a bastard of a job: a tentative defense of germaine greer
From the trail-blazing “saucy feminist that even men like!” to ‘controversial,’ feminist crone who has allegedly “stayed too long at the party,” Germaine Greer’s image and its relation to (white) Western popular feminism is complex. The media has a funny relationship with Germaine Greer. Feminists have a funny relationship with Germaine Greer. Maybe the World has a funny relationship with Germaine Greer.
Penning her most iconic work, The Female Eunuch, in 1970, Greer has been solidified as “the feminist of our times” due to her talent for giving zero fucks about what she’s supposed to say, what you think she’ll say and what you’d like her to say. Over her lengthy career she’s made countless divisive statements, from the scandalous ‘taste your own menstrual blood and reform as a totally liberated feminist megatron’ invocation, the ‘women have no idea how much men hate them’ quip, to her entire book where she talks about why prepubescent boys are sexy (um…)
While my tone has been somewhat humorous, I must add seriously that Greer is not without valid criticism. She has made statements that have been ignorantly transphobic. Indigenous academic, Marcia Langton, claimed Greer’s essay on aboriginal men’s anger was racist. Her stance on female genital mutilation is bordering on deplorable. And there was that time when she famously “lost us all” with Those comments about first-female-prime-minister Julia Gillard’s “fat arse” and “ugly jackets.”
This week, Greer has continued her legacy of troublemaking when she launched a “scathing attack” on modern-day-fairy-princess, the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton.
In an interview with Newsweek on attitudinal changes to the British royalty, Greer made this statement about the Duchess’ motherhood and second pregnancy:
‘The girl is too thin. Meanwhile, she is vomiting her guts up and shouldn’t have been made to go through all this again so soon. It’s not so much that she has to be a womb, but she has to be a mother. I would hope after this one she says, “That’s it. No more.”‘
Greer further commented on the Monarchy’s control of Kate’s personhood, claiming she isn’t allowed to ‘be spontaneous’ or do anything other than be a glorified brood mare for an institution that is a ‘mad anachronism.’
Greer has no right to make comments about other women’s bodies or their choices of clothing. This is none of her business and not very feminist. But the media seems to relish in turning anything Greer says into a scandal. By converting whatever Greer says into “bitchiness” or a “catfight”, any rigorous discussion that she is within her right, as an academic, to incite is derailed.
I don’t think Greer was making a personal remark about Kate Middleton. What I think/hope she was doing (she definitely could have put it better) was making an argument against monarchy as an institution and the ways in which it inhumanely processes women, commodifying their reproductive trajectories for a greater ideology that is arguably increasingly irrelevant. I’m sorry the big scary feminist crone had to burst your cutesy-monarchist-fairy-tale bubble, but life isn’t a Disney movie. Royalty is not inherently benevolent. It represents an ancient power structure based on inheritance rather than achievement, which is essentially classist and patriarchal.
I am vehemently against the body-policing nature of Greer’s comment about Middleton’s weight. The body of Kate Middleton, and any other woman in the public eye, is not public property. No one has the right to control it but her. But I’m also against the trivialisation of the broader discussion Greer’s comments really refer to. And just as Germaine has no right to dictate the Duchess of Cambridge’s eating or mothering habits, Mia Freedman has no right to dictate how long Greer ‘stays at the party.’
Someone recently asked me whether I thought Germaine Greer was “still relevant.” The truth is, Germaine Greer is a person. And for all her faults, she’s only human. She can’t/doesn’t have to be the feminist heroine some want her to be. It’s cruel to reduce her to a single argument. A single sentence, misquoted.
Just as it’s wrong to reduce feminism to Germaine Greer, Germaine Greer should not be reduced to a particular moment in time.
When “attacking” Middleton, Greer said the Duchess has ‘a bastard of a job’. But as the oft-wrongly appointed “figurehead” of a diverse and leaderless movement, in my view, it is Germaine Greer who has the bastard of a job.