You’d think Germaine Greer, one of the most famous and revered feminist icons of the 20th century, and pop star Elton John might have something in common. They’re both pop-cultural lightning conductors, embraced by the mainstream, yet proudly, individually plumaged in their own rights.
But at the Hay Festival in Wales over the weekend, Greer slammed John and his husband, David Furnish, for using IVF to produce their two children, according to the Daily Mail.
Not only did Greer refer to Furnish as John’s “wife” (homophobic, much?), she then attacked the couple because they “have entered on the birth certificate of their two sons that David Furnish is the mother.” Why is having two parents listed as men so offensive? “The concept of motherhood has emptied out. It’s gone, it’s been deconstructed,” she said.
They were made in Greer’s larger attack on IVF and reproductive technology.
She reportedly claimed that British politician David Steel only introduced the legislation to legalize abortion in 1967 because “fertility barons told him what they needed.”
The fertility industry heads “were the ones who wanted to be able to terminate pregnancies and manipulate the process of conception at will,” Greer proclaimed.
These are only the latest examples in Greer’s 21st century decline as she prattles ignorantly on matters as substantive as LGBT rights to ones as superficial as former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s “big arse.”
For well over a decade, Greer has been spewing opinions that suggest a complete detachment from the modern-day, progressive social movements that were once her intellectual bread and butter.
Currently an emeritus professor at the University of Warwick in England, Greer has been known for decades as an outspoken and prolific writer, who has tackled a wide range of topics from feminism to race to literature.
While 1970’s The Female Eunuch, her first book, is her most famous, she has written a number of others, including its 1999 sequel, The Whole Woman (which courted some controversy for parts interpreted as defending female genital mutilation).
To those who rightfully revere her contribution to the evolution of feminism over the latter half of the 20th century, it is not only sad but confusing to witness her current tirades.
The Female Eunuch instantly became a seminal text in Second Wave feminism. In it, Greer encouraged women to reclaim their power in a patriarchal society that had, in her words, castrated them. With its publication, she put forth a massive challenge to the more mainstream and “conventional” feminist leaders and values, pushing women to go further and demand more.
In the book, Greer famously tasked her fellow feminists with drinking their own menstrual blood. “If you think you are emancipated, you might consider the idea of tasting your own menstrual blood—if it makes you sick, you’ve got a long way to go, baby.”
Believe me, I would pay good money to see the band of recently self-proclaimed feminist pop singers even consider such a bold experiment in exploring the most intimate parts of the female body.
But over the 21st century, Greer has proved to be increasingly trans-phobic, homophobic, and downright illogical—and therefore, increasingly irrelevant.
Greer has doubled-down on her transphobia in recent years, which is not wholly unexpected.
Her 1996 efforts to keep a transgender professor, Rachael Padman, from joining Newnham College at Cambridge University, where she then taught, foreshadowed this misguided anti-transgender activism.
“I don’t believe in transphobia,” Greer proudly declared this past January when she was invited to debate before the famed Cambridge Union Society. “I’ve got 51 percent of the world to think about and I’ve got to talk about transphobia.”
According to Cambridge student newspaper Varsity, Greer implied trans-women could not understand the struggles of those born of the female sex because they don’t know what it is like to “have a big, hairy, smelly vagina.”
Greer’s rationale for why people could not transition to other sexes simply out of a desire was even more illogical—in fact, downright false. “I always wanted to be a Jew, but I can’t be,” she said during the debate to prove her point.
In fact, you can convert to Judaism, Greer, just as people can transition to other sexes.
These comments were in line with Greer’s general unwillingness to recognize transsexuals as a legitimate group of individuals. “We pretend that all the people passing for female really are. Other delusions may be challenged, but not a man’s delusion that he is female,” she wrote dismissively in The Guardian in 2009.
But transphobia is just the beginning of the myriad of ways Greer has run off the rails.
“You’ve got a big arse, Julia,” Greer said in 2012 of then-Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
Even in jest (which it is not entirely clear that it was), Greer’s remarks were superficial, sexist, and lacked any valuable insight about the first female head of Australia’s parliament. This last deficiency was especially disappointing and jarring coming from a feminist as thought-provoking as Greer.
Apparently, Greer has many critiques on the appearances of women in politics. She chastised Michelle Obama’s choice in dresses for herself and for her daughters on the night of her husband’s 2008 presidential win.
Reading through Greer’s analysis, it is hard to figure out why exactly she finds the fashion choices to be an affront to feminists, or anyone, for that matter.
“Any colour is better than pink, but these robust choices hardly strike one as girly,” she wrote of the ensembles in The Guardian. “The girls’ odd outfits were clearly chosen as foils to their mother’s dress, which was all black with an eye-burning red panel that splattered itself down the front like a geometrical haemorrhage, held in by a criss-cross sash of black.”
At times, Greer has chosen her targets out of left field, seeming to fire aimlessly wherever she can lob volatility, regardless of its utility.
When Steve Irwin was killed by a gruesome stingray attack, Greer used the fatality as an opportunity to decry his treatment of wildlife. “There was no habitat, no matter how fragile or finely balanced, that Irwin hesitated to barge into. There was not an animal he was not prepared to manhandle,” she wrote in The Guardian.
That was, perhaps, a valid point, but it was certainly in poor taste with the timing.
Frankly, Greer took the skewering over the edge in that column. “Not much sympathy there,” she said of Irwin’s untimely death. “The animal world has finally taken its revenge on Irwin.”
Strange and hurtful is the only way to describe that tirade against Irwin, but Greer exhibited other bizarre behavior in the public eye.
In 2004, she chose to appear in the UK’s Big Brother. She said she was motivated by her desire to use the participation fee to save her swatch of Queensland rainforest, but she didn’t last long, anyways.
She left in the middle of the show, decrying the conditions as a “fascist prison.” Which is absurd, as the show is so well-known in Britain—in both its living conditions and pantomime—it really can’t have been that much of a surprise.
Not that her histrionics stopped there. Of her Big Brother experience and her inability to convince other participants to leave, Greer lamented, “Persecution is what happens, holocausts are what happens when good people do nothing. [But] I am an anarchist, we can disrupt situations, we don’t take them over.” Yes, she compared being on Big Brother to a holocaust.
Greer has—and should be—admired for her unrelenting fight against the anti-female norms, pressures, and restrictions of society. She should be even further praised for pushing her fellow feminists to demand more and compromise less.
But this unrelenting drive appears to have lost much of its rationality and purpose in recent years. Instead of seeming provocative, Greer only appears antiquated, her thinking more than slightly off the rails.
Oh, Germaine Greer, you’ve got a long way to go, baby.