Ger­maine Greer Three gen­er­a­tions of women re­spond to her con­tro­ver­sial new book, On Rape

The Observer - The New Review - - Agenda - Yvonne Roberts Writer and jour­nal­ist

For nearly 50 years fem­i­nist icon and fire­brand Ger­maine Greer has been in­spir­ing and in­fu­ri­at­ing in equal mea­sure – and the char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally sweep­ing state­ments in her lat­est book, On Rape, have sparked fresh out­rage. We asked three gen­er­a­tions of women to read it and re­spond

The iconic cover of the The Fe­male Eunuch, an in­ter­na­tional best­seller first pub­lished in 1970 and still in print, shows the stylised trunk of a naked woman, a han­dle on each hip, fresh off the con­veyor belt. In the book, Dr Ger­maine Greer, then aged 30, ex­plained in daz­zling prose and with raw anger why men op­press women and hate them even more for their ca­pit­u­la­tion. “Women have been cut off from their ca­pac­ity for ac­tion,” she told the New York Times. “That has got to be changed.”

Al­most 50 years later, in On Rape, she re­turns to women’s in­er­tia, their lack of agency, par­tic­u­larly in the mar­i­tal bed. As fem­i­nism’s hu­man elec­tri­cal charge, she does what she has al­ways done: she stirs and en­rages. “I put ideas for­ward to give them a life, to let them go and see what peo­ple do with them,” she has ex­plained.

I was a stu­dent at War­wick Univer­sity when Greer was an English lec­turer. She was 6ft tall with a halo of hair, thrillingly liv­ing out the sex­ual rev­o­lu­tion with brio, a be­liever in the Re­ichian view that sex­ual free­dom was the gate­way to all other free­doms. Mean­while, in the real world, we knew that a girl who “put it about” found her­self la­belled the campus bike. Mag­is­te­ri­ally, Greer has al­ways as­sumed that her ex­pe­ri­ence at any given time is universal to all women.

For me, The Fe­male Eunuch, Greer’s vig­or­ous at­tack on fem­i­nin­ity, opened the door to a dif­fer­ent way of be­hav­ing and think­ing. I’m in­debted. “The old process must be bro­ken,” she de­manded. “What will you do?” What Ger­maine, a lib­er­tar­ian, has since done, glo­ri­ously, elo­quently and of­ten, is change her mind on any num­ber of ma­jor fem­i­nist is­sues. Mother­hood, damned in 1970 as a prison, trans­formed decades later into a sa­cred call­ing. The con­trib­u­tor to Oz mag­a­zine, and porn lover – self-styled as Dr G, “the only groupie in cap­tiv­ity with a PhD” – in The Change in the 1990s, eu­lo­gised the joys of celibacy and railed against porn and promis­cu­ity.

Dr Greer is a poly­math and then some. Broad­caster, critic, aca­demic, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist, gar­dener, pub­lisher, ex­hi­bi­tion­ist (per­haps ex­plain­ing a mis­guided en­try into Chan­nel 4’s Big Brother house in 2005) – she is also a “bolter”, mar­ried for only three weeks, who has said she would have liked a hus­band “in­ter­mit­tently”. Yet On Rape is shaped by what she be­lieves is a pat­tern in long-term re­la­tion­ships in which the man de­mands and the woman pas­sively gives in. She rails against the “dead­en­ing spread” of “non-con­sen­sual sex”, “bad sex”, “ba­nal rape”, that un­justly goes un­pun­ished. “Most rape,” she writes, with­out pos­si­bly know­ing, “is just lazy, care­less and in­sen­si­tive”.

Ac­cord­ing to Rape Cri­sis Eng­land and Wales, 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped each year. Only 15% of rapes are re­ported to the po­lice. Only 5.7% of rapes re­sult in a suc­cess­ful pros­e­cu­tion. Myths still abound; con­sent is tricky to de­fine; women’s sex­ual his­tory is still an is­sue in court. Greer is right: “The sys­tem [is] not work­ing.” As a vic­tim of rape as a teenager, she rightly ar­gues that rape is of­ten not vi­o­lent and it doesn’t de­stroy the vic­tim. But it can.

Part of her so­lu­tion is to ef­fec­tively de­crim­i­nalise rape so that, she writes, women don’t have to go through the ordeal of court (over­look­ing the due pro­cesses of law); per­pe­tra­tors should be given 200 hours of com­mu­nity ser­vice or branded with the let­ter “R”. It’s an ar­gu­ment, not an edict.

What Greer ig­nores is that rape is al­ways a vi­o­la­tion, a breach of a woman’s bod­ily au­ton­omy, even when there are no phys­i­cal wounds. Rape feeds a cul­ture of fear (one in eight Hol­ly­wood films fea­tures a rape). Bet­ter books have been writ­ten on rape, for in­stance by the late Pro­fes­sor Sue Lees and, more re­cently, Pro­fes­sor Joanna Bourke, but they didn’t act as cat­a­lysts. On Rape will. How­ever, I hope that in the en­su­ing de­bate the fo­cus will be less on per­son­ally tak­ing apart Greer, the con­trar­ian queen, who de­serves a place on any plinth ded­i­cated to fe­male em­pow­er­ment, and more on some of the truths she ar­tic­u­lates, and linked is­sues not raised in the book.

Is­sues such as the no­tion of con­sent, which it­self sit­u­ates women as sub­or­di­nate: a male acts, a fe­male re­acts. And how, in spite of pornog­ra­phy and the sex­u­al­i­sa­tion of so­ci­ety, cou­ples can and do have equal, con­sen­sual part­ner­ships.

Sex is com­pli­cated. What Greer calls “good sex” can vary hugely, and at dif­fer­ent times can en­com­pass the rough as well as the gen­tle. How­ever, what’s needed is a stronger in­ter­ro­ga­tion by men about the kind of mas­culin­ity that still re­gards the appropriation and pos­ses­sion of a woman – ba­nally or bru­tally – as what real men are sup­posed to do; rob­bing a woman of her self-worth and sex­u­al­ity. As Greer once said in a dif­fer­ent con­text, that has got to be changed.

‘As fem­i­nism’s elec­tri­cal charge, she does what she’s al­ways done: she stirs and en­rages’

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.