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a bastard of a job: a tentative defense of germaine greer

Image: Walnut Whippet via Wikimedia Commons

Image: Walnut Whippet via Wikimedia Commons

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.

3 thoughts on “a bastard of a job: a tentative defense of germaine greer

  1. Do you watch morning shows or read magazines?

    All of these constantly talk about celebrities and what they wear, how they look and what they do. No different to Germaine. Her ‘attack’ was not scathing, she stated what many others, myself included, think. I think Kate is too thin but then her frame is incredibly petite so she will be. Many thought Diana was as well.

    As for being a broodmare for the family, the same thing was said about Diana. It’s the same old same old that gets bantered around in any European royal family. It’s nothing new, and nothing sexist or discriminatory.

    Germaine is also right in the fact that when entering into a royal family you are given strict instructions on how to dress, be, speak and act. Both Diana and Sarah Ferguson stated these things many times. Mary also did this when entering into the Danish royal family. It’s what you do, so this is nothing new.

    She expressed and opinion when saying Kate should not have been put through another pregnancy, that was Kate’s choice, unless it was dictated by the palace. When one has a condition that is so bad, why keep putting yourself through it unless it’s because of that old archaic royal family line, ‘one must have an heir and a spare’.

    I was also of the same opinion about Julia Gillard, who I freely admit to not liking after what she did to Kevin. She could never redeem herself in my eyes after that. As any stylist would point out, her jackets were the wrong shape for her body and sadly, like many high heel wearing women, her body was also bent to compensate for the imbalance, so it looked like she had a duck’s bum because she walked bent. This a fact of life for anyone wearing heels. The spine bends.

    So what!

    If we all believe we are entitled to our own thoughts, feeling and emotions, and have the right to state them, then we must also accept the fact others have the same right, whether we like it or not. That doesn’t make them or their opinion wrong, it just makes it different. The difference is shitting on someone for their opinion instead of discussing the subject, as so many people choose to do instead of having those discussions.

    You stated – ‘Greer has no right to make comments about other women’s bodies or their choices of clothing.’ Do you believe NONE OF US should comment on such things? If that was the case life would be very boring and stylists, gossip mags and tv shows would go out of business. Germaine, like the rest of us, has EVERY right to make a comment, whether you like it or not.

    And I’m not actually sure you know how you feel. Three paragraphs in a row had opposite views just in their first lines.

    First – ‘Greer has no right to make comments about other women’s bodies or their choices of clothing.’

    Second – ‘I don’t think Greer was making a personal remark about Kate Middleton.’

    Third – ‘I am vehemently against the body-policing nature of Greer’s comment about Middleton’s weight.’

    So what is it? She has no right to say such things and you’re vehemently against her comments, or her comments weren’t about Kate? I’m confused by these sentences as they tell me you’re just not sure how you feel. Were they about Kate or not? And it’s hardly body-policing.

    As for being against someone making comments, again, we are all entitled to state what we think, just as you have here, just as Germaine did, just as I am. And you have no right to state that no one else has the right to say such things when you yourself are stating your own opinion on Germaine.

    See where this goes? Round and round in circles. People love to discuss and express, but when they don’t like someone else’s opinion they declare they have no right to say such things while they’re saying such things about them. Pot calling kettle, hypocrisy, irony, whatever you want to call it, YOU don’t have the right to say SHE doesn’t have the right to make such comments. She has EVERY RIGHT because she is a human being and has the right of expression just like the rest of us. Whether you like it, agree with it, or hate it.

  2. Good stuff, Ruby. I think you are spot on. I even think Germaine might be (continuing to) destroying her image as a leader with comments like this. The fact people still need leaders doesn’t make it right.

  3. Great nuanced take on this issue Ruby. However I have to admit, Germaine’s recent supposedly “feminist” comments have made me think she really needs to step out of the picture and let fresh faced radicals do the job.

    In addition to being way out of line in her criticism of prominent women’s appearance (Julia Gillard and now Kate Middleton – not that im saying these two are at all similar); Greer’s media attention is doing absolutely NOTHING for feminism.

    She has every right to have her own opinion, but constantly appearing in the media as the “voice of radical feminism” whilst encouraging women to turn against each other makes me cringe.

    People like me and you work our arses off to stand up for women’s interest and keep the feminist movement alive in an environment which is becoming increasingly conservative.

    Whether her intentions are legimate or not, Greer’s comments come out ALL WRONG. They make people hate her, and unfortunately, she is tainting the name of radical feminism.

    My opinion, in the interests of ALL WOMEN, is that she lets someone else be the voice.

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