She must have raised many hackles when she stated:
“Instead of thinking of rape as a spectacularly violent crime, and some rapes are, think about it as non consensual … that is bad sex. Sex where there is no communication, no tenderness, no mention of love.”
The problem is that she says some shocking things but her aim is not just to shock. This is the way she thinks, and she makes no apologies for this.
I met her and interviewed her in 2015 when she was invited to Mumbai to speak at the Tata Lit Live literature festival. She was energetic at 76, overflowing with strong opinions and at 10 in the morning, sat perched on a window sill with a glass of red wine in her hand and held forth.
Here is the interview for those who are interested:
Perched on a window seat at Prithvi House in the western suburb of Juhu, Greer spoke about equality, liberation, abortion, growing old as a woman and Hillary Clinton.
Greer does not like Hillary Clinton. She is not excited about the possibility of the United States getting its first woman president. Why is she running, she asks. “Because she was married to a president? It might as well be in Bangladesh. It’s ridiculous. The assumption that she’s the only woman in that position is nonsense. She was not even very good at any of the very important jobs that she was given. And she has a conspicuous lack of charm. People don’t like her. But they did like Bill. And they’ll get Bill if they get Hillary. At least in the Orient, the husband is dead. But in this case, the husband is in the background.”
The Orient? We don’t hear that too often.
Representation in corporations
Her irritation with Hillary Clinton apart, Greer has a larger point to make about equality. She has declared that she is a “liberation feminist” and not an “equality feminist”. Why this binary?
“They’re fundamentally different. Equality is a conservative aim. It means you have an idea of what you want for women, which is what men have got. But what have men got? They’ve got the corporate world. They’ve got the competition. They’ve got the corporate structure that gives you one top honcho, and everyone else struggling to get up there and falling by the wayside. In the corporate world, every man is a loser. Because that’s the way it’s constructed. In the end it’s the corporation that wins. Now a woman can go into the corporation and become a corporation man. Mrs Thatcher did that. Worked pretty well. And she’s the most bellicose, war-like leader we’ve ever had. And guilty of a war crime in the Falklands war.”
Greer is especially critical of the idea of representation of women in everything – corporate boardrooms, the armed forces, other professions. “For example, in England we hear all the time how women have to be introduced to the boardroom. How the boardroom must be 30% female and you think, why 30%? What’s so holy about 30%?”
What’s the point of such representation if it does not lead to any change, she asks. “There is actually no point. It becomes window dressing. You look feminist because you’ve got women doing things. But they’re not doing anything for women. If they were to upset the priorities of the corporation, they wouldn’t be there.”
Treatment of elderly women
Expanding on why the concept of equality with men should not drive feminism, she suggests we look at the areas where men cannot be included, such as reproduction. There is no talk of equality in the birthplace, she points out. As a result, she argues, in England, safe-birthing facilities, such as maternity centres, are neglected. Many are closing down. And women who choose natural birth methods are suffering. There are not enough midwives. As a result, obstetricians get their way.
Diseases like cervical cancer that afflict only women also expose the pointlessness of the equality debate, she stresses. In England, during some years there were as many as 300,000 false positive tests for cervical cancer, exposing women to unnecessary, and sometimes dangerous, medical procedures. But these issues are not debated because these are areas where men are not present.
Greer’s current area of concern is the treatment of elderly women in countries like England and Australia. “You know who we lock up? Old women,” she said. “They have no rights. They are incarcerated. Because there is not enough staff to look after them, and they might be demented, their civil rights are completely in abeyance. The matter has never been discussed in any public forum because nobody gives a shit. If I point out that these women have worked for other people all their lives, they are now frail and elderly and can’t live in their houses because they can’t afford to heat them, they now come here to be looked after and what do you do? You imprison them. They don’t go out. Ever.”
Stand on abortion
In her opening address at the literature event in Mumbai, Greer came dangerously close to sounding like a pro-lifer, someone who is against a woman’s right to abortion, when she called the fight for abortion rights “a historical accident” and suggested that in the end it has facilitated a kind of eugenics with surrogacy and made-to-order babies. “Feminists must realise some of their victories were pyrrhic,” she said, and that there was no getting away from the fact that “abortion is killing, don’t pretend it isn’t”.
So what is her position on abortion, including sex-selective abortion?
“Oh well. This is a really ticklish point. We’re dealing with female agency. And part of the decision-making when it comes to sex-selective abortions, is made by the woman as well as the man. Or maybe not the man at all,” Greer responded.
But in India, it is not a choice women make independently, I point out, that it is “the family”, including the husband, which decides that it is better to abort a female foetus than give birth to a girl.
Greer says she has revised her position on this issue after she learned of a Sikh woman in England and the choice she faced. After four and a half years of marriage, during which she gave birth to three girls, she found she was pregnant again. When she went for her scan after 12 weeks, she discovered it was a girl, again. She asked the doctors to terminate the pregnancy but was refused as it was against the law. So she went to a traditional birth attendant. And bled to death from a botched abortion.
“What annoyed me”, said Greer, “was that the coroner who sat on the case said she brought it on herself. It was her fault because she tried to do something immoral, which was to terminate a pregnancy because of the sex of a child. Damn it. You can terminate a pregnancy for the simple reason that you don’t want to bear the child. And you’re not going to explain it to someone who’s not even remotely involved. ”
Greer’s position on abortion remains unchanged but nuanced. “I’m not against abortion. But it’s even worse than that. The way people talk about the liberalisation of the access to abortion is to make it sound like a privilege. It isn’t a privilege. If you really can’t have a child, not because you don’t want to have one, but because you’ll lose your job, lose your place at university, or your parents will kick you out, or your boyfriend will dump you, if everything is pushing you towards the decision, you will hurt, you will be guilty, because you will not have wholly accepted your own behaviour. You’ll be saying, look what you made me do. I didn’t want to do that. Women’s lives are difficult.”
Don't imitate men
About the latest controversy, where she said that transsexual men undergoing surgery to become women are not women, Greer is unapologetic.
“Do I say to them, excuse me, you know women’s lives are really quite difficult. Be a 12-year-old and find blood on your pants and get someone to explain to you that you’re going to bleed like that every 28 days. And you think, what happened to my body. It used to be fine. And now look at it. And then you go through the whole thing of having to worry about your fertility. Worrying how to manage it. Worrying about whether you’re pregnant or you’re not pregnant.”
So women should not worry about equality with men, and transsexual men are not women. But what does Greer mean by “liberation”?
“It means to set women free to develop their own potential and not to imitate what the men have established. To discover how to bring their own notions of what is appropriate, what is worthwhile, how we should live, how we should interact,” concluded Germaine Greer as she finished off her morning glass of Indian red wine.