Free-thinking force of nature Germaine Greer
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.