Feminist Germaine Greer was named Australian of the Year in London on Saturday.
Greer was of course asked her opinion on the #MeToo movement, and Greer, of course, had mostly contrarian views.
Citing a genre of entertainment from over half a century ago – the Carry On comedies, which reached their peak in the mid-1960s – Greer, who turns 79 next week, recommended women do what the female characters did on screen, and outwit whichever man is sexually abusing them.
“We weren’t afraid of him,” Greer said of the perverts of yesteryear, “And we weren’t afraid to slap him down.”
One might wonder how exactly the 50 or so victims of Bill Cosby might have “slapped him down” seeing as they were drugged and unconscious while he raped them, or how Woody Allen’s daughter, Dylan Farrow, might have slapped down her father when she was 6 years old, but Greer is presumably talking about being sexually harassed at work.
It’s an interesting premise, as, according to the glut of recent reports on sexual misconduct, inspired by the #MeToo movement, women have indeed said no, and proceeded to slap men down as best they can, and then men have gone ahead and sexually abused them anyway.
A cursory look at the allegations against Don Burke, Craig McLachlan, Charlie Rose, Brett Ratner, and of course, Matt Lauer, who had a button he could press to lock women in his office, would seem to suggest that any sort of resistance put up by women ended in, not the man being made a “fool” as he was in the Carry-On comedies cited by Greer, but rather, threatening the woman with further sexual violence, or sacking, or loss of reputation and livelihood.
Harvey Weinstein was a special case, according to Greer, because he “had economic power”. Ah! Just Weinstein, then? Well, actually, not even Weinstein, as Greer was quick to add, “But if you spread your legs because he said ‘be nice to me and I’ll give you a job in a movie’ then I’m afraid that’s tantamount to consent, and it’s too late now to start whingeing about that.”
Ignoring the fact that Weinstein’s “offers” to “be nice” to him were less about movie placements, and more centred around the actual rape of dozens of women, along with the deliberate destruction of their careers, and in some cases, the employment of spies to silence them, we might ask why Greer spent so much time blaming women for the criminal behaviour of men in the first place.
Greer even floated the idea of doing away with rape as a crime altogether, and replacing it with a “coherent law of sexual assault” which sounds tremendously exciting and deliberately provocative.
It’s easy to dismiss Greer as a troll who takes the most contrarian view available, turns it up to 11, and spits it out in order to make all the rest of us younger, angry feminists dizzy with rage.
It’s easy, but it ignores Greer’s personal history, and her relationship with Australia, which she fled in 1968 because we could not properly process her intellectualism, and Britain, which became her haven away from home.
Back in the late 1960s, when the “Carry On” comedies were considered funny, Greer was relied upon by the Australian public, not just to give good quotes, (read: deliberately controversial, lets not forget that Greer was once a member of the Cambridge theatre group). But to stir up a culture that, at that particular point in time, cared more about what sport we’d beat “the Poms” in than anything approaching feminist discourse. Greer did an excellent job of outraging average Australians, and getting them to think outside their comfort zones to consider, if only for a brief moment, that women might have more to offer than sex, children and housework.
Greer succeeded in doing this because, as a professional provocateur, she was unafraid of controversy. She was also an intellectual without peer. She needed to speak frankly as it was the only language the average Australian would hear. If she waxed lyrical in French, (as she did in her books) or Shakespearean dialogue, (as she did in her thesis), Australians would tune out. She needed them to pay attention, and she knew she only had a few minutes between the cricket and Benny Hill to do so.
Greer functioned like so many intellectual giants of the era, including Robert Hughes and Les Murray, as a leading light to pull us forward. While the average Australian might have dismissed her as a “saucy feminist” her views and arguments around feminism propelled the conversations to new heights at a time when we sorely needed it.
But that was then.
Today, if you want to stir up discourse, you have only to hop on Twitter. Our culture has splintered into a thousand different demographics, most of them marketed to by specialised advertisers. We have no need of a public contrarian or provocateur, we are too busy fighting our small ideological skirmishes on social media. If we need a cultural reference to illustrate our point, we tag our friends on a meme, for we have no need to speak about an old fashioned comedy that appeared on television. Why would we? None of our peers would have seen it.
And this is perhaps the saddest thing about Greer. It’s not that her views are outrageous, (this is hardly news). But that her motivation, once high-minded, is now, in 2018 obsolete.