Standing outside the Octagon Theatre waiting for Germaine Greer to talk about her new essay On Rape, I was struck by the lack of diverse young people attending. There were a few dotted here and there but largely the crowd consisted of predominantly older women who would remember Greer from her glory days when she became a feminist icon and the household name that she is today.
It didn’t surprise me though and it speaks volumes to the fact that Greer’s outdated ideas and lack of an intersectional perspective are alienating large sub-sections of the younger generation and the community at large. Who can forget the “just because you lop off your dick and then wear a dress doesn’t make you a fucking woman” comment that rightly caused outrage? Greer has lost the respect of a lot of young feminists, of all genders, with her shock tactics and blatant transphobic attitudes.
Having read the essay and finding it problematic and contradictory in more ways than can be covered here, I tried to attend the event with an open mind; to give Greer the benefit of the doubt. However, like the essay, the talk was full of conflicting, grand sweeping generalisations and absurd notions about rape and sexuality that were akin to listening to grandma talking about the ‘good old days’ when “we talked about making love” and when we “approached sex with a sense of awe and trembling”. The whole talk came off like a rant, sentences began and then went nowhere, topics would start strong and then trail off into something else unrelated and irrelevant. The important points Greer was making about the issues of the judicial system and the problems we face defining consent were overshadowed by the absurdity of her logic, such as, pointing out that models who “get buggered” by their photographers should accept it as a “foundational part of their job”.
It was confused and condescending and it felt like we were being lectured on what it means to be a female; at one point she said “you fucking women drive me mad. I mean you go out and read Fifty Shades of Grey but we can’t get you to read Jane Austen”. Really Germaine? Give us a bit of credit.
Greer discussed the problematic use of the word rape because of the historical baggage and ties that it had to the patriarchy yet at one point, when talking about a female politician, Greer decided to talk about the “earrings” and “red shoes with fucking diamonte’s on them” rather than what the politician was saying. This is a classic patriarchal move; let’s talk about women’s clothing rather than their voice, let’s discredit them by focusing on the jewellery and shoes rather than their views. What were the men wearing Germaine? Then Greer lost me when she said, “I wonder if she runs in those earrings?”. What? Weren’t we talking about rape?
This was not the only time Greer talked about women’s clothing. She recalled a story of a young girl who was sexually assaulted by two boys after they “pulled down her pants” on the playground, and then posed the question, “wouldn’t it make sense that if she wears trousers then the boys wouldn’t do it?” Umm, firstly didn’t you say that she was wearing pants that were pulled down and secondly, NO! Stop blaming the victim. Pants or no pants, short skirt or long skirt, it is not clothing that is the issue, it is the violation that is the issue. At one point she went as far as saying that rape was not the victim’s fault but then straight away said that it was “faintly their fault that [they] were a bit pissed.” So it is their fault, if they were drunk? Isn’t this the dangerous discourse that we are trying to avoid when talking about rape?
Not surprisingly Greer was very vocal about the #metoo movement and at one point in the evening said that she is “impatient with those dames — me too, me too (she mimicked in a high pitched whiny voice) — dames in their designer dresses saying me too.” Again, Greer focused on what they were wearing rather than what they were saying. Not only that, calling them dames instead of women is so troubling as a feminist, I can’t even to begin to unpack that here. I could have sworn I was listening to the diatribe of an old sexist male from the 1950’s if I wasn’t watching it come out of the mouth of one of the world’s most prominent feminists of our time. On one hand Greer says that women need to “raise their voices and show their faces” but then shames the ones who do in a derogatory manner because they don’t fit into her very selective notions of what feminism is. Apparently “blonde women” who “smile a lot” don’t fit into that category either. Just another stereotype Greer added to the mix.
The whole evening was fluffy and insubstantial and Greer’s conversation was riddled with antiquated ideas about sex and gender. It felt like everyone was pandering to a name rather than discussing the topic at hand. The male presenter, during the Q&A, said he only had one criticism of the book and it was “that she didn’t talk about WA when discussing legislative process in Australia”. Really? One criticism and that was it? Not the fact that she equates rape with “bad sex” or that she asks “why women are so afraid of rape” and then goes on to say that they are “irrational” fears. Or the fact that she says we are “buying into male delusions” when we “imagine that what does the harm in a rape is the poor old penis”. Sorry, but I don’t think it’s delusional when it can, and has, actually caused internal bleeding and death.
No one in the audience got to challenge her at the end, which in my opinion, would have generated some much needed healthy debate around this topic. Greer is owed her dues because she has been instrumental in the feminist movement and she does raise some interesting points but I left feeling underwhelmed and disappointed at the missed opportunities of the night rather than excited and inspired by the things she had to say.