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greer unapologetic for big crack at the PM

Renowned for her irreverence, more than 40 years after the publication of international best-seller The Female Eunuch Greer continues to spark controversy and leave outrage in her wake.

The most recent debacle occurred in March 2012 when the trailblazer featured on the panel of ABC’s Q&A.  She not only criticised the fit of Julia Gillard’s jackets, but, let’s not forget, highlighted her large buttocks.

Although at the time both members of the audience and the desk erupted in laughter, the post-‘Greergate’ reactions on Twitter and mainstream media didn’t join in with the chuckles.

At the time of the incident, Rebecca Sparrow from Mamamia explained why the feminist’s words weren’t acceptable. ‘That one comment, that one cheap shot, that one moment when Greer decided that it was okay to criticise a woman based on her size, saw everything Greer has fought for over the past thirty years unravel…She’s like this crazy aunt who needs to say shocking things in order to get media attention.’

Herald Sun columnist Miranda Devine was as vehement as Sparrow, arguing that ‘Because of her status as a feminist icon, Greer has legitimised every misogynist to attack Gillard’s appearance.’

Not to mention that when the issue was brought up again on Monday night’s edition of Q&A, Greer did not back down on her initial stance, ‘Women are fat-arsed creatures. Go right ahead, Julia. Wave that ass!’

Although whether pointing out the style and aesthetic flaws of a Prime Minister was an appropriate statement is debatable, it’s certainly nothing new to poke fun at a national leader’s appearance. During his terms, John Howard’s prominent eyebrows and choice of tracksuits raised much teasing from the public and media.

But rather the core issue that has arisen is whether the comment undermines Greer’s feminist views. Her attack against Gillard’s bottom was reduced by Sparrow, and by many others, as conflicting with the women’s liberation for which she so ardently fought. By making a remark about a woman’s physical feature, she was essentially repeating the cycle of objectification. Diminishing a female to the sum of her parts.

Or was it purely tongue-in-cheek? Prior to “big arse”, Greer mounted quite a thoughtful assessment of Gillard’s skills and attributes as a politician. Perhaps it was just an observation intended to provide some levity that, for some, weighed down Greer’s entire piece?

Feminism revolved as much around reimagining women as more than a reproductive vessel in the domestic sphere, as it did about carving a role for women in the public domain. A key concern for the Australian feminist movement was women participating in social and political deliberation as a means to achieving gender equality. This means the right of self-expression and opinion regardless of sex. Owning one’s statements and beliefs, one thing Germaine Greer does not do is shy away from her outlandishness.

And this means that you might occasionally make a half-baked comment, a joke that not everyone will find funny, ‘an unwise speech’ in the words of Greer herself.

A crack at the PM doesn’t render Greer or her views irrelevant. As unwise as her remark was, it would be equally so to allow decades of work by arguably Australia’s most influential feminist to drown in a ninety second segment.

If she portrayed the size of Gillard’s hide or her ill-fitting wardrobe as a negative characteristic which affected her ability to run the country, or made her a less successful or deserving leader, it would be an entirely different debate occurring.

And she wouldn’t be egging her on to wave her big arse with pride – she would be egging her on to wave it right out of office.

What do you think? Do Greer’s comments undermine feminism or can’t we just take a joke?

4 thoughts on “greer unapologetic for big crack at the PM

  1. I think we should avoid the trap of thinking that if you’re a Greer fan, you *have* to find a way to defend her in this instance. It’s analogous to the logical fallacy of protesting Julian Assange’s innocence against rape allegations because you support Wikileaks.

    Therefore, I think it would be contradictory to claim that Greer’s comments live up to the philosophical standards she espouses. However, I don’t it would be contradictory to point that out and yet still describe yourself as a fan of Germaine Greer and her intellectual contributions.

    • It depends on how you interpreted the comment. If you took it as a joke, then there’s no contradiction. But, as the writer said, there’s no denying that it was a silly thing to say. It just shouldn’t lead to writing her off completely.

  2. I found it incredible how quickly my interest in Greer’s opinion disappeared as soon as I had recovered from the shock of her comment. As it was said “everything Greer has fought for over the past thirty years unravel[led]” for me in an instant… and was cemented further on Monday when she refused to apologise on Q&A when questioned.

    As far as I’m concerned she’s gone too far this time – and as she won’t retract her statement I’m not really interested in listening to her viewpoint from now on.

  3. The problem isn’t that one incident. Greer repeatedly undermines her own feminism with cracks at women for their appearance, transphobic statements, dismissing the voices of women of colour and general fat phobia. Her behaviour does not render feminism invalid, she simply renders herself invalid as a feminist.

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