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*.