Germaine Greer and body-shaming

Germaine Greer is a professional shit-stirrer. She wasn’t the only feminist in the 70s (and onwards) yelling loudly about the need to treat women like real people, but she was one of the loudest. And for that, Australian women owe a lot to her. (Even those who think feminism is bad.)

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t call her on it when she body-shames someone. We should always call people on that shit.

Here’s the footage from Monday’s QandA. Everything she said up until 1.16 was great. And then, well, that’s what this post is about:

(Miranda Devine illogically says that Greer’s comments mean ALL FEMINISM IS A SHAM. But that’s what News Ltd pays her for, and I don’t pay very much attention to her. Check out Clementine Ford on that one.)

Greer is not a perfect feminist. I don’t think there are perfect feminists and we shouldn’t hold someone up and say, “See! This one’s perfect!”. I’m certainly not a perfect feminist. The other day, when Lady A told me she was having a little boy, I said that her (very active) partner must be happy about that since he’ll have someone to be all fit and active with. And then corrected myself, because seriously, what a dumb thing to say. And when I walk down the street, for all my talk about body acceptance, I still secretly compare my body to other bodies and feel better when I decide that some body part of mine is better than some body part of someone else’s. It’s stupid. The size of my arse hasn’t stopped me getting a degree and a masters, doing a doctorate, having loads of wonderful funny smart friends, and having a fabulous relationship with The Most Awesome Man In The World. The power of popular culture is a hard one to fight. But every time I catch myself doing these things, I make an effort to correct it and to not do it again. To be a better feminist.

I’m not excusing what Greer said. Not at all. It is completely unacceptable to use a public forum to make negative comments about someone else’s body. It is even more unacceptable when you’re adding those negative comments to a discussion about their professional life. And it is worse for a celebrated feminist to make such a comment than it is for Joe Douchebag to make it. None of us are perfect feminists but that doesn’t mean feminism is faulty. Nor does it mean that when a feminist says something stupid, other feminists should just say, “oh, it’s ok, she’s a feminist, we’ll let that one go”. And that is how we all get a little bit better*.

* and take down the patriarchy

47 responses to “Germaine Greer and body-shaming

  1. afeministmother

    I love Germaine Greer – even when she comes out with bizzare comments. Her work opened my eyes and for that I will always love and admire her.

    • What exactly is the point of this post? Is the point to excuse some blatantly toxic and poisonous misogynistic shit because you like Germaine Greer? Or is the point to minimise that sexism as “bizarre comments”, again because you like Germaine Greer? You really seem less interested in criticising this profoundly sexist rhetoric and more interested in reminding us how the speaker influenced you as a young adult. I am having difficulty imagining a more self-centered, clueless, pointless, backward and cowardly response to the issue.

      • Iblys, I’m going to pull you up on your aggression. Instead of engaging with the comment from afeministmother, you went for name-calling, and attack, and that is not on. I published your comment so I could make it very clear to you that comments like these are not on. If you want to respond to a commenter on this blog, you do it respectfully. Consider this a warning.

        Now, afeministmother, can you admire someone and love their work and the effect they had on your life, and still disagree with them about something?

        • afeministmother

          Yes,absolutely. I did not like any of the personal comments she made recently that are mentioned here. It was utterly pointless to make them and it was very public too. Also, I am not the cultural relativist as she appears to be on one subject – there was an audible sigh at the Opera House when she expressed her views on FGM. I had said to those in company with me that Germaine would probably say something stupid and disagreeable, and she did.
          But she has also said a lot that has made good sense over the years. I do admire her and can overlook the areas of disagreement. I do with other feminists too.

  2. It seems to be something of a habit for her, she had a go at Gina Rinehart’s haircut in her talk at the Opera House just recently.

  3. what the fuck

  4. Yeah, I noted that too, mimbles. And it’s so annoying! The best GG can do is comment on a woman’s haircut?! When she’s playing for laughs like this it makes it so much harder to then hear the more contextual, and important arguments. And the truth is, I reckon she can be so much wittier than it too; so disappointing a few fronts. Dumb joke, dumb reason. *sigh*

  5. She almost made me snort chardonnay everywhere when I heard that. I was mildly happy (not to mention stunned) to hear men being mildly critical of the problems of p0rn, when WHAM! Julia, you have a big arse lolz! Like what the…?

    Then again, Germaine always did temper her feminism with cheap laughs and male pandering. Doesn’t make her feminism irrelevant at all, but fark, to do that on such a program is unforgiveable for me. Situate it within the context of a political climate rife with sexism and misogyny directed toward our first woman PM and it is actually a very highly charged statement, ultimately very harmful to women’s struggle. I’m deeply disappointed.

  6. Yeah ‘what the fuck’ Germaine! She obviously has a mouth that runs away with her head – even her often shambolic writing attests to this. I still have to love her even for her faults but seriously, ‘what the fuck’? And I would have liked a link to that “Most Awesome Man In The World” too.

  7. Germs does have form when it comes to making snide comments on other women.

    Recall her commenting on (I think) a Guardian journo’s “CFM” shoes some years ago.

  8. Greer has a policy of making sure she doesn’t say what would be expected of her. It can be a little puerile at times. I almost suspect she said it just to piss off people like us, a “you don’t own me either” gesture. I was also disappointed in the, otherwise groovy, American pastor, who was handed an opportunity by Tony Jones to point out the sexism, and took a pass.

    Otherwise some pretty useful discussion going on in that episode.

    • True. It was a fun episode. I stopped watching it because it makes me so angry, but then with Clementine Ford on last week, I watched and again this week. The American guy really just seemed baffled the whole time, but it’s unlikely he follows Australian politics.

  9. This was the best episode of Q and A I have seen. There was so much intelligent commentary and great banter but I too was disappointed in Greer’s comment. She had other good points though.

  10. Hey, Germs has, by her time of life, said all she has to say and now she’s exercising the old person’s prerogative of being eccentric. She’s everyone’s batty old aunt and I don’t think we need to take too much notice of her any more.

  11. Sigh.
    1. Julia is following The Fashion- Advice for women with bottom-heavy figures.
    What is she supposed to replace the jackets with? Leggings and a swing top? Not thinking it through, Ms. Greer.
    2.I’m pretty sure another reason Gillard wears jackets is to present a ‘professional’ image. i.e. equivalent of a man’s. Strutting around showing off her sexy big bum is not going to get her very far in Cabinet. She has to demonstrate just enough feminininity to gain approval, but not so much she loses credibility. We all know feminininity =stupid. I am pretty sure it was Ms. Greer who told me this, when I was a little baby feminist reading my first polemics.
    3. God forbid ANY woman NOT waste her time attempting to control the perceptions others’ have of her. She might use that energy to concentrate on other problems and end up ruling the world and we couldn’t have that, could we.
    (NWN, apparently I do have a wordpress account. Extremely strange.)

    • (That is all very strange. For everyone else, eilish1 was having trouble posting comments because wordpress was being odd. I know Lexy had the same problem. But I don’t know why that was happening.)

      What a shame the images in that link are all of skinny models. How is that supposed to demonstrate that it’s a good look for women with a different body type?

      • I’m pretty sure the embargo on showing women of different shapes and sizes is unbreakable. They probably don’t have any pictures of different shaped women.

  12. I half agree.

    “It is completely unacceptable to use a public forum to make negative comments about someone else’s body.”

    I don’t see why. Julia has a big arse and a big nose and making it “completely unacceptable” to poke fun at, or even mention these things, seems unrealistically pecious and thin-skinned to me. But on the other hand…

    “It is even more unacceptable when you’re adding those negative comments to a discussion about their professional life.”

    I do think it was really lousy of Germaine to bring this up as part of a serious assessment of her performance as PM. REALLY lousy.

    This one is all about context for me.

    • I don’t believe it is being thin-skinned. I just don’t believe anyone has the right to make negative comments about someone else’s body in a public forum. Sure, have those conversations with your friends – I’m not interested in policing private conversations – but not on national television.

      • Can you go any further in depth into why you believe nobody has this right — or point to another post where you have done so? I’m curious about your reasoning. If there’s more to it than it might hurt someone’s feelings I may even be swayed.

        As I’ve said, I don’t believe this sort of thing has any place in serious debate, but I’m thinking about cartoons, impersonations and other sorts of satire and I don’t really see the harm.

        • Because making negative comments about someone else’s body IS harmful. It harms the person you’re making the comment about, it harms people who hear it and then think it’s acceptable to put others down based on their appearance, and it harms people who hear it and then think negatively about their own body.

          • It’s not in the same class as conventional poking-fun of politicians because it’s applied with the Grand Dame of all double standards. Do you think Greer or anyone else ever went on a political discussion show and mentioned Kim Beazley’s big arse? The guy had to wear a yellow skivvy before there were any news reports about his dress sense. And, no, Mr nice American pastor, they won’t do it to your president.

          • In that case I tend to think that the problem lies not in the big arse joke, but in the fact that people are so impressionable or have such low self-esteem that they would be so affected.

            It’s like the argument that porn is bad because it warps people’s ideas about sex. I would say that the real problem is that anyone would base their ideas of sex on porn. As long as it isn’t dressing itself up as educational material, it shouldn’t be treated as such.

            As another example, I don’t think the problem with gossip rags is that they make their money by printing rubbish and making readers feel lousy about themselves. It’s that people would take any notice of them in the first place. On the other hand, when serious newspapers print material that belongs in gossip rags, that’s another thing entirely.

            If people are so fragile that they are seriously harmed by a big arse joke presented in any context, I think that is unfortunate — and I wouldn’t in any way want to blame or shame them for that — but I think a better solution than sanitising the conversation is to try to educate or empower those people to the point where it is no longer a problem.

            Orlando, I remember seeing a comedy show on the ABC in the 90’s (possibly The Money Or The Gun) that featured an entire song about how fat Kim Beazley was. But that was a comedy show and not a serious political discussion. As stated, I do believe the context of Germaine’s comment was inappropriate.

            • The porn argument is not the same at all. One is about viewing actors having sex, the other is insulting someone about their body. Or perhaps I’m doing the sex wrong? Following your argument, the problem with sexism is not that it’s sexist, but that someone is so fragile to be offended by it.

              Saying that it’s wrong to say that other people’s bodies aren’t “good enough” isn’t about being fragile. It’s about not being a douchebag.

  13. DontSue gets her back up at nearly everything you say, NWN. You radical.

    People say “You’re too sensitive” instead of “Sorry for my lack of respect and concern”.
    The issue is not “Did Greer hurt Gillard’s feelings?” – it’s not even “Should cheap putdowns be part of the political discourse?” (A discussion of Tony Abbott that ended with “I just want him to have surgery on his ears” might have got just as many laughs, but not caused this sort of discussion.) The issue is: women in politics are already behind the eight-ball, and when a prominent feminist forgets this, and invites a discussion panel to pile-on; it’s very dispiriting and unhelpful to women in general.

    • “The issue is: women in politics are already behind the eight-ball, and when a prominent feminist forgets this, and invites a discussion panel to pile-on; it’s very dispiriting and unhelpful to women in general.”

      If that’s the beginning and end of the issue then I completely agree with you and have done several times now.

      Yes, I have some views of the world that differ with NWN, but I don’t think I’ve been particularly impolite about putting my arguments forward and I wasn’t under the impression that the only comments welcome here were those that were in furious agreement with the posts.

      • Except that isn’t what you’ve been arguing. You’ve been arguing that it’s ok to make negative comments about someone else’s body in a public forum.

        I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. I don’t even want everyone to agree with me. But you do tend to derail comment threads. And, like I said to eilish1, your gravatar is antagonistic. We get it. Melinda Tankard Reist threatened to sue you. You’ve made your point.

    • I agree. And I think DontSue disagrees with me just for the sake of disagreeing. Which is fine, but it does derail the conversation. It’s becoming harder to respond to someone whose name and gravatar are so childishly antagonistic.

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  15. It does seem that when offered the choice between standing on principle or being outlandish for attention, Germain tends to opt for the latter. That may be great for getting people talking – but about what? It hurts her credibility.

    • It does hurt her credibility. Particularly when so many younger/youngish people will only know her from her recent media appearances and so will dismiss her feminism because of it.

      Billablog, welcome to the News with Nipples. I read your King’s Tribune article last night. It’s so true about how we talk about leadership.

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