It is difficult to know how to be a feminist. Just saying you believe in equality for women is all well and good, but it doesn’t really help you or anyone when you have to get down to the details of what that means. When it comes to deciding on what kinds of actions and discourses will contribute most fully to the betterment of womanity. And that is even before you get to more tricky, philosophical concepts such as liberation and emancipation.
Germaine Greer is a perfect example of why we need to move with the times as feminists and keep on learning. Embarrassing and dangerous.
One thing you can do to implement your feminist credentials successfully, however, is to not be an Old Woman. You can be any number of things as a feminist, woman, man or mineral, but if you are going to be an Old Woman feminist, you’d better do it in a chronically kowtowing, know your place, kind of way. Despite your years on this cragged sphere, your many books penned, your many battles fought, and your countless death threats received, your feminism is now a draughty hump of nothing and the best you can do to remain of use is to quietly avoid impeding upon the current agenda. And if you are asked a direct question about something inflammatory or controversial, rather than take the feather-ruffling bate, it is probably best to just have a play at tweaking your invisible hearing aid, theatrically squinting your eyes before going off on one about how ‘meekly people speak these days’.
Germaine Greer is entitled to her opinion. Just like I’m entitled to my opinion, that she’s a heartless old bat.
Ageism is a curious form inferiority enforcement, because it is the one condition that most of us will one day share. The young women who have grasped the feminist mantle and have re-imagined it into something that Old Women like Fay Weldon and Germaine Greer do not recognise, seem to be lacking in a basic form of humility. Even apart from the bile inducing idea that political and philosophical ideas should come in nifty trends and fashions, there seems to be a wilful ignorance about the fact that the very same fate awaits them. That one day they too, will be considered irrelevant. In fact, with the garrulous and thrifty pace of social media discourse these days, it might happen quicker than they think.
Now, clearly, younger feminists feel a sense of baggage about the second wave; they feel that these earlier feminists had a narrow agenda that didn’t account for the various different experiences of womanhood available. Now without doing a Feminist History 101 here, one wonders to what extent this is actually a fair representation of the many voices speaking and books penned during that 1960s and 70s period. One wonders if some contemporary feminism has actually took its history lessons from oversimplified media parodies. Take Greer, for example; as her unauthorized biography demonstrates – what these younger feminists fail to understand – is that Greer was often out of step with other, what we could call, more ‘to the agenda’ feminists. She has always feather ruffled. What adds extra hump to the butt of the joke, is the fact that is she not saying anything vastly different to anything she has said before. It shouldn’t really come as much of a surprise. Similarly is the case for author Fay Weldon, who has been of the habit of telling porkie pies about her feminist views to credulous journalists for most of her career.
At this point we just have to assume everything Germaine Greer says is for attention. Sit down and shut up, dear.
Gloria Steinem once made the case that women actually become more radical as they age. Her argument was partly rested on the fact that patriarchal society offers young women shallow and fickle forms of power. By lionizing the particular kind of scopophilic sexuality that young women are capable of pursuing, they are given respite from feminine irrelevance. As they age, however, this mirage of empowerment begins to dissolve. The feeling of validation they might receive from being perceived of as beautiful does not result in a long term structural acquisition of personal power. It saddens me to see Old Women, who have given their lives more often that not in the service of others, to be made to feel like they should shrink themselves down to accommodate further still in their dotage. The way a grandmother will offer to sit in the most uncomfortable seat in the room, will defer to almost all of the voices in the room and will literally find herself apologising for her very ‘inconvenient’ existence.
In fact, when Old Women don’t do this – be kindly martyred grannies – they are seen of as repulsive bringers of discomfort. The Hags, the Witches, The Mother in Laws. The Germaine Greers.
Look, making a case for bigotry can in no way be sensibly coloured by other forms of bigotry. You don’t get to ‘call out’ Greer’s views on transgendered culture by telling her she is an Old Woman who should sit down and shut the fuck up. You don’t get to tell someone to ‘check their privilege’ by expostulating on their ‘baggy old fanny’ or their ‘wrinkly old chops’. Especially if you are a feminist. And especially if you would hope that when the day comes for your own views to become unfashionable, that you airing them would not be considered equivalent to flapping about a set of crusty old underpants. It would be the very least our grandchildren could do.