GERMAINE Greer has always been good at lobbing the kind of verbal grenade that sends an explosion rippling through all of feminism. She did that recently when she appeared on television and radio after a petition that sought to have her banned from speaking at Cardiff University because of her views on trans women. Among her stand-out comments was: “Just because you lop off your penis and then wear a dress doesn't make you a ******* woman.”

And with that, feminism suddenly seemed like a movement split by intergenerational war. On one side were the second wavers and other older feminists, who either agreed with Greer or were, at least, upset at her being “no-platformed”. On the other were the mostly young fourth-wavers, believers in inclusivity and the privilege-checking ways of intersectional feminism. Greer had exposed a crack in the sisterhood. Except it wasn’t anything new. The rift over trans women had been there since the 1980s – and Greer, and a significant number of other feminists, have long been saying things like she did.

Over the last week there have been a great been many trans voices condemning Greer. From boxing promoter Kellie Maloney who said she “should be punished”, to Paris Lees, journalist and trans activist, who described her as a “vile bigot”. That the trans community has been deeply upset is not surprising. But, increasingly the loudest voices against such views, are young feminists. Women like Rachel Melhuish, Cardiff University women’s officer, who launched the petition, objecting that “Greer has demonstrated time and time again her misogynistic views towards trans women”. Feminists like Laurie Penny, who, while against no-platforming, tweeted this week: “Germaine Greer's writing meant a hell of a lot to me as a kid. She is an important feminist. She is also a transphobe. So upsetting.”

Feminists, too, like Edinburgh-based 32-year-old Kaite Welsh who appears as saddened as she is horrified by Greer’s comments – so much so that she wrote a column in The Telegraph, declaring her a “dinosaur”. For Welsh, Greer was a hugely important figure during her teenage years. She recalls reading The Whole Woman. “It really resonated with me.” But, even then, the chapter of the book on trans women she says, troubled her. “I read it and I felt ‘actually, no, trans women are women just like everyone else’.”

Welsh says her natural urge is to support outspoken women like Greer. “But that doesn’t mean that she gets to say appallingly offensive things.” She acknowledges Greer as a “massively important figure”. “I would never for one second denigrate what she has done. But that doesn’t give her a free pass. We can’t be that kind of movement.” In fact, she writes that she “would rather share a podium with the entire T section of the LGBT movement than with Greer”.

She is also saddened by the tension and division it has caused not just within feminism but within her personal circles. “I’ve got friends on both sides. I have friends who absolutely stand by Greer not only continuing to be given a platform, but the comments that she made. I also who have friends who are trans. And it’s breaking my heart that I can’t have these people in the same room as each other.”

Welsh’s feminism is, like that of increasing numbers of young feminists, an intersectional one. It takes the view that power in our society works in such a way to oppress many groups, whether because of race, disability, sexuality, or non-conformance to their seeming gender. A white middle-class woman, in this scheme of things, has a lot more advantages than a black trans woman, or a disabled working-class woman. Often these young feminists also have a more fluid feeling around gender, tending to see it as a cultural creation, a performance rather than something essential. For these feminists, above all, it’s important to support and include all oppressed groups. “If we’re not looking out for everyone,” says Welsh, “then that’s not a movement I want to be part of.”

Nevertheless, a great many articles over the last week have been broadly supportive of Greer, even while condemning some of what she has said. This is not surprising given that Greer is by no means a lone voice. Many a leading feminist has, over the past five years, sometimes stumblingly, written something deemed transphobic or trans exclusionary. There is even a twitter-friendly acronym, Terf, (trans exclusionary radical feminist), used regularly by trans activists to describe, or troll them. A fairly large proportion of high-profile feminist commentators have been accused of being Terfs: Caroline Criado-Perez, Julie Burchill, Caitlin Moran and Julie Bindel, to name a few.

Sarah Ditum is a a youngish Greer supporter. At 34 years old she describes herself as “too old to be a young feminist, but too young to be an old one”. But she is not only against the no-platforming of Greer; she’s also reluctant to condemn her views. “I totally understand why people find some of the things she has said about trans people offensive. Certainly some of the stuff which was in The Whole Woman in 1999 where she goes in for this sort of Freudian explanation for trans women is not a respectful way to talk about other people. But I would say from her performance on Newsnight that certainly wasn’t the line she is now putting forward which I think arguably shows that when you engage in discussion about something the conversation does change.”

Ditum has been attacked for her views on trans issues herself. “You do get abuse for it. The most frustrating part of it is being told that you are dehumanising people or saying that somebody shouldn’t exist because you make a statement about physical sex. If I point out that trans women are male, that doesn’t mean anything, apart from that trans women are male.”

Ditum believes that there is “absolutely” a division in the feminist movement “between feminists who think that self-identifying as a woman is sufficient and means that someone is functionally a woman and should be accepted as a woman.”

“There are feminists,” she says, “and I am one of them, who think that the social division of sex isn’t going to be undone just by making exceptions – and that we need to talk about the way female people are subject to oppressions and violence because we are female.”

Part of her argument is one of protection and revolves around providing safe spaces for women. “For example,” she says, “if a trans woman is treated as a woman and goes to a domestic violence refuge which is set up to be a female only space for women who are victims of male violence, it's as if the trans woman’s right to safety within that refuge counts more than the women’s right to feel safe and have a space away from men.”

However, it is not only feminists who are concerned with setting the limits and parameters for what a woman can be. As Scottish trans woman Jai Latto, winner of Miss Transgender United, points out, those kind of discussions go on within the trans community. “Greer’s saying if you once had a cock and you’ve just chopped it off, you’re still not a woman. I think that’s disgusting and wrong. But I also think she’s saying what a lot that other people are thinking.”

Trans people, she notes, do make similar comments. “Only a week or so after I won my title Miss Transgender United, trans people started saying that I should be decrowned because I wasn’t woman enough because I might not wear my wig all the time, or I might have stubble. So there are trans women out there who are making hoops to make us more of a woman or less of a woman.”

The trans community is, of course, itself diverse. Within it there are many women who consider themselves feminists. Among them is playwright and trans woman Jo Clifford, who is saddened by Greer’s views. Before her transition, during her marriage to radical feminist thinker Sue Innes, Clifford recalls that Greer’s writings were important to them: “We were trying to understand the nature of women’s oppression and we were trying to take action to live differently, to live an alternative life. She did help us all those years ago. But that was a very, very long time ago.”

These days she considers Greer “totally out of step and out of date”. “One of the things she used to say was that it was really wrong to judge women on the basis of their appearance and to put a woman down because she didn’t conform to male standards of beauty. And it’s incredibly sad now to see her doing the same thing to trans women, to people like myself and criticising us because we don’t look like women and we don’t sound like women and don’t behave like women.”

Meanwhile, there is little sense that this rift in the feminist movement is closing. The crack gets deeper. The animosity gets stronger. And, with the transgender rights movement gathering increasing momentum, the prominence of the issue itself is likely to snowball. Sarah Ditum finds this conflict within feminism “frustrating”. “I feel that the discussion is all too rarely held in good faith. There’s far too much willingness for people to accuse other people of being bigots. What we need most of all is to have a discussion. Trans people have specific needs and rights, and political aims. Feminism has specific aims and needs. And we need to have a good faith discussion about where we should be working together and where we should be settling conflict.”

That particular discussion seems unlikely to happen, in any cordial way, any time soon. In any case, it seems that intersectional feminists don’t really want it to. They are simply hoping that the old guard start to move on, check their privilege, and learn the joys of an inclusiveness – albeit one that doesn’t include Terfs. As Welsh points out, “We also have to see that there are so many more role models, so many more important women than this one, wealthy white woman, Germaine Greer.”