – something that has caused a great deal of controversy. 

In the past, Greer has spoken against trans people. CUSU Women’s campaign have condemned her invitation to Cambridge, while Get Real., the Cambridge LGBT+ (or queer positive) magazine, has called for a boycott of the Union’s LGBT+ drinks on the grounds that extending an invitation to Germaine Greer was unacceptable.

I understand, given her views, why they have called for this boycott. Any view that undermines members of the Trans community is wrong, and anyone who espouses that view is fundamentally misguided.That said, Greer should not be condemned for speaking at the Union – it is simply not the right way to go about fighting prejudice.

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A feminist figurehead

Love her or loathe her, Germaine Greer is one of the most influential living feminists. There can be no doubting the significance of her works such as The Female Eunuch. Her views were and still are revolutionary, controversial and interesting. Her brand of feminism has inspired a generation of women to examine their role in society. The Union would be wrong to turn up a speaker so prominent and dynamic.

Feminism is about having a less gendered society. It is about having a situation where gender roles are more fluid. It is about equality in society and equality. By this definition, it is not possible to be a feminist and hold the opinions that Greer holds about Trans people.

Yet, as with many outlooks and ideologies, feminism is a term that encompasses a wide spectrum of beliefs.  Debates on what feminism is and what its priorities should be are as important as the arguments to be had with non-feminists.

I disagree with Germaine Greer, as I’m sure many people do, but she is an opinionated, intelligent, articulate woman, and as such, nobody gains anything from ignoring her.

The Union is independent from the University. It does not support no-platform policies. Allowing people to talk, and challenging those views which are seen to be most problematic is always going to be more constructive than telling someone that they cannot speak.

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The Union has a long history of controversial speakers.

Allowing someone to speak is not a validation of their views. It is an expression that free speech is an important part of our society. Dialogue, even dialogue that falls outside of our comfort zones is crucial, and to stifle contradictory opinions is repressive.

It is not as if Germaine Greer is the first controversial speaker that has been at the Union. The Israeli ambassador last term drew protests. Sarah Palin is also on the Lent termcard. Controversial speakers are often also influential and indeed often very interesting. If the Union were to offer no platform to anyone whom anyone found offensive, the richness and variety of the debate would diminish entirely.

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Stifling our enemies won’t help

Disqualifying any speakers from discussion and compromising principles of free speech sets a dangerous precedent. In attempting to silence those we disagree with, we risk reducing the platform and allowing important voices to go unheard.

I will be going to the Union to see Germaine Greer. I will be very interested to hear what she has to say, and also very much interested in how she deals with questioning on her own views of the Trans Community. Boycotting the event would be wrong, because in order to properly combat views one disagrees with, we first have to listen and understand.