Why women should be more difficult

As a prelude to International Women's Day this week, Germaine Greer spoke at The Sydney Opera House yesterday.

As a prelude to International Women's Day this week, Germaine Greer spoke at The Sydney Opera House yesterday.

I love Germaine Greer.  But I’m not the only woman who is a touch intimidated by our most famous feminist. Last night, after seeing her speak at the ‘F-Word’ forum at the Sydney Opera House, a huddle quickly formed around the woman many had come to hear.  Spying a friend taking snaps, I urged her to step up and meet our idol.  I was surprised when she whispered, ‘no way too scared’ as she’s a bit of a famous feminist herself and rarely fazed. 


Naomi Wolf wasn’t frightened of the big bad Germaine at all.  But while the author of ‘The Beauty Myth’ talked about giving your kids “love bombs”, Germaine just kept throwing bombs of her own.  She bemoaned the misuse of the word ‘fuck’; rallied against our phallocentric culture and declared the ‘penis ... the most vulnerable part of a man and the only part I know what to do with’.  She talked about genital mutilation in Africa and surgery of the clitoris in California, and how being a woman involves “lots of expensive and painful shit”. 



Germaine’s grenades are love bombs too.  Sometimes shocking, often entrancing and always entertaining, they spray laughter and insight, savagery and wit.  And power.  Each time she speaks, the author of ‘The Female Eunuch’ shows us how to be fearless.  Germaine Greer bemoans the fact that women are socially conditioned to appease and please.  By refusing to be either, she shows us how to cause a stir and to consider not being so goddam ‘nice’.  She genuinely doesn’t care if she annoys, alienates or threatens men.  Or women.  And in not caring she shows us true liberation.


When a young woman in the audience expressed confusion about being a feminist, Germaine gently and firmly told her to be challenging and ‘difficult’.  It’s a confronting thought.  I think many women have been told they are difficult at some stage or another.  At work and in love.  I was furious when a former boyfriend broke up with me by saying “I love you it’s just that you’re, well, difficult”.   Difficult is challenging, difficult is interesting, difficult is perplexing, difficult is questioning and difficult is defiant.  But difficult can get you dumped and difficult can get you sacked.  So perhaps it was understandable that Ms Greer followed up her urge to challenge with the order to not be needy. “Be happy” she urged with a beaming smile. “Only you can make yourself happy.”


Of course she’s right about that.  She’s also right about being challenging and if that’s called difficult – well so be it.   The more we question, the more we challenge and the less we need to be liked the stronger we will be to take on the threats to our happiness like self doubt, inequality and unfairness.


And yet, despite all the talk about not being too nice, Germaine talked about her university students in the UK with all the tenderness and pride of a loving mother.  And, as the young things swarmed around her outside the Opera House she showed nothing but grace and charm.  At the end of the day, I think Germaine may be a bit nice after all.  But don’t tell her that.  And, as International Women’s Day nears, we should pay her homage by being deliciously difficult all week.    


  • What a glorious way to be! Happy in yourself and difficult to others. Some people may not like it and what fun that can be.
    Germaine, Naomi, Clem and Eliza have revived my passion for being impassioned about striving for what can be better.

    Date and time
    March 05, 2012, 9:54AM
    • So we are generally dressed, not by ourselves and our own creativity, but by gay men who run the fashion world (generalizing I know, but bear with me, the bias is a very high.) I find we are no better than the Muslim woman walking along in her burqa with a husband sauntering comfortably along behind in jeans and polo...westernised men are in the same position (generalizing again I know) with us tottering uncomfortably on stilts and pulling down uncomfortably tight bandages of skirts...
      The women not dressing to impress men? our lesbian sisters of course...(generally) really do seem to dress for themselves - and I don't often see them in the discomfort we straighties indulge in.
      We are all entitled to wear exactly what we want...my reckoning is that that's a big fat lie we feed ourselves to make us feel powerful...

      Dressing Up
      Date and time
      March 05, 2012, 3:18PM
  • That's an awesome idea because if you act difficult men find you difficult to resist

    Date and time
    March 05, 2012, 11:24AM
    • This is a great article and tribute to Greer. The world can be a wonderful place for some women but all too often not. It can be difficult get educated, make a living, bring up a family if a woman, etc.

      I'm a highly qualified woman. But I find women are constantly being played up against each other. For instance, at the moment I am dealing with a woman who wants to do my job and is actively complaining to a male manager about me via cc's on email. I'm sure you've all been there. If the male manager were a visionary sort of guy this wouldn't be a problem but now I have to deal with someone who is a woman and has been encouraged to act badly and is stupid enough to do so. Very unpleasant.

      My experience is that the more senior you get the more you've got to be careful of these traps. You need to ensure you are financially secure to make a stand, you have a great network of influential men and women friends and associates who will back you up and you've got a good lawyer!!!

      We only hear about the celebrated legal cases women bring against firms that have acted in a way designed to put someone at a disadvantage and just because she is a woman. In fact, most legal determinations never get to court. I can only imagine how many women have had genuine grievances and their lawyers have settled on their behalf with a letter. But there's always a confidentiality clause............... That's the problem.

      Lots of women are standing up for their rights but men and those complicit women, who don't think, have been good at frustrating them.

      I know what you mean
      Date and time
      March 05, 2012, 12:13PM
      • So interesting you mention your situation at work. I am part way through a blog about such issues! Look out for it in the next few weeks. Great point

        Sarah Mac
        Date and time
        March 05, 2012, 12:31PM
        • The only part of this article I agree with is the "difficult" monologue.
          Dear old Germaine, still telling women to surround themselves with piles of toxic manure for men who love them to attempt to wade through, even when she knows it is a failure.
          Years ago, Germaine told us about the beauty of underage boys. She then told us she wanted to write about "Women's sorrow, how they've been abandoned by those whom they love...", after advocating more divorces than anyone in history. if a man did it, we'd be accusing him of perversion and senility.

          Date and time
          March 05, 2012, 2:24PM
          • Yes, women should not be so compliant or appeasing (assuming the doormat asana several times a day) – and if that makes us difficult so be it. But nor should we set out to be (or even worse – act) 'difficult' – because that can just be a complete pain in the arse. We should be able to be – be ourselves, be workers, employers, colleagues, daughters, mothers, lovers, friends, whatever... without a constant check in the mirror or window pane to see if we are still being acceptable and nice. To be neither reactively resistant nor spinelessly compliant requires a measure of self-discipline but it's worth it in terms of a full and authentic life lived with integrity – and, yes, we will on occasion and by some people be labeled as difficult – and that doesn't matter one scrap!

            Angela M
            Date and time
            March 05, 2012, 3:28PM
            • Remember what Amy Pohler said to the comic who didn't think the joke she had written was funny?

              "I don't care if you f$%^ing like it."

              the digger
              Date and time
              March 05, 2012, 3:31PM
              • The best piece of advice that Germain handed out yesterday was for young women not to chase men. Let men do the chasing and set our standard for what is acceptable. Germain was so right when she said that we twist ourselves into pretzels to appease men yet women aren't shown the respect the deserve.

                The other thing that I loved that she said was that feminism was about loving men. That was why it kills us that they don't love us in return.

                Date and time
                March 05, 2012, 4:10PM
                • Oh dear - As if our society wasn't already self obsessed enough already, we have good 'ol Germaine advising those who might still give us hope to join the rest at the bottom of the barrel. Absolutely stop the whole subservient thing... But for goodness sake can we have a bit LESS self obsession and a bit less being difficult.

                  Date and time
                  March 05, 2012, 8:15PM

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