Germaine Greer: Women who ‘spread their legs’ for parts in movies are ‘whinging’

#MeToo seems in danger of dissolving into futile, inter-generational warfare between people who are supposed to be on the same side. What a shame

Germaine Greer, recently named Australian of the Year, pictured at an area of rainforest on the Gold Coast, Australia. Photograph: Newspix/REX

Germaine Greer, recently named Australian of the Year, pictured at an area of rainforest on the Gold Coast, Australia. Photograph: Newspix/REX

 

One-time feminist firebrand turned anti-feminist troll Germaine Greer has lashed out at the #MeToo movement, claiming the women accusing Harvey Weinstein of rape and assault “spread their legs” for parts in movies and are now “whinging” about it.

Speaking at a ceremony in London at the weekend in which she was named Australian of the Year, the 79-year-old writer and professional controversialist said – in an interview that ran the gamut from merely mildly outrageous to risibly offensive – that in her day, women “weren’t afraid” of predatory men and “weren’t afraid to slap him down”.

“I want, I’ve always wanted, to see women react immediately,” she said. “In the old days, there were movies – the Carry On comedies, for example – which always had a man leering after women. And the women always outwitted him – he was a fool.”

I’m sorry, what?

Likening the accusations against Harvey Weinstein to the slapstick, “oooh-err missus” vulgarity of the Carry On comedies suggests she hasn’t even bothered to familiarise herself with what those allegations actually involve: rape, forcible oral sex, threats of violence, and what Ashley Judd has called “coercive bargaining”.

Germaine Greer lashing out at other women is, sadly, hardly headline news anymore: in 2012, she refused to apologise for saying Julia Gillard had a “big arse”. She has also said trans women weren’t “real women”. But this suggestion that the victims of sexual assault are to blame for being “afraid to slap him down” is the most egregious kind of ill-informed victim-blaming.

‘Tantamount to consent’

Just in case we weren’t entirely clear on where her sympathies do not lie, she went on to say: “What makes it different is when the man has economic power, as Harvey Weinstein has. But if you spread your legs because he said ‘be nice to me and I’ll give you a job in a movie’ then I’m afraid that’s tantamount to consent, and it’s too late now to start whinging about that.”

At the same event, she also – unforgivably -- made light of Dylan Farrow’s accusations that her father, Woody Allen, abused her when she was six-years-old, saying it was “20 years ago, so you want him to stop making movies now?”

In what may have been a final bid to break Twitter, she added: “My feeling is we ditch rape altogether [as a crime] because it’s hopeless.”

Greer, who claims she is writing a book on rape, is the latest and loudest of a few women of her generation and older whose voices have joined the chorus of the #MeToo backlash: they include the actresses Catherine Deneuve and Brigitte Bardot and, to a lesser degree, Margaret Atwood.

Deneuve was one of 100 French writers and activists who signed a letter last week, saying men should be free to importune women. In a recent interview with Paris Match, 83-year-old Bardot said many actresses flirt with producers to get roles and the vast majority of harassment claims are “hypocritical, ridiculous and without interest”.

Margaret Atwood was unfairly savaged online for a more thoughtful contribution, in which she called for a defence of due process and said the #MeToo campaign was a symptom of a broken legal system – describing it, perhaps unnecessarily provocatively, as a “witch hunt”. However fair her point about due process might have been, it is a shame she chose to present the debate as a war between women, pitting “the good feminists” against “the bad feminists”.

The #MeToo movement seems to be in danger of dissolving into futile, inter-generational warfare between people who are supposed to be on the same side, and it’s a shame.

Feeding stereotypes

Women turning on each other in the aftermath of a movement which has proven so cathartic for many is not only pointless and – to many, no doubt – deeply hurtful, it also feeds into the most negative and misogynistic stereotypes about women, the notion that women are all, in the end, rivals, vying with one another for male approval and attention.

Not everything Greer had to say that day was simply shameless trolling. She also made the point that “I want women to react here and now. I want the woman on a train who feels a man’s hand where it shouldn’t be … to be able to say quite clearly, ‘Stop.’”

On this, at least, she’s right. There is a case to be made that we should be raising our daughters to be less polite; to be less worried about what other people think; to feel empowered to shout and scream and make a scene, as often and as loudly as the occasion demands it. But none of that is to suggest – as Greer just has – that women who don’t shout or make a scene or slap their assailant down are somehow complicit in their own assault, or that they secretly wanted it.

At a time when the news is filled with stories of male paedophiles grooming girls as young as nine online, women don’t have the luxury of getting caught up in tabloid-baiting wars of words with each other. The need to stop this damaging inter-generational sniping over #MeToo – and focus instead on making sure the next generation never has to utter those words – couldn’t be more urgent.

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