Controversial feminist and author Germaine Greer has come under fire after saying it is not fair for a man who has enjoyed the 'unpaid services' of a wife for years to decide he is now a woman.
Social media erupted following Greer's comments with many labelling her as 'transphobic', while others said her lack of empathy was 'appalling'.
The criticisms were framed in the usual liberal terms:
Stephanie: Someone please tell Germaine it's 2016. My gender is not up to you to decide Germaine.
Cass: Germaine, you're telling women how to be women and that's not OK.
It must be odd for Germaine to find herself subject to these criticisms. After all, she herself was once at the cutting edge of the liberal belief that the highest good is a freedom to self-define and self-determine. Here is a quote from her 1999 book The Whole Woman in which she argues in favour of a "liberation" version of feminism rather than an "equality" one:
Liberation struggles are not about assimilation but about asserting difference...insisting on it as a condition of self-definition and self-determination...the visionary feminists of the late sixties and early seventies knew that women could never find freedom by agreeing to live the lives of unfree men. Seekers after equality clamoured to be admitted to smoke-filled male haunts. Liberationists sought the world over for clues to what women's lives could be if they were free to define their own values, order their own priorities and decide their own fate...
It's a variant of liberal autonomy theory in which the overriding good is a freedom to self-define and self-determine. It's an interesting variant, as Greer does not emphasise the idea that men are privileged and that women should therefore seek to ape men. She looks at the lives men lead and doesn't see it as free at all; she logically concludes that women should try for something different.
However, what Greer didn't foresee was that once you place a freedom to self-define as the core good in a society, that the women's movement itself would eventually lose some of its status. After all, if it is oppressive to be defined by anything I don't choose for myself, then it is oppressive to be defined by my sex. Therefore, the cutting-edge freedom is to choose my own sex according to my will ("My gender is not up to you decide Germaine"). Therefore, transsexuals are the new heroes of a liberal social order - they are the ones leading the revolution. Which means that real women (i.e. biological women) aren't as important as they once were. Anyone who chooses to be so can now be a woman.
Consider this comment made by Greer in her TV discussion:
If you're a 50-year-old truck driver who's had four children with a wife and you've decided the whole time you've been a woman, I think you're probably wrong
Most people reading this post will agree with Greer on this (as do I). But in terms of the logic of liberalism, it is exactly this kind of scenario that represents peak liberation. Greer's example presents the most seemingly entrenched male throwing off a sex stereotype to declare himself to be female. What could be a more revolutionary act of self-definition than that?