Contrary to all manner of vile rumour, I am perfectly capable of saying nice things about culture warrior and battle-hardened crusader against all things pink, otherwise known as Germaine Greer. I think she is an incredibly clever woman who expresses even the most insane opinions with tremendous flourish. I also think she’s damn fine; say what you want about aging, her face is as haughtily glamorous as ever, she has the stare of Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen, part glacial, part beguiling.
This is precisely why I have to pause and make sure I have not accidentally ingested some paint thinner with that Bloody Mary (stranger things have happened) when I see Germaine referring to Madonna as an “elderly mother,” among other things. Uh oh. I think the paint thinner is in YOUR Bloody Mary, Germaine. Step away from it before more people get hurt.
Now, you might wonder, what the hell is wrong with pointing out that Madonna’s getting on in years? By itself, nothing much. But I can’t stand this little barb, which amounts to “you had your children too late, Madge.” I honestly think this is even worse than Camille Paglia’s gleeful slut-shaming and snide dismissal of Madonna’s looks: “hard-bitten face lolling its tongue like a dissolute old streetwalker,” – really? People have complained that Camille Paglia always talks about the same damn thing, which she does, but the real entertainment is observing just how low she is willing to go for the sake of attention.
Still, I think there is something even more vile in taking someone else’s parental role and turning it into a cheap little insult. Madonna’s kids are not adults, they didn’t ask for this attention, and she’s their mother, no matter what. Way to take a giant dump on someone else’s family and age, Germaine.
Alas, it gets worse. Germaine Greer is not to be outdone by… Germaine Greer.
“Now, now, Natalia,” Jezebel’s commenters would say. “Germaine is NOT saying that. All she’s saying is that white folk cannot self-righteously jump in to fix this problem of domestic violence.”
Yes, I get that she does in fact say that, and I agree with her. However, she also says this:
What is obvious is that when the Aboriginal man was dispossessed by the white intruder, he lost his moral authority over his family…Aboriginal people do not discuss this, but that in itself should not be taken to mean that it is unimportant.
Interestingly, in the Madonna article, she mentions that Guy Ritchie probably views his wife as “uncontrollable.” You see a pattern emerging here? (I’m not even going to get into the assumption that “Aboriginal people do not discuss this,” I’m sure some do, and some don’t, seeing as they’re human beings and all)
The Aboriginal man and the white man are the default human beings here. The Aboriginal women are not dispossessed at all, according to Germaine, rather, they are possessed, first by the Aboriginal man, and then by the white man. It’s the same argument as the one this guy once used to get me to shut up about instances of (dis)honour killing in Palestine – “well, the men just don’t have any authority! How DARE you say they’re guilty?!?!?!”
These are murky waters for me, because I don’t deny that, in one way, Germaine Greer is simply stating basic facts. We all know that when white folks set about “bettering” the “evil savages,” chaos and tragedy ensue. And, let’s face it, the idea of Aboriginal women as possessions is not exactly a new one – Germaine Greer didn’t make it up.
And yet I also see a deliberate refusal to treat Aboriginal women as human beings here. I see the idea that “those funny brown people have their traditions, and so what if a few women get hurt or killed?” Germaine is right in asking white folks to get a little perspective and stop being so self-righteous, but she is dead wrong to attempt to excuse, as opposed to explain, the situation.
She’s done this before. She thinks that FGM is perfectly cool, as long as it’s part of your culture (and if it isn’t? Not cool, I guess. How does that make any sense? Buggered if I know.). Her efforts to get white people to show a little humility, noble as they may be, have lead her to believe that them funny brown folks are incapable of dissent and debate within their own ranks. To her, they’re like statues in a museum – perfectly still, unmoving, good to gape at, impossible to actually engage. Or else they are just receptacles for the thoughts of white folk, their every move mapped by a white person’s hand. Or else they are the Borg, a mass of perfectly identical parts.
How would she attempt to explain the high instances of domestic violence in Russia, a country that colonized instead of being colonized? I suppose she’d just write it off on our savage, barbaric culture, making sure to throw in a few words on wee-wittle men who just HAVE to hit “their” women when said women have shown some interest in running off with rich foreigners, or whatever.
This isn’t surprising. In The Whole Woman, Greer essentially compared women to mindless receptacles as well. Much like Janice Raymond, she claims that birth control and abortion are simply male tools, used to control and exploit women’s bodies. It’s an interesting argument, and I’m sure it is perfectly applicable to some women, but when extrapolated to the whole of the female population it erases agency so thoroughly and completely that one has to wonder whether these two feminists LIKE women at all.
You might say, “well, Germaine insulted Steve Irwin too, and after he was no longer around to defend himself, no less, so she’s an equal-opportunity hater.” Perhaps. But she was insulting his career. When it comes to women, Germaine strikes at the very essence. It isn’t just Madonna’s career that she goes after, she goes after her status as a mother, her personal life, etc. She ponders the feelings of Australia’s Aboriginal men, but acts as though Aboriginal women have none.
She plays dirty. Specifically, she plays dirty with women. Not in the fun way, har har, but in the “I’m gonna get you, you bitch” way. And she particularly likes to go after women who are, for whatever reason, getting more attention that Germaine Greer.
Thank Batman I’m just a lowly magazine editor, right?