The most controversial event of the academic year took place last week, as Germaine Greer took to the stage despite widespread opposition.
Greer’s lecture, named ‘Women and Power: the lessons of the 20th Century’, saw approximately five police offers present outside the Julian Hodge building in lieu of student protests. Ten members of University security were also on the scene to check bags and control the queue.
The event initially attracted criticism after Women’s Officer Rachael Melhuish created a petition calling Greer out for “continually misgendering trans women and denying the existence of transphobia altogether”.
The petition, which attracted over 3,000 signatures, argued that the event should not take place. However, despite concerns, the University confirmed that the event would indeed run as planned in line with its commitment to “freedom of speech and open debate”.
During the lecture, around 25 students peacefully protested outside the lecture hall holding banners and handing out leaflets with questions to ask the academic.
Talking to Gair Rhydd, one demonstrator from the University of South Wales explained: “She can’t be a representative of feminism as a whole if she doesn’t believe in trans people. It’s not fair.”
Another protester underlined Cardiff University’s commitment to the equality charity Stonewall, which campaigns for the equal treatment of all members of the LGBT+ community.
She stated: “To bring someone here and pay them that much money and to spout something that is in direct opposition to Cardiff University’s rules and approach is really strange.”
Ahead of the talk, the University promised Melhuish that Greer’s views on transgender women would not be voiced during her lecture.
In spite of this, in a question and answer session after the main event the 76-year old reinforced her fiercely contested view: “I don’t believe a woman is a man without a cock. Beating me over the head is not going to change my mind.”
She also compared the situation to comments made by Strictly Come Dancing judge Len Goodman talking about the rumba last week: “What’s on the label is not on the tin. I can call this pencil a hammer – but it’s a pencil.”
Although the feminist acknowledged the problems faced by transgender women, both due to the use of aggressive language and with conditions in the sex trade, she concluded “if you don’t find your pants full of blood at age 13 then you don’t understand what it is to be a women.”
Other issues discussed during the Q&A session included the difficulties faced by female academics.
One staff member at Bristol University told the audience that she had been unable to get a full-time job at either Bristol or Cardiff University after becoming a mother when completing her PhD.
She said that she felt both “exploited and undervalued”, and struggled to gain access to simple resources such as printers and photocopiers.
In response, Greer advised that the professor go to an employment tribunal.
During the evening, the feminist confronted matters such as abortion, the gender pay gap and the situation surrounding junior doctors to name just a few.
She reminded the audience that the lifetime earning gap between men and women is bigger now than previously.
Talking about abortion she also stated that the choice for women cannot ever be truly free as long as class and economic pressures exist, especially for single mothers.
In her talk, Greer urged the audience to actively oppose the current situation for women: “Why aren’t we angry? Why don’t we care?”
She then moved on to criticise the recent film Suffragette for its focus on British suffragette “superstars” instead of working class protesters.
At one stage during the evening the media also became a subject of criticism as Greer stopped her lecture to ensure that she was not being recorded.
She explained that she had been “pursued” by the Guardian in an attempt to confirm rumours about her previous love life. However, the feminist stated: “I hope you never hear about this. The people mentioned are real people, still alive and with families of their own, in positions with some responsibility.”
The night ended with a standing ovation for Greer, who concluded that the “equality train is going nowhere”.
Women, she ended, must continue to strive to get power if we are to improve conditions for the global female population.