Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Greer fear and if wishes were arses

Germaine Greer thinks Julia Gillard has a fat arse. She's said it not once now on TV but twice. Never mind that in the same ABC show, Greer spoke in some interesting depth with regards to her take on Female Genital Mutilation. Just ignore that Greer also spoke in some detail on abortion and highlighted (albeit, at times, clumsily) the stigma attached to pregnancy termination. Nope, Julia has a big arse and National newspapers are currently revisiting this point over and over again. It's a bit silly really.

If you ask me, all this has a hell of a lot to do with the polarising force that Germaine Greer can be. Let's face it, social media commentators spent a hell of a lot of time bagging her out last night and in the course of only a few hours I read everything from "she's so second-wave" to "Greer is utterly freakin' nuts!". In all my years of watching reactions to Greer, I have always tended to find the fact that she manages to get so many people offside the minute she picks up a pen rather inspirational, even when I don't agree with what she is on about. Hell, that infamous tet-a-tet with Marcia Langton (that I believe was last visited with regards to Baz Luhrman's film Australia) kept me mulling over various points that both of them were raising, and whilst I found neither particularly correct, I got worth from both. But as this post is intended to highlight why I think Greer remains a polarising figure, I will move on.

I think at times I benefit from being a child of the 80s and teen of the 90s when it comes to my approach to Greer. I used to love it when she popped up in the media when I was coming into my own feminism with some comment which would immediately get the press churning overtime. Frankly, it was inspirational to see that a feminist could still command that much hype. I also quite liked that she was not adverse to the odd folly. People, for example, are still talking about her old suggestion we taste our own menstrual fluid. Additionally, her oppositional staunchness, followed by her individual back-pedal on HRT so she didn't experience "vaginal gravel rash" with a new partner was quite human. I make several arguments at one point in time only to disagree with them years later on the basis of further lived experience and knowledge, and whilst Greer was labelled a hypocrite for this type of action, I found it rather refreshing. 

The thing is, Germaine Greer has been such a cult figure over so many years that nowadays she barely needs to sneeze in the direction of a reporter before people take offence. People have been taking offence at Greer for a very long time. First it was the patriarchal "establishment". Then it was the moderates and liberal feminists. Now it's just other women. Women who sometimes call themselves feminists, who have profiteered from the feminist movement, yet buy into the whole "Germaine Greer's an old bat who's lost the plot" rhetoric the patriarchy/media/etc have been selling for decades. It's bizarre. The criticism may have been warranted when Greer spoke about Steve Irwin, but as I had never seen any of Irwin's work like so many other people in this country, the comment barely left an impression on me. I thought Greer's book focussing on male beauty, rather than a complete rejection of the concept of beauty was weird. But this doesn't mean that I did not respect her exploring the topic to problematise "beauty" in the first place. Greer has been contributing to feminist thought for a bloody long time now, and the point is to agree or disagree with her, not to parrot the bullshit patriarchal messages from the media with regards to her as a person. Seriously, folks!

Which brings me to arses. I don't give a sod what Gillard wears and I certainly do not care about the circumference of her hips. I do give a crap that she has sold refugees down the river. I am pissed off that the Intervention has been given another 10 years under her watch. But the size of her backside? Nope, can't say I care. 

Greer stating on QandA last night that women are big-arsed creatures had me, as a flat-arsed black woman, questioning body image again. It was annoying enough having to hear all about bootilicious and "baby got back" celebrating the wonderful curves of black women for YEARS and realising that when they were handing out "black booty" I was clearly standing in the "great taste in music" queue. I was over the moon a couple of years ago when some jeans company finally had the gumption to release a range entitled "slight curves" for those of us who did not fit some weird womanly ideal.  We are bombarded with ideals, whether it's size 0, curve pride or bootilicious, and all of them are ridiculous and need to be thrown out in preference for appreciation of diversity.

I would definitely have preferred that Greer had not revisited that original comment because I don't think she did a particularly good job of explaining what it was she was on about in the first place; the pressure on women in power to assume an image that is not personal and serves to eventually distract from what it is that they are on about. Gillard has copped it many times for her dress sense. She has copped it many times in a way that none of her male predecessors ever had to put up with. Whilst Greer is arguing that Gillard can remove that social fickleness by embracing her physicality and uniqueness, I come down more on the side that society simply needs to grow the hell up and stop judging so harshly on appearance. Criticise on things that actually matter for a change. It would be nice...

And I hope that Greer never stops commenting. I just wish that people would take the opportunity to pull her arguments apart if this is what needs to happen than paint her as some degenerate. For she is not. She helped carve out these spaces for women's opinion and through the perpetuation of these spaces she continues to contribute a lot more worth than those who simply parrot the patriarchy. And that's my final word of advice: beware that you are not just perpetuating years worth of feminist slander when buying into Greer Fear. Use the opportunity that Greer's points getting airplay provide to construct your own views. It's much more helpful.        


  1. Thanks for writing about Greer. There were a ton of comments last night, the one that stood out for me was: "she gives feminists a bad name".
    Must admit I was a little angry at that.

    I thought Greer had very valid points re other cultures and traditions and also the way to go about handling what the majority of females in the West are against. Interesting point that is has nothing to do with men!!

    Amusing thought: Men should enforce circumcision on coming of age!

    The "women are big arsed creatures" comment was a little off. I think she was talking about women overall, including herself and me. I didn't take offence, and the fact that everyone else did is overkill. I know most of us are pounded with body image crisis, but really with Greer you take it with a pinch of salt!

    Overall the validity of her words stood out for me, as a Middle Eastern female.


  2. "she gives feminists a bad name" - Pathetic, isn't it? If all it takes is for one feminist to say something untoward before everyone else thinks they are getting a "bad name" then clearly their views are as water-tight as cling wrap to begin with! No feminist has ever given me a bad name, rather they have occasionally said bad things and created an opportunity for me to counteract them with my own views.

    Agree on the big-arsed comment, and really my reaction to it says a hell of a lot about my occasionally fragile body image than it does about the reality of the situation. Grain of salt is good advice ;)

  3. I think for me what GG says doesn't really matter. Her failure to kind of get that she comes from privilege or that her position is not sacred always worries me in her central theories... but see, I wish THAT was explored. By her, by others, by whoever. But it's not. Almost never. In fact the best example I can think of is her work and subsequent interviews on the male teenage form where, she talks about herself as a pederast (apparently all women with taste are). It's like she plants her own straw men in these works, where instead of focusing on the real intricacies of a centralised idea of beauty, everyone says well since GG admits to pederasty that's what we'll focus on. But she's not blameless in this, she is more interested in the titillating than in the nuts and bolts stuff... and why not, I mean she DID go on Big Brother, she is curmudgeonly and interested in shocking. I just wish she had enough confidence in herself and her work to focus on the less sexy stuff. I really do. But I doubt that will happen, because she's become an iterative GermaineGreerMonster instead of someone who can contribute to a debate that we are all having, she has to be at the centre of it for it to have meaning for her, and that's a shame... cos she'd learn a lot if she could hear others on this stuff. She's clever, so it's a shame.