Let Germaine Greer speak – whatever it is that she has to say

There is such a risk-averse mentality among those in public life these days that we are in danger of not hearing anything meaningful

Simon Kelner
Tuesday 27 October 2015 18:33
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When people use the phrase “political correctness gone mad”, what they generally mean is just “political correctness”. The idea that we should be governed by a philosophy in which minorities, even those who inhabit the extremities of society, are protected from insult or injury is, in their view, mad in itself. I am a robust defender of political correctness, believing that it is merely the modern expression of tolerance, politeness and inclusiveness. But even I ask sometimes whether we have created an atmosphere which has encouraged special interest groups to take offence, and which in turn inhabits free speech.

The toxic hot air cloud enveloping Germaine Greer at the moment is a perfect example of this. The veteran feminist rabble-rouser gave her opinion about transgender people last week. “I’m not saying that people should not be allowed to go through that procedure,” she explained,

“All I’m saying that it doesn’t make them a woman.” And on the radio yesterday, for those who couldn’t quite understand her point, she was more vivid. “Just because you lop off your dick and then wear a dress doesn’t make you a f***ing woman.”

Greer is now public enemy number one for the transgender community, a place previously occupied by the journalist Suzanne Moore who, in 2013, said in an article that the ideal body shape for a woman these days was that of a “Brazilian transsexual”. Moore was subject to a vitriolic campaign on social media and now Ms Greer has been similarly attacked and, bizarrely for the woman who wrote The Female Eunuch, she is being branded “a misogynist”. She has cancelled a public appearance in the face of protests.

I don’t really have a position on transgender politics, but I do have a strong opinion about freedom of speech. What Greer was offering was a view; her own personal one, expressed in a characteristically forthright style. I can see why transgender activists may have found her statement unpalatable, but the speed with which, through social media, disagreement turns into offence, and then spirals into a full-blown protest campaign is both frightening and injurious to proper debate.

The effect of this is to create a public discourse that is bland, uninformative, and lacking in authenticity. There is such a risk-averse mentality among those in public life these days that we are in danger of not hearing anything meaningful.

We see this all the time from politicians. Only a couple of weeks ago, I found myself shouting at the radio when Jeremy Corbyn was being interviewed on the Today programme on Radio 4. He was asked a simple question. Do you want to be Prime Minister? He was asked this twice, maybe three times. And instead of simply saying “Yes”, or even “No”, he droned on about having a huge mandate from the Labour Party and he was going to use this to effect political change, blah, blah, blah.

Just say what you mean, man!

At least Germaine Greer isn’t afraid to tell it how she sees it. Politically incorrect it may have been, no doubt offensive to some, but I applaud her for reminding us what the world used to be like before the digital hate mobs killed free speech.

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