The Duchess of Cambridge, Prince George, and Prince William. Germaine Greer says it's cruel that the Duchess is expected to have more children. Photo: Getty Images
By now, you may have heard the terrible news - feminism is over, and Germaine Greer has killed it.
Renowned feminist Germaine Greer has criticised the royal family in a recent interview, taking particular aim at the Duchess of Cambridge. Photo: Supplied
The tabloid press practically fell over themselves yesterday to discuss an ‘outrageous attack’ launched by Greer on the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton. From three neat little soundbites swallowed wholly without context, it was ascertained that Greer had ridiculed Middleton for being “too thin”, declared she lacked personality and even demanded she stop having children.
In the Herald Sun, Siobhan Duck argued that the ‘feminist-turned-headline hunter’ and her ‘ludicrous rants’ were the reason many young women were questioning why they were feminists. The Daily Mail, a notoriously toxic tabloid which thrives on demonising and ridiculing women, managed to spin some 1200 words on Greer’s ‘scathing attack’, in which she was incorrectly depicted as directing Middleton not to have any more children. In an interview on 3AW Afternoons, host Denis Walter asked me if I thought Greer’s comments were harmful to the feminist movement and whether Middleton would be feeling let down by them.
The problem with all of this (apart from the frankly ridiculous suggestion that one woman can have the power to dismantle an entire political movement with the power of a few words) is that none of it is strictly true, not in its current form. Greer didn’t plonk a soapbox down in the middle of Hyde Park and start screeching about Middleton while a crowd of the enlightened looked on in horror. As satisfying as it is for media outlets propped up by structural sexism to maintain their pretend-horror whenever Greer says something abrasive about other women, they’d do better to perform some research once in a while.
In fact, Greer was responding to a comprehensive study conducted by Newsweek which showed the declining appeal of the British monarchy and its most seemingly fascinating member. In addition to referencing the pressure the monarchy has always placed on young women to produce heirs, she also criticised the intense scrutiny placed on them and the resulting lack of spontaneity. Rather than demonise Middleton, she praised her as the most intelligent of the lot, a statement which seems to make Greer’s disappointment in the bare facts of her metaphorical confinement all the more obvious. To anyone even remotely interested in looking beyond the Schadenfreude of laughing at Mad Old Germaine, it should be patently clear that any criticism she had was directed squarely at the monarchy, while actually defending Middleton from the deeply ingrained classism and sexism that has been its defining characteristics.
It is becoming increasingly common to hear how other women are either ‘letting feminism down’ or destroying it altogether. Women, entitled to the same expression of critical engagement as men, are absurdly demonised when they apply that critical lens to arguments or oppressive systems either made by or marginally occupied by other women. So it is that Denis Walter, a well paid white man on a weekday roster made up solely of nine other well paid white men, on a station whose executive positions are predominantly made up of men and whose most frequent female voices appear in the form of unpaid telephone interviews in order to strike the appearance of balance, can muse with no apparent sense of irony on whether or not Germaine Greer is responsible for letting women down.
This is ridiculous. Women are not tangibly ‘let down’ by comments made by another woman, but by the persistent and systemic refusal to treat them as equals and liberate them from the reductive notions of what it means to be female in a world which prioritises men as its leaders and changemakers.
But where were all these concerned people when Julia Gillard (who was also mentioned as one of Greer's 'victims') was being ritually undermined and victimised by her own colleagues, accused of ‘playing the gender card’ while being forced to endure commentary about how her father died of shame? Where were they when cartoonists gleefully depicted her as a dominatrix preparing to sodomise the head of the Reserve Bank or prominent Liberals hosted fundraisers in which she was sexually demeaned as an item on the menu? Where were they when Andrew ‘Australia’s Most Read Columnist’ Bolt was writing, “By then Gillard was taking exaggerated offence at everything — a rude sign held up by one man at one demonstration, or a sexist menu written by a restaurant owner to privately amuse his chef”, as if these things were mere irritations to be laughed off and quite unlike the egregious sexism of discussing one woman’s weight as a matter of (perhaps poorly expressed) concern?
Here's the really bitter irony. All this false pretence of UnSexismTM is a charade, a mechanism carefully designed to reinforce and further enable the persistent subjugation of women and the exhaustive efforts made by feminists to secure their liberation. While ostensibly defending Middleton from these ‘attacks’, people will delight in tearing shreds off Greer, calling her bitter, old, ugly, jealous, washed up, irrelevant, angry, the reason feminism is a failure, the reason people hate feminists, an old battleaxe with a floppy vagina for a face and, as one woman put it to me today, ‘a sour old has-been’. Meanwhile, Kate Middleton will be celebrated as lovely, poised, classy, respectable, young, attractive - in short, all the things that patriarchal order demands of women, and punishes them for failing to exhibit. And order shall be restored to the close minded echo chamber that is talkback radio and the misogynist mouth breathers who dwell therein.
This is the new backlash, and I am going to keep talking about it until we sit up and take notice. It’s the co-opting of feminist language and ideals to undermine the struggle for gender equality. It’s a world where Tony Abbott, whose own words and policies reflect if not a disdain for women, then a very particular idea about the place they should hold in society, can declare himself a feminist as if that solves the riddle of his relationship to 50% of the Australian population. This backlash is one in which men can derail discussions about the despicably high murder rate of women in intimate partner homicides with, ‘But men are victims too,’ when in fact men are not victimised by women to anywhere near the same extent or in the same ways. It’s a backlash which positions the perpetrators and beneficiaries of gender oppression as peripheral, a circumstance in which investment in changing society for the betterment of all can be reduced to clicking a button and deriding any further challenges as an assault on men.
And all this succeeds by positioning outspoken feminists - feminists like Greer, whose work literally changed the world in significant ways - not only as liabilities to the cause but also the true face of oppression in regards to women. It is a marvellous trick, removing responsibility for change from the beneficiaries of structural power and placing it squarely on the shoulders of the people most invested in dismantling it.
Because without feminists, women would clearly be living in a utopia with every single one of their choices respected, their bodies respected, their rights to economic, sexual and political freedom enshrined in law, their value measured beyond physical appearance and sweet sensibility and, of course, an equal role in dictating the political and social voices of a nation.
Women, you see, are the problem. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.