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.
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.