Can Germaine Greer Still Be Called A Feminist?

Can Germaine Greer Still Be Called A Feminist?

Writer and academic Germaine Greer is in the headlines once again for her divisive comments – and this time, she’s called for rape punishments to be reduced. Once considered the voice of second-wave feminism, is she at risk of alienating young women from the movement altogether?

What's the latest?

Speaking at the Hay literary festival last week, Greer discussed how rampant rape is in our society, arguing that the current legal system couldn’t cope with the issue of consent and needed to change radically. “I want to turn the discourse about rape upside down,” she said.

Greer – who was raped herself aged 18 and did not report it to the police – believes many cases of rape are in fact just “bad sex”. Stating that “most rapes don’t involve any injury whatsoever", Greer said that rape isn't a “spectacularly violent crime”, but just “lazy, careless and insensitive" instead. “Every time a man rolls over on his exhausted wife and insists on enjoying his conjugal rights he is raping her. It will never end up in a court of law," she added.

She also questioned a statistic that suggested 70% of rape victims suffer post-traumatic stress disorder, compared with 20% of conflict veterans: “What the hell are you saying? Something that leaves no sign, no injury, no nothing is more damaging to a woman than seeing your best friend blown up by an IED is to a veteran?”

In light of her views, Greer wants society think of rape as non-consensual sex: “Sex where there is no communication, no tenderness, no mention of love.” Noting that rape trials often see lawyers arguing over the issue of consent and not ending up in convictions, she put forward the suggestion that the legal system should believe the woman, but lower the penalty: “If we are going to say ‘trust us, believe us’, if we do say that our accusation should stand as evidence, then we do have to reduce the tariff for rape.”

As for how the punishment for rape should be lowered, Greer suggested that a fitting sentence for the offence might be 200 hours’ community service and perhaps an ‘r’ tattoo on the rapist’s hand, arm or cheek. She also added that, in cases of obviously violent rape, the courts should concentrate on the violence, which should attract bigger sentences, rather than having lengthy trials in which women are humiliated for long periods.

How have fellow feminists reacted?

There has been a huge amount of backlash to Greer's latest comments so far, with hundreds of women saying she has belittled their experiences of rape. Speaking to SL, female activist and bestselling author of Saving the world. Women: the XXI’s Century Factor for Change’, Paola Diana said she is both "shocked and dissappointed" at Greer's words, and described her call to reduce punishment for sexual crimes from a prison sentence to community service as "utterly outrageous and insensitive".

"Comments like this are incredibly damaging mentally for the people who suffer at the hands of these inhumane attacks, and to downplay their severity and label them as cases of ‘bad sex’ is quite hard to comprehend," Diana said. "Victims of rape have to deal with the long-lasting impact and trauma associated with this horrific crime, and if the punishment were to be reduced, you would have to question what kind of message this sends out. Is this telling us that rape is okay?"

Adding that community service is a punishment associated with likes of shoplifting offences and vandalism, Diana asks how we could possibly put a crime which causes so much pain, hurt and lasting pyschological damage into this cateogory. "Some women never fully recover from such an ordeal – and to me this is amongst the most serious of felonies," she said.

"We as a society still need to adjust our views when it comes to rape," Diana continued "It is a violation of an individual’s intimate sphere, and often an abuse of power, trust and boundaries. It is never a case of ‘bad sex’, and to trivialise it in this way is quite frankly farcical. Punishment needs to be increased, especially when a child is involved. Reducing punishment is categorically not an option."

Why is Greer so controversial?

Greer has long divided public opinion. Even her landmark 1970 book, The Female Eunuch – a smash-hit bestseller, considered a second-wave feminist manifesto – stirred up considerable controversy on its publication. As many feminists of her generation have testified, Greer has always played role of provocateur, and had an individualistic, self-serving attitude. Although widely praised, Greer's links between sexual liberation and female liberation in the 1970s were deemed misogynist by some – her views didn't allow for the possibility that lesbians could be liberated, that celibate women could be liberated, or that women content with self-pleasuring could be liberated.

But it’s her more recent string of comments that have garnered the most headlines. In April this year, she tore down Meghan Markle, insulting her outfit and suggesting she was only marrying Prince Harry for his money; in January she dismissed Hollywood’s #MeToo movement as “whingeing” and said that "spreading your legs" for a role is tantamout to consent; last September she called Princess Diana the "worst fk in the country” while commenting on her tumultious love life; in 2012 she compared female genital mutilation to getting a tattoo; her 1999 book The Whole Woman even denounced Western efforts to stamp out FGM in Africa as "an attack on cultural identity".

Her writing in The Whole Woman also brought Greer into opposition with the transgender community, and her recent public statements about trans rights have been extremely problematic – her contentious views have even led to her being banned from speaking at certain universities. She refuses to discuss trans people using their proper pronouns; she has said that  “just because you lop off your dick… doesn’t make you a f*king woman”, and that any “man” who does is “inflicting an extraordinary act of violence on himself”; she believes trans women shouldn't be admitted to women-only colleges.

Is she damaging the feminist movement?

Greer is considered part of a strand of modern feminism known as TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminism), which many people consider damaging to the movement as a whole. And as Variety writer Eve Hodgson argues, can Greer really still be called a feminist if she has such exclusionary views?

“Feminism that excludes any women – including those who have not lived their whole lives as women – cannot be genuinely progressive,” Hodgson wrote. “It is prioritising the wants and comfort of some women over the needs of others, and that defeats the whole purpose. All women’s experiences are valid. All women’s experiences deserve a voice.”

Guardian columnist Barbara Ellen also agrees Greer’s opinions are harming feminism, as they’re likely to alienate young women from the movement. ​Comparing her to a “rad-fem Katie Hopkins,”  Ellen said Greer’s words are an outdated display of “shock-jock showboating”, and also have a damaging subtext – 'we put up with it, so you should, too'.

“How can older women, even fiendishly brainy, internationally celebrated feminist academics, expect respect from, in particular, younger women, if they spout embarrassing, offensive, outdated claptrap?,” she wrote. And we agree. If Greer's comments are seen to represent feminism, we're in danger of people stopping listening to what feminists have to say altogether.

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