Friday, 10 May 2013

What Has Happened to Germaine Greer?

From the dawning of the popular press through to social media, the opportunities for the great and the good to out themselves as toe-curling cretins has progressively multiplied over time. And when the occasion availed itself to Germaine Greer on last night's Question Time, she not only made herself look like an idiot, she went some way to burying her reputation as some kind of feminist.

Picture the scene. A question on whether those accused of rape should have the right to anonymity until after a conviction has been made is responded to by ex-Tory MP Jerry Hayes. He argued "yes" because the bulk of rape allegations are notoriously malicious and false, which is why they are under-prosecuted and conviction rates are so low. Objectionable and obviously untrue, as even the Telegraph acknowledges. Now, Greer is probably the nearest feminism in Britain has to a household name, so you might reasonably expect her to shred Hayes' argument in a spectacularly bloody fashion.

But no.

Responding, Greer said we should keep to the convention of naming alleged perpetrators. But that accusers should also be mandatorily identified.

Yes, I did a double take too. Survivors of rape and serious sexual assault should not have the right to anonymity.

The justification is impeccable. Greer argued that survivors should not be ashamed and - implicitly - mollycoddled by the right to anonymity. Instead they should stand up and face their abusers. Easy for someone like Greer to say. Not so simple for the vast bulk of (mainly) women and girls who find themselves in that position.

She could have stopped there, but Greer goes on. Rape, apparently, is an utterly archaic term. Similar to those outraged by the label 'bedroom tax' more than the punitive reduction in the low paids' income, Greer was concerned about our continued use of 'rape' to describe non-consensual sexual violence to the exclusion of everything else. In its etymological root stretching back to the 13th century, rape, she argues, was about a man stealing another man's (female) "property". So it's nonsensical to liken this to "the taking of sexual liberties" (yes, that's how she defined rape). I refuse to believe Greer is so ignorant of basic linguistics to sincerely think rape has not accumulated different sets of meanings and associations in the last 800 or so years.

Now, you can see what Greer has tried to do. There is an argument over personal autonomy and women's strength undergirding these points. You could even argue that her denigration of rape as a concept is a strategy aimed at undoing its reification, of stripping it of its power as a big nasty that can terrify and subjugate. By rendering it mundane, like any other act of violence, it loses its ability to shame and silence. In short, she perhaps means well.

But while rape is tied up in complexes of culture and gendered identities, it is also a despicable crime that causes the most appalling suffering. Perhaps Greer would do better to remember that when inelegantly parading her dinner party feminism on national television.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Greer was undoubtedly of her time in the late 60s and early 70s, but the sell-by date of her contemporary relevance is long past. Her concerns seem prehistoric these days, entirely uninformed by the new feminism of the 90s and noughties. A relic whose sole objective seems to be to trample the respect her early work engendered

Anonymous said...

Both Greer's arguments are convincing:

1) secret justice is no justice, the right of a defendant to face his or her accusers in open court goes back to Magna Carta. In recent years, it is unfortunate that the cultural left has had fewer qualms about the rejection of fundamental liberties than the right.

2) Being the victim of rape should not be shameful. The fact that it may be in the current hysterical climate is not an argument to abandon the rights of defendants, it is an argument to change the cultural climate.

Sarah AB said...

She has held these views for many years. It's a complex issue, as you acknowledge. I am perhaps still more concerned by her views on FGM.

Chris said...

I hate QT but did capture a brief 5 minutes as they were talking about UKIP, Greer said that the working class all voted Tory, WTF!!!

Hunt gave a reasonable reply, i.e. the way to take on the little Engalnders is to make the positive cases for the EU/immigration, oh hang on, he only said the EU!

I hate the guess the word game!! At least use Arial font on both fucking words!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Gary Elsby said...

You just don't get it Phil, do you.

You use Hayes comments to crucify Greer's thoughts.

Many rape accusations are deliberately manufactured to bring harm upon an innocent person.
This is apparently backed up by a shortfall(?) in British prosecutions.

Julian Assange a rapist, according to his accusers is wanted by the CIA for uploading a couple of million US secrets.

You just don't get it Phil and maybe you should promote yourself as a feminine champion against male aggression.

Gary Elsby said...

Although I am forced to accept your views on rapists and victims, is there any chance one day you can try to attempt a definition of a male, accused of rape, and the consequences for this named individual when cleared of any crime by a jury of his peers?

Any chance of a definition of a named individual who doesn't actually get to court due to the case being dropped during further investigations?

The reason women have anonymity is because rape carries a stigma.
Nothing else.

The reason we name the accused is because we disbelieve in that stigma.

Germaine Greer is not cockeyed in her thinking.
You appear to be jaundiced in your thoughts on the bullying use of the stigma and she does not.

Alanna said...

Greer becomes more infuriating by the day.

Gary: You really think a woman would put herself through the stress and trauma of reporting a rape and having her reputation dragged through the mud in court for the 7% possibility of seeing the guy she wants to get revenge on banged up? Really? I can think of much quicker, easier and effective ways to get back at a guy who's pissed me off.

False allegations are "extremely rare", according to the director of public prosecutions: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/03/13/false-rape-allegations-ra_n_2865823.html

Gary Elsby said...

"False allegations are extremely rare".

Oh for fucks sake!

I rest my case.

Anonymous said...

She's also a transphobic asshole.

JENNIFER DREW said...

Poor Gary resorts to denial when presented with the evidence concerning minute number of false rape allegations. However innumerable males continue to enact their male pseudo sex right to female bodies with impunity.

Germaine Greer was never a Feminist but malestream media continues to provide her with a platform because she doesn't upset the menz!

alex brown said...

False rape accusations are rare? How do you know? All the studies are between 7 to 50 percent.

Huffington post is a feminist rag, it cites a debunked source.

alex brown said...

Also there is no trauma for a women who falsely accuses a man of rape, since she was not raped.

Also stop using emotive language, it is manipulative.

Sue McPherson said...

Phil writes that rape "is a despicable crime that causes the most appalling suffering."

Okay, but it is also, or can be, an act that is seen as meaningless, or at least not so violating as you suggest, by some people. The more that people (eg feminists) express a sense of outrage, the more that ordinary people see it as the most terrible act in the world.

Phil said...

I base my experience on people who've survived such an attack, so I won't be taking any lectures ta.

Sue McPherson said...

So, Phil, not a sociological analysis - and also, combining all kinds of rape into one.

I don't know what Greer said on the discussion, or how she said it. But maybe she realized the power that women have gained, and the unfairness of keeping women's anonymity. In case you're interested, I wrote about a case of sexual exploitation on my blog, and am now attempting to get to see what the judge says, as I think I may not agree with her.

Phil said...

Do you expect a cosmologist to provide a physicist's answer to order?

I'm not interested in grading the seriousness of rape cases. And I found Greer's comments utterly out-of-touch. But one should expect little of a feminist who has long-used it as a career label.