Sarah Sands: Sometimes, a kiss is just a kiss

Germaine Greer's comments about fathers and their daughters show she has little to offer modern feminism

Share
Related Topics

In her desire to shock and to embrace the limelight, Germaine Greer could give Lady Gaga a run for her money. Her performance on the BBC1's Question Time was a flamboyant slaying of a dragon that the rest of us call parental love.

"Little girls learn to flirt with their fathers," said Greer, with lofty contempt. "You know: 'Kiss daddy goodnight' and all this sort of business." The pain and bewilderment of the father in the audience – "That is an awful thing to say" – was shared by many viewers. This Circe of Question Time was casually poisoning the loving relationship between fathers and daughters, by making it part of the debate on the sexualisation of girls.

David Dimbleby asked her why she regarded the relationship as unnatural and she turned to him in triumphant disdain. She had never used the word "unnatural". Only he had.

The way in which we respond to Germaine Greer gives our age away. Those of us who remember Greer in her prime of influence respect her as an old warrior. My daughter's generation regard her as a mysterious relic. Her analysis of the female plight makes no sense. Young women can kick ass if they need to, but most of the time their relationships with men have never been easier. Female oppression feels as distant as slavery.

Where there is injustice, they tackle it with spirit and style. The SlutWalk is the expression of a new marketing-savvy style of feminism, rather than a civil rights movement. The issue of rape may be grave, but the approach is Facebook friendly.

As for girls flirting with their dads, the notion provoked gasps and pantomime retching when I tested it out. Germaine Greer regards the family as an oppressive, patriarchal institution. But things have changed since the Edwardian era. The modern Western family is as rights-based as the UN. Also, the internet generation has a much wider network of influences. Its main cultural reference for fatherhood is not an austere figure in his study, but Homer Simpson. Dads are human, loveable, ridiculous.

If you want a convincing portrait of a contemporary father-daughter relationship, it is no good looking to Greer, who is perhaps thinking of King Lear or her own unsatisfactory father. Much more accurate is the 19-year-old playwright Anya Reiss, whose latest work, The Acid Test, examines the dynamic between three young female flatmates. The clever, prudish one brings her father to stay after he has been thrown out of the home by his wife. The girls ply the father with alcohol and end up drunkenly riding him round the flat as if he were a horse. He is a cause for merriment and sympathy.

There is always a risk of hubris when you decide to put yourself at the head of a movement. Leaders are temperamentally prone to egotism and megalomania, Greer more than most. Her main fault, particularly serious for an academic, is her disregard for empirical evidence. She simply takes her own experience, and applies it to everyone else. At least Tracey Emin, another brilliant show-off, does not try to generalise her own life.

Greer is now in her seventies, living among hens and bluebells. The environmental protester Tamsin Omond or Anastasia Richardson, the 17-year-old, don't-mess-with-me organiser of the London SlutWalk, photographed in the Evening Standard in a floral dress and Doc Martens, are more reliable on up-to-date currents of feminist opinion.

Both these young women seem to have more in common with the suffragettes than with 1960s feminists. They favour high-visibility stunts, rather than Greer's self-referential arguments. They are activists, whereas Greer was ... well, always Greer.

Contemporary feminists are not trying to define themselves in relation to men; they are more concerned with women. How should women achieve equal pay, the balance of maternity leave and childcare, the effect of cuts on women's services? They are not tormented by little girls wearing pink. They do nor rail against the power imbalance of the vagina and the penis.

The SlutWalk refers to a crass remark by a Canadian policeman that women should not dress provocatively if they wish to avoid rape. But it is not a protest against men; it is about the rights of women to walk freely. As far as Greer is concerned, everything is about men. Her life has been dedicated to slugging it out with them. I suspect she prefers male company to women. She used revealing language in her Question Time attack on the cultural conditioning of girls. She said girls should not be "coy and manipulative" because "we would like them to be good chaps". She referred to her old-fashioned "boyish feminism" rather than the new girlish kind.

Greer once said that women were incapable of holding a civilised conversation at dinner, turning everything into a private quarrel. She added that hostesses generally dreaded wives. She is used to the wood-panelled, masculine atmosphere of high table, and is happy there. Her argument is really that of Henry Higgins: "Why can't a woman be more like a man?" Even her lustful book on beautiful boys is Audenesque in its tone.

All feminism is personal, and Greer's is bound up with being intellectual, Australian, a tomboy and childless. Of course the father in the Question Time audience was horrified by the suggestion that his daughter was flirting with him. To him, this was real life. To Germaine Greer, it was only of academic interest.

And yet we dismiss Greer at our peril. My generation of women, who came after Greer, were like John Major to her Mrs Thatcher. We were technocrats, rather than ideologues. Have women advanced much as a result? The world is still run largely by men for men. I reckon we still need a fearless, offensive Aussie shouting her mouth off. We should hold in reserve her angry proposition: If you can't join men, then you might as well beat them.



Sarah Sands is deputy editor of the 'London Evening Standard'

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Online Advertising Account Executive , St Pauls , London

£26K-30k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Advertising Account Executive - Online, Central London

£25K-28k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Senior Infrastructure Consultant

£50000 - £65000 Per Annum potentially flexible for the right candidate: Clearw...

Public Sector Audit - Bristol

£38000 per annum + Benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: Do you have experience of ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Wages are on the rise (so long as you skew the figures)

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
 

It’s two decades since ‘education, education, education’, but still Britain’s primary school admissions are a farce

Jane Merrick
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

Education: Secret of Taunton's success

Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
10 best smartphones

10 best smartphones

With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal