‘For many women in Ireland, young and old, retaliation was not an option’

Hilary Fannin: I found Germaine Greer's contribution to the #MeToo debate unpalatable - I don’t remember many women slapping men down

Personally, I found Germaine Greer’s contribution to the debate the most seriously unpalatable. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Personally, I found Germaine Greer’s contribution to the debate the most seriously unpalatable. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

Don’t know about you, but I certainly haven’t been feeling much solidarity with some of the emissaries from the sisterhood’s senior ranks who’ve been sharing their views on the #MeToo campaign recently.

Misty blonde Catherine Deneuve was probably the least offensive septuagenarian on the pitch. Having expressed her concern that women defending themselves against harassment by powerful men would bring about a new sexual puritanism, she later woke up smelling some seriously bitter coffee and offered her abject apologies to those who have been abused.

Meanwhile, Brigitte Bardot, a woman who in her mature years has been noted for her Islamophobic and homophobic views, and who has been fined more than once for inciting racial hatred, is – surprise surprise – no great fan of #MeToo either.

Taking a break from animal-rights activism to share her thoughts on the subject, she commented that most actresses are being “hypocritical” and “ridiculous” when they complain about sexual harassment because many play “the teases” to get themselves cast.

(One is tempted to politely compare the ruminations of the world’s original sex kitten to one of the steaming piles of crap deposited by the weary donkey she reputedly adopted and saved from the knacker’s yard.)    

Personally, I found Germaine Greer’s contribution to the debate the most seriously unpalatable. According to the author of The Female Eunuch, “in the old days” women would “slap down” men who assaulted or harassed them.

Damp playground

I don’t know what zone of history Greer was inhabiting, but in the damp playground of this green isle, and certainly the bit I grew up in, there were plenty of women, young and old, for whom retaliation was not an option.    

Beyond the cauldron of the current moment, I’m deeply disappointed when celebrity seniors are seen as representing the views of older women in general, plenty of whom, having lived without privilege or access, support the campaign’s objectives.

After all the high-profile revelations, more should be heard now from older women who had careers in less visible jobs and professions where there was no obligation to fairly recompense them or recognise their equality.

Or from women who were having children, wanted and unwanted, and bringing them up with minimal support. Or from women who were cemented into marriages, good, bad or indifferent, which meant they couldn’t, when I was growing up, even sign a hire-purchase agreement for a television without the consent of their husbands. 

As a little girl on a brand-new suburban housing estate in Dublin in the 1960s, I mainly remember encountering two kinds of women in the world: nuns, who went to bed early and only loved God; and mothers, who stayed at home roosting over nappy buckets, some happily, I’ve no doubt, others mourning the loss of their former lives. 

Maybe I was too busy crashing my dolly’s pram into the newly built pebbledash walls to notice, but sadly I don’t remember many women slapping men down, brushing them off like scalp flakes or making plans of their own.

Cat burglar

In my limited and admittedly idiosyncratic experience, it seemed to me that, along with the chequebooks and the car keys and the deeds to the family home, men had all the power and all the luck and that if you wanted something for yourself you pursued it like a cat burglar, stealthily, invisibly, all the while smiling your head off and pretending everything was fine.

#MeToo is another milestone on that long, unfinished walk to equality

In my teens, I still didn’t know that sexual harassment was an actual thing. Not for a minute did I think there was anything I could do about some old fart breathing beerily into my face, patting my backside and telling me I was a heartbreaker when I was only trying to clear their damn café table.

And yes, of course there were women in Irish society who lived independent lives and didn’t kowtow to anybody. Doctors and educators, mothers and hairdressers, actors and lawyers, women who found their vocations in religious life.

And things in Ireland changed because of women pushing against the status quo, and in my opinion #MeToo is another milestone on that long, unfinished walk to equality, and as such deserves our unequivocal respect and support. 

One octogenarian who didn’t disappoint recently was the US supreme court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Speaking about  #MeToo, the lifelong reformer said: “It’s about time. For so long, women were silent, thinking there was nothing you could do about it, but now the law is on the side of women, or men, who encounter harassment, and that’s a good thing.”

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