Germaine Greer is an Aussie feminist icon who’s kind of passed me by. After the whole “Julia Gillard has a fat arse” debacle earlier in the year, I officially declared her irrelevant to a friend when the opportunity to buy a book of hers came up.
Nonetheless, I attended her talk at the Melbourne Writers Festival, hosted by Germaine’s new bestie Benjamin Law, whom she met at that infamous episode of Q&A, in the hopes that she would address some of those issues in more depth.
I wasn’t wrong, but instead of Greer herself admitting she was, she dug a deeper hole for herself, both at the session and on 60 Minutes the week prior, where she was interviewed in relation to Samantha Brick’s months-ago comments that women find her threatening because she’s beautiful and she enjoys being a “trophy-wife” to her chauvinistic French husband.
Sometimes I just wish public figures would admit it when they’ve said the wrong thing, instead of trying to justify or cover it up (Todd Akin, I’m looking at you). Where Germaine could have taken the opportunity to own up to speaking out of turn about Julia Gillard’s appearance, a snarky phenomenon that most women—and, indeed, most feminists—succumb to at some stage or another, and use it to start a dialogue about how we treat female politicians based on their looks and not their policies, she just said “women have fat asses” and “a woman is not her jacket”. Greer’s a smart woman, no doubt, but I think she needs to think more before she speaks, as her comments on cosmetic surgery, genital mutilation and the morning after pill on Q&A will attest.
However, Germaine did make some good points about her past, present, our ecological future, and “what turned her into a feminist” (a question I was asked at the work watercooler a few weeks ago when I revealed I write about gender studies and feminism. That co-worker is so misogynistic he now avoids me. One less woman-hater I have to make nice with on a daily basis: score!), citing her work on the 1974 university porn magazine she helped create, Screw. After concluding that the name “screw” was too “sadistic” and implied that a woman was “ruined” after she’d been “screwed”, they changed the name to Suck, which connotes a more female-friendly vibe.
Germaine talked about her willingness to get her gear off for the magazine in an effort to portray women differently in porn magazines. She was offered money to pose for Playboy and she insisted her pose be standing with her body away from the camera, bent over, and looking at the photographer through her legs, her vagina and anus on show. They rejected the image, obviously, which turned up in Suck, an alternate copy of which someone in the audience had brought along!
She also had some interesting things about our definition of consent and SlutWalk to say and, to my surprise, they weren’t out of step with current feminist notions of the two. She championed women who take their rapists to court and show their faces to the public to lend support to the wider anti-slut-shaming movement.
Those who still follow Greer’s work know that she now leans towards writing about Australian culture and the environment as opposed to being the authority on all things feminism (see abovementioned irrelevance), and she concluded with a conversation with an audience member, who probed her in overtime about recognising the similarities between feminism and vegan-/vegetarianism. Indeed, feminism these days is about human rights, and most people I know who are for feminism are for human rights, animal rights and practice vegetarianism. I, myself, am a budding ecotarian.
These days, Germaine Greer is someone to be hated, feared or admired, as Law contended in his introduction of the great Australian thinker. While these women don’t necessarily practice feminist acts or even call themselves feminists, Madonna and Lady Gaga are two iconic females Greer mentioned during her sermon. They’re also two icons who polarise almost as much as Greer. I don’t think she’s that different to them, really… They’re all outspoken, brash females who have undoubtedly contributed so much to the plight of women, and culture as a whole, some more recently than others.
Related: Should Meat Be Off the Menu?
Images via TheVine, Flickr.