Sharri Markson

Free-think­ing force of na­ture Ger­maine Greer

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - - Saturday Extra -

Ger­maine Greer peers over my shoul­der at an ar­ti­cle in The Aus­tralian. We are stand­ing in the mid­dle of The Daily Tele­graph news­room when it’s at its most sub­dued, early in the day and be­fore the in­flux of re­porters, pho­tog­ra­phers and de­sign­ers. I read the ar­ti­cle aloud to her: “Ger­maine Greer once helped spice up a young cou­ple’s sex life by giv­ing them hands-on demon­stra­tions of how to sat­isfy each other, a new bi­og­ra­phy claims.

“The fem­i­nist author and aca­demic, who turns 80 in Jan­uary, is re­ported to have taught the woman how to please her part­ner in bed, be­fore show­ing him how to re­turn the favour. How­ever, both ended up fall­ing in love with Greer.”

“Is it true?” I raise my eye­brows and ask her.

Greer throws her head back and laughs, a naughty twin­kle in her blue eyes. She doesn’t im­me­di­ately an­swer. “I re­fused to take part in this bi­og­ra­phy. Why should I do her work for her?” she says of author El­iz­a­beth Klein­henz, who claims Greer con­fided the story about her help­ing the cou­ple over a night­cap to fel­low fem­i­nist Jill John­ston, who in­cluded it in a 1971 ar­ti­cle.

Even­tu­ally, Greer says the claims are not true.

“And she spelt Jill John­ston’s name wrong.

“Jill wouldn’t be happy about that. Ex­cept she’s dead,” she says bluntly. But Greer ap­pears to be not even re­motely both­ered that claims she be­came sex­u­ally in­volved with a cou­ple are get­ting world­wide cov­er­age and will be for­ever printed, undis­puted, in a bi­og­ra­phy of her — only the sec­ond to be writ­ten. In fact, this will be just one of the con­tro­ver­sies Greer will face on the day I meet with her. There is fury that she has once again at­tacked Aus­tralia’s first fe­male prime min­is­ter, Ju­lia Gil­lard, by claim­ing she doesn’t have a strong legacy. And in our in­ter­view, for my Sky tele­vi­sion show, just a short while later, she will ar­gue that re­la­tion­ship breakups can be more dam­ag­ing than rape, which she says doesn’t al­ways cause phys­i­cal in­jury. Dur­ing the in­ter­view Greer re­called her days as a univer­sity teacher, when charm­ing men — who she says Sylvia Plath would have called “lady killers” — would “win­kle their way into what looked like a gen­uine re­la­tion­ship” with some of her smartest stu­dents and then dump them be­fore a cru­cial exam. “It is more dam­ag­ing in many ways. Most rapes don’t re­sult in in­jury. A pe­nis is not ac­tu­ally a weapon. But the loss of self­es­teem, the hu­mil­i­a­tion and the sheer dis­ap­point­ment …” When the in­ter­view airs later that night, com­men­ta­tor and Sky host An­drew Bolt calls it the most dis­grace­ful thing Ger­maine Greer has said, while 2GB host Ben Ford­ham sur­mises that some­times Greer cre­ates a new con­tro­versy to di­vert at­ten­tion away from an ex­ist­ing one.

But, in Greer’s book, On Rape, she dis­cusses the con­cept of non-con­sen­sual sex, ar­gu­ing that a wife who suc­cumbs to her hus­band’s ad­vances, night af­ter night, so as not to dis­turb the house­hold is, in ef­fect, raped be­cause she is not con­sent­ing to the sex­ual in­ter­course.

If you look at the def­i­ni­tion of rape from this per­spec­tive, her com­ments that an emo­tional breakup can be worse than non-con­sen­sual sex within a long-last­ing mar­riage are not as shock­ing as they first seem.

Many fem­i­nists de­spise Greer and she was at­tacked for her take on the #MeToo move­ment — a po­si­tion she de­fended dur­ing our in­ter­view.

“The #MeToo move­ment is a show­biz phe­nom­e­non and that’s a prob­lem be­cause most of us don’t live in show­biz,” she says. “When the women came out in their black dresses, and all of that, with lots of cleav­age on dis­play, I was get­ting mixed mes­sages all over the place. Also, the most pow­er­ful women in Hol­ly­wood were be­ing very gin­ger about what they said. I just thought, ‘Come off it’.” But Greer does care deeply about the plight of women. This is ap­par­ent if her com­men­tary is lis­tened to in its en­tirety. It’s one of the rea­sons Greer re­fuses to give in­ter­views for print; she will only agree to broad­cast in­ter­views that are live so she can­not be taken out of con­text. Dur­ing the 1970s, Greer’s Women’s Lib­er­a­tion move­ment sparked the burn­ing of bras and led to a wave of fem­i­nists and in­de­pen­dent thinkers. It could be ar­gued it ul­ti­mately led to the rise of po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness, start­ing with gen­der equal­ity. But Greer is one of the most un-PC pub­lic fig­ures we have pro­duced, up there with Barry Humphries and Mark Latham. It’s one of the bizarre things about Aus­tralia, that the pub­lic of­ten dis­like peo­ple who speak their mind. Greer is reg­u­larly ac­cused of seek­ing con­tro­versy by de­lib­er­ately say­ing things that she may not be­lieve, just for the pur­pose of pub­lic­ity. For ex­am­ple, she of­fended the LGBTQI com­mu­nity by say­ing that she did not think trans­gen­der women were re­ally women. But per­haps she has weath­ered so much crit­i­cism over the years she no longer is af­fected by the storm that fol­lows. She doesn’t sec­ond guess her­self.

Most rapes don’t re­sult in in­jury … but the loss of self­es­teem, the hu­mil­i­a­tion … Ger­maine Greer

Ger­maine Greer, who turns 80 in Jan­uary, at work in Mel­bourne in 1972 and (left) in 2014.

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