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*.

2 thoughts on “FEM 08, IV: Germaine Greer

  1. OK, this is probably going to be dismissed as anti-feminist, but if any woman out there believes that giving up a career temporarily is giving up more than giving up their children, they ought to not have children in the first place.

    What I believe about childrearing and its place in society is too complex to get into here without hijacking the thread. That said, it is the job of *parents* to raise children. I know full well our culture is messed up in the way it allows for families to exist and function, but the kids can’t wait until we straighten it all out. We have to work with what is.

    My children are almost nine years apart in age and I raised them very differently. My son spent most of his waking hours in daycare the first year and a half of his life, and I was expected to keep him in daycare after that too, which I did at least half the time. It completely disrupted my relationship with him, and by the time his father and I split and I had to give up my son or else watch him go hungry, I bitterly regretted not having had more of that time with him.

    I know there was disruption because I’ve been home with my daughter since she was born and the relationship is so different as to be like night and day. I know her much, much better, and she is not being raised by strangers for whom my chief criteria would have had to be the pay rate because I don’t have the time or the privilege to vet every potential care provider to see if we share enough values in common.

    And I’m no bored middle-class bonbon eater. I live in one of the poorest neighborhoods in my city. I get by on a thousand or less per month (it varies). I have no car, every piece of furniture I own is a FreeCycle, dumpster, or thrift shop find (except my rocker, which I inherited), the roaches are throwing a party in my kitchen as I write this and I don’t go out after the sun sets unless my little girl’s dad is over visiting.

    I had no career *anyway.* I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up and it wasn’t from lack of brains or lack of opportunity. I have had work off and on during my adult life but nothing glamorous. And I’m beyond sick and tired of the notion that I’m not contributing to society because I don’t have a PhD and don’t give speeches before the UN, or simply because I’m not as ambitious as a man. Having known plenty of unambitious or sub-ambitious men, I think that’s a stereotype, anyway–the entire gender being judged by the behaviors and beliefs of a few privileged old white CEOs. Get real.

    By all accounts my son is shaping up to be a fine young man. I didn’t have much time to be an influence in his life but I’d like to think I contributed *something* good to who he is now. With my daughter it’s more certain. Sometimes she is a “bincess,” more often she is a martial artist (she’s three, so no lessons yet), and often she’s a cowboy (not cowgirl). She has much empathy for others and constantly attempts to introduce herself to people when we’re out and about. She has a strong sense of self and hasn’t been shaped into a good little cog who cares more about the good of a sick and broken social system than she does about her own welfare. I’d like to see her stay that way.

    So… If this is my career, so be it. And it’s not like I have to choose between the workforce and my family, anyway; anyone who says I do is a damn liah, and I really have to question their motives. Is it harder to make a living from home? Undoubtedly, but enough people are doing it that I know it’s possible. So that’s where I’m trying to put my energy. I understand it’ll be easier as she gets older.

    But I would feel like I was losing something… huge… and there’d be no way to get it back, if I gave her up to strangers in any way now. When there are women getting MDs in their fifties and people having to reinvent careers all the time not because of kids but because of the economy, somehow I think I’ll probably be OK in the end. And if I’m not, I’ll be dead and I won’t have to worry about it anyway.

    I don’t know if you philosopher-types have any use for concrete, personal stories rather than abstract theories, but there’s mine, for what it’s worth.

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