If anyone was waiting to hear Germaine Greer tone down her controversial comments on rape made at the Hay literary festival last year, it didn’t happen at the 2019 Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF), which began on January 24. Nor did she make any startling statement on the #MeToo movement in India. “I will be 80 my next birthday (January 29) and considered to be functionally idiotic now,” said the firebrand writer, who has come under fire from fellow feminists worldwide for suggesting lenient sentences for rapists.
Sitting on stage at the crowded Diggi Palace venue of the 12th edition of JLF on its opening day, the celebrated author of The Female Eunuch blamed “our degraded sexual relations” and “failure to respect each other” behind violence against women. Facing a barrage of questions at a session titled ‘Beyond the Female Eunuch’, Australia-born Greer used her wit and wisdom to stay ahead of a conversation just shy of confrontation. “Penis is not my enemy. It is the only part of man I know what to do with,” she countered, defending her comments on rape and the #MeToo movement.
Greer was willing to offer concessions though. The first concession came when she backed the fight of Indian people following the Nirbhaya gangrape in 2012. “In India, what happened to Nirbhaya is remembered,” she said, responding to a question from her interlocutor, British journalist-author Bee Rowlatt, on her comments on rape and the #MeToo movement. “Rape was the least of it,” she said about the rape and murder of the Delhi student. “The worst of it was the brutality,” Greer said, watering down her Hay festival statement contradicting rape as one of the most violent crimes in the world. The next concession was a firm denial of her reported description of the #MeToo movement as “whining” by women. “I never called it whining,” she offered.
Greer, who set off the second wave of the feminist movement with The Female Eunuch half-a-century ago, however, doubled down on her stance that the #MeToo movement wouldn’t work. “It is to get free publicity for some people,” she said, naming the movement’s leading voice, American actor Rose McGowan. She also criticised the movement for not filing a civil case in the US even after raising money to support the victims. “I think the criminal prosecutions will fail in the court,” she said, referring to the cases against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. On the other hand, systematic sexual abuse in relationships is still unrepresented, she argued.
Greer also didn’t soft-pedal her view on the transgender community though she praised India for recognising its members as the third gender. “This is a very special destiny,” she said, adding in the same voice, “They can also be a damn nuisance.”
Any criticism, said Greer, doesn’t affect her mainly because it doesn’t reach her. “I don’t read newspapers, I don’t have a mobile phone and no Facebook page.”
The hour-long session of Greer, her first ever at the JLF, also brought out the environmental campaigner in the world’s foremost feminist. In Queensland, Australia, Greer is regenerating a forest that was destroyed for timber. “It is a rehabilitation project in which the forest grows itself,” she said about the work for which she has raised money by selling her entire archives, including notes from the time of writing The Female Eunuch, to the University of Melbourne. “I have given all my money to the project,” said Greer, who finds the rationale to revive a forest ‘a very typical female motive’. “‘I want to fix something’ is very typical of women,” said the author, who wrote about the regeneration of the forest in the book, White Beech: The Rainforest Years, six years ago.
Nearly 50 years after she wrote The Female Eunuch, which was divided into “loo-length chapters because women got time to read only in bathrooms”, Greer is still amazed by the response to its ideals of equality and respect. “The book just nudged open that door and women are still getting out through that door,” she said. “A girl child can cry as loud as a boy child. How is that she becomes silent?” she said. But does she still believe in one of the most famous quotes of the book: “Women have very little idea how much men hate them.” Her answer: “Not all men hate all women all the time.” She has other ideas about the book though. “It is not the best book, but it is the best I could write at that time,” she added, calling for throwing out her masterpiece in lieu of a new treatise for ‘men, women and inter-sexuals’. “The Female Eunuch… it is past its time.”