Another take on Germaine Greer

As folks around here know, I work hard to be kind and civil to everyone even vaguely feminist or possibly sympathetic to feminism. But I’m going to make an exception for Germaine Greer. Stoat’s criticisms are spot-on, but, well, too polite for my taste.

The Feminist Blogosphere has been filled with discussions of whether Amanda Marcotte’s and SEAL Press’s apologies and promises to change are an adequate response to criticisms. Greer, as Stoat notes, belittled the injustices faced by Muslims and racial minorities while at the same time demonstrating her view that the only women (who count) are white and secular. AND SHE IS COMPLETELY UNREPENTANT. As far as I know, she has never in her life apologised for anything, or conceded that she has anything to learn from those who are not her. As Laura Miller from Salon said 9 years ago, Greer’s method is “inflating her own personal trials into theories about the condition of women”. Sounds almost precisely like what Elizabeth Spelman calls the method of White Solipsism. She is totally uninterested in women’s health, as shown by her opposition to PAP smears and the HPV vaccine, and her support for FGM; and she has a long history of transphobia.* Why the hell are we are all being so tolerant of her? Because she wrote an important book a long time ago? Well, a lot has happened since then and she should have made an effort to keep up.

For a much funnier, better-written take on Greer from roughly the same perspective, check out Natalia Antonova. And for another excellent post by someone just as annoyed as me by the FEM 08 talk, go here.

*In general, I think that feminism is enriched by a diversity of views, when these views are backed up by well-reasoned arguments. But Greer’s are not. Instead, they’re based on ignoring the perspectives of those who are unlike her. This does not enrich feminism.

FEM 08, IV: Germaine Greer

Finally, the day was closed with a talk from Germaine Greer. It was wide-ranging, covering topics from the immunisation of young girls against sexually transmitted diseases and the message she believed this gave (that it’s ok to be having sex with 12 yr olds); the devaluing of motherhood and childcare; she highlighted the inadequacy of rape laws and argued for a single category of sexual assault; she talked of the double shift (work, housework) that many women do; and she wondered about the prospects (emancipating? Alienating?) of the medicalisation of childbirth. Laura at the fword has already written that the high point was her call for female solidarity.

As a philosopher, critical as ever, I’ll focus on the concerns instead (sorry again!):
Again, – and despite the call for solidarity – I was concerned about the exclusionary tendencies of much of what she said. I’ve already mentioned some points related to this, and I’ll replicate (sorry – timesaver!)the first from comments:

1. She at one point claimed that women, as a group, need to stand up and complain, protest, and (her words) ‘make them scared of us’; she worried that women, as a group, got – and allowed themselves to be – trampled on in (again her words) a way that no one dares to with the black and muslim communities, for instance.

There’s lots to worry about in her claim here (e.g. that making ‘them’ scared is a good way to proceed), but here’s a main concern: only last week I’d been reading bell hooks’ concern that setting up ‘women’ as a group in opposition to ‘black people’ as a group makes invisible the fact that *some black people are women*. That was over 20 years ago, yet Greer’s speech seemed to be doing just that.

2. She criticised the family structure; it’s not clear exactly what she was proposing, but she suggested at one point ‘blowing it out of the water’, which sounds pretty revisionary to me. Of course, the family *has* been the locus of abuse and oppression and exclusion for many women, and its important to address that. But as Amos and Parmar write (in Challenging Imperial Feminism, Feminist Review No. 17 Autumn 1984), many non-white women have in the past been denied a family – though forced sterilisation, forced abortion. We heard in the session on women refugees that some women are forced apart from their families (including young children) in detention centres, or in the process of fleeing. The prospect of ‘doing away’ with the family, then, does not sound like an agenda that would appeal to women who have had such experiences.

3. Greer also criticised women for asking for more work – suggesting that the art of work was to avoid doign it, that there was no value in work. Once again, this seems to be a claim that could only be made from a fairly privileged perspective. Such a claim ignores the fact that many women are forced to ask for more work in order to avoid poverty. It ignores the fact that for many women, education and employment is a route to empowerment. It ignores the fact that women who give up work to look after children may well feel they have *given something valuable up*.