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A father who is a member of our support group emailed Greer (reproduced here with his permission):
Dear Professor Greer
I have admired your writings for many years. Please therefore accept the following remarks in the spirit in which they are written. I hope that you can find the time and inclination to read them.
I am sorry to report to you that the discussion about Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS) in the chapter Pantomime Dames in The Whole Woman is largely inaccurate and also very cruel to a vulnerable group of women (including my own 5 year old daughter).
May I sketch out some of the basic facts about AIS and follow with a brief discussion about femaleness? I recognise that your time is precious but if you wish to come back to me for more details, discussion or whatever I should be most happy. You may also find a visit to the AIS Support Group web site useful if you wish to pursue this (website: http://www.aissg.org).
There are two types of AIS, complete and partial.
The complete form (CAIS) produces women (see discussion below). These women lack a uterus and ovaries, an upper vagina and secondary sexual hair. In the past (and often nowadays, to the medical profession's shame) most of these women have not had their situation recognised and have lived entirely straightforward and standard female lives other than not producing children (not unique to AIS).
The partial form, PAIS, is where some of your discussion is a little more accurate. Almost complete PAIS is not very different (from CAIS) but there are degrees of expression which may produce an apparent hermaphrodite or one of indeterminate sex. Male-dominated medical (particularly surgical) circles have "conspired" to mutilate apparently hermaphroditic individuals with PAIS and other conditions in the most brain-free fashion. We condemn female circumcision in Ethiopia and practise it freely in Western surgical circles in this and related conditions.
In the the past few years, particularly in the United States, a movement for the recognition of intersex states as a valid mode of living has developed. It has many of the characteristics of the female liberation movement of the 60s and 70s. It is particularly unfortunate then that your own remarks, based on a loose understanding of the situation, should conspire against these individuals already struggling with personal and social difficulties. As a well recognised individual liberationist your support of such a group might be a more rational approach than condemnation through ignorance.
As you are well aware, the standard, uninfluenced foetus is female. Male hormones in early foetal life bring about "mutation" to the male form. These hormones are the result of the Y chromosome. CAIS is the condition where no part of any cell is responsive in any way to testosterone, except when it is converted (as it is in ALL people) to female hormones. The response to these female hormones is entirely normal: producing female breasts, for example. Hence a non-masculinised female body form, skin, hair, physique, muscle development. No part of a CAIS person is in any functional manner male.
They look female, feel female, are female. Your assertion/implication that they are male is rather incongruous.
Thank you for reading this (if you have).
Germaine Greer replied by email to the father, as follows:
Dear [name removed],
Thank you for your letter, which raises several knotty problems, none of which we will be able to solve by an exchange of e-mails, nevertheless I think it important to point them out.
What constitutes femaleness? It is my considered position that femaleness is conferred by the final pair of XX chromosomes. Otherwise I don't know what it is. Clearly, I cannot agree that the "standard uninfluenced foetus is female", because I do not agree that infants who do not exhibit male genital development are all female by definition. What this definition amounts to in my view is a diktat from a masculine establishment that will not accept imperfect males as males of any kind -- just as men with crushed testicles were not allowed into the Temple.
Femaleness is by my definition not simply not-maleness and certainly not less-than-maleness. My basic position has not altered from that expressed in The Female Eunuch; my whole argument was and is predicated upon the idea that there is a female sex which is denied, i. e. castrated, in order to induce passivity, biddability and infantilism together with the other defining characteristics of the feminine gender. The feminine is truly sexless.
I would not agree with you therefore that CAIS individuals are women i. e. female, though they might very well behave in a manner identified as feminine. Femininity has no biological marker; intact XY individuals are perfectly capable of feminine behaviour, and indeed are sometimes much better at it than XX individuals. They will sometimes say that they are women in men's bodies, which formulation I would have to translate as 'feminine people who happen to have male gonads', an inconvenience which surgeons will be all too ready to eliminate.
You implicitly condemn the medical profession for not recognising "these women's" (i. e. CAIS individuals') situation, but you seem not to agree that they represent a special situation. I happen to know well several CAIS individuals whose lives are made wretched by medical tinkering, regular huge doses of steroids to control facial hair, for example. They are convinced that they are women with special and overwhelming health problems; the option of being a healthy AIS individual is not open to them.
I agree with you about medical intervention in the case of new-borns exhibiting genital ambiguities (as you would know if you read the chapter of my book called 'Mutilation') but I extend it further than you do, because clitorises considered too big are routinely reduced even when no chromosomal anomaly is present.
You appear to approve of the recognition of intersex states, and I agree that intersex should be recognised and privileged as a special destiny. Intersexuality is not a disease or a deformity, but it is not femaleness either.
I do not know what it is to feel female; I doubt that ' feeling female' is a rational state. If you have been brought up as female, and are therefore female identified, you will assume that your femaleness is innate. We might draw a comparison with other kinds of identification; we are told that Madeleine Allbright was surprised and disobliged to learn that she is, though brought up a Christian, in fact Jewish. She may refuse to identify with that condition or that community, but she cannot refuse to carry her share of its genetic load.
Our group member emailed Greer again:
Dear Professor Greer
I am so pleased to discover that you are as receptive to disagreement as you have always appeared.
I tried to avoid the difficult area of feminine behaviour in my letter, since it is the area above all which is so susceptible to subliminal influence and not one of great value in this area of argument.
I also tried extremely hard (from an initial position of reasonable neutrality) to bring up my children (four girls and three boys) in a non-gender assignment manner. I think that I was reasonably successful in this. However, the one to exhibit the most generally accepted feminine behaviour patterns from a very early age has been my AIS daughter.
I do not want to be unfair and "pull rank" in the matter of watching my children grow but they have been such an influence on my beliefs about gender and personality behaviour that I must do so. I was a confirmed and implacable environmental behaviourist until I watched major personalities in tiny infants mature but not alter in all my own children as they grew and developed in their own ways despite all that I could do!
However the argument about femininity is insoluble and reiterative. I will move on.
1. I must say quite forthrightly that you have your facts wrong about AIS. I don't know what it is that you are confusing AIS with since there are so many possibilities (apparently closely related). Steroids may cause the growth of facial hair through the effects of testosterone to which they are converted in the body. Since the whole point of AIS is that the person cannot respond to androgen those growing facial hair as a result of, or a reason for, steroid use do not have AIS.
It is this aspect of AIS physiology which gives rise to the para-myth of AIS women as being super-female. Since they cannot respond to testosterone at all they have no characteristics of maleness and cannot have (if one accepts that male-characteristic behaviour or structure is caused by testosterone (which, simply, it is)). Since all non-AIS women can respond to testosterone, all non-AIS women have aspects of their hormonally influenced (i.e. each and every) structure and function which are male as a consequence. And AIS women do not.
2. The foetus not influenced by testosterone is female in phenotype (visual, apparent gender). I apologise for misleading by inadequate definition.
I also apologise for not reading "Mutilation". I will do so. My attention had been drawn to your AIS remarks.
3. If you insist that it is the genotype which is the implacable definer of gender, you accept therefore that a person of XX genes with a penis, scrotum, beard, deep voice, broad shoulders, narrow hips, male muscle development [and potentially unpleasant personal habits :-)] is female. Not many would wholeheartedly agree with you. I accept the academic biological argument. It is the resultant social (in the broadest sense) difficulties which can wreak havoc with lives.
4. Yes, I do accept the existence of an intermediate gender. I object, as do you, and as do most of those who are genitally intermediate, to the forced imposition of a female situation by doctors simply because the person is not a genitally standard male. I grant them the power to be themselves rather than imperfect males (or indeed females).
I am grateful to you for the opportunity to further discuss your statements. I am interested in virtually everything to which I have ever been exposed and would enjoy pursuing any and all of our discussion ad infinitum and probably nauseam. You have lots of other things to do and I am retired due to cancer however. Could I ask you, for the sake of accuracy (and fairness to others) to check what you plan to say about AIS with those who know about AIS before your second edition. If I am still alive I should be happy to help or please contact the AIS support group (http://www.medhelp.org/www/ais - [now moved to www.aissg.org]).
Very best wishes
We asked his permission to post his correspondence on our web site. He replied, "I'm surprised that you think it worthwhile. On more mature consideration it appears that she is a complete berk and my letters to her should have been more straightforward."
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