The sad decline of la femme fantastique
Proposing an online register of ‘rapists’ is the maddest thing Germaine Greer’s done since she puked on Big Brother.
Ever since Germaine Greer appeared on Celebrity Big Brother, helplessly vomiting after being spun around on a merry-go-round for 15 minutes with Bez from the Happy Mondays, there has been speculation that la femme fantastique is no longer being entirely serious. At the weekend, true to late form, she instructed an audience at the Cheltenham Literary Festival that her mother was a ‘Nazi’ and there ought to be an online register for date rapists.
‘I wish there were an online rapists’ register and that was kept up to date, because we know the courts can’t get it right’, said Greer, who is now a professor of English at Warwick University. ‘When I say that to people, they get so scared, and say “Oh you can’t. What about privacy?”’ (What about defamation, Germaine?) ‘Years ago, I knew we would never get convictions in a court of law for date rape, so I suggested women kept an online dossier, so if a woman had a date with a guy and he did something to her, or frightened her, and she asked him to stop and he didn’t, then instead of going to the police she should put him online. Other women could check this dossier, look up a guy and see that he has form. Then she can say no, or if she does go, goes knowing it’s a high-risk strategy.’
Convictions for date rape are, as Greer says, very low, but outing men online as rapists, without reporting them to the police, is madder than a tea party in Wonderland. First of all, the straightforward name-and-shame strategy means that any person who has genuinely committed date rape will not be prosecuted – because the victim will simply register details of the rape on a website rather than try to get the alleged rapist jailed, where he should undoubtedly be. Secondly, it means that practically any man can be outed as a date rapist – because all the site would have to go on is a woman’s word for it. So ex-girlfriends with a grudge, or anyone who finds a man just a bit dodgy, could, theoretically, stick his name on this Wild West-style Wanted list for Dating Central for all to see. The idea has nothing to do with receiving justice or upholding feminist values. If put into practice it would be even more dangerous than the Sex Offenders Register – for all its faults, at least the names on that list have been found guilty of something.
Greer needs to start making a better case for how feminists can make society better today – and a better defence of her legacy. The Female Eunuch, her most famous book, published in 1970, was the subject of an extraordinary attack by Neil Lyndon in The Sunday Times at roughly the same time as she was giving her talk in Cheltenham. ‘Every boy whose education is treated as a secondary concern, every young man who has to get to the back of the queue for a job behind more favoured women… all these millions are entitled to view the fortieth anniversary of The Female Eunuch as an occasion for something other than celebration’, he ranted, before going on to cite the film Sleeping With The Enemy (a Julia Roberts movie about a woman whose husband regularly thrashes her to within an inch of her life) as an example of how ‘the disparagement of men became the routine stuff of movies’. I think I’m going to ask Neil Lyndon what planet he is living on and perhaps move there.
Actually, the humourless Lyndon – who blamed attacking feminism for a total collapse in his income in the 1990s – fails to see that in her glory years Greer seemed really rather glorious. She was not the awful, humourless Andrea Dworkin-type figure who claimed all heterosexual intercourse was rape he appears to confuse her with. She was the pin-up girl for girls who were fed up with bores just like him. Her electric prose touched femalekind (or at least Adrian Mole’s mother) like a cattleprod, as she told everyone who would listen that she didn’t bother with underwear.
‘The housewife is an unpaid employee in her husband’s house in return for the security of being a permanent employee’, she wrote. Anyone dismissing the relevance of The Female Eunuch now (as so many talking heads so sniffily do) should thank their lucky stars that they’ll never be a frustrated housewife – unless they choose to be, in which case the element of frustration is diminished. Greer’s flourish with the written word is hard to surpass. Her diary of the Big Brother house was almost worth her descent into it. ‘Damn right I don’t like [fellow housemate Brigitte Neilsen] or her habit of grabbing her store-brought breasts, banging them together like cymbals and shouting “Hot diggity!” at the top of her lungs, by way of signifying that she is having a good time.’
Greer will always be a crowd-pleaser, a guaranteed paragraph-generator for the bookers of debate panels – but if only she could start thinking of something better to say.
Emily Hill is a reporter on the Londoner’s Diary at the Evening Standard and is also spiked’s columnist on celebrity culture. Visit her personal website here.