Read the full transcript of our discussion on whether the #MeToo movement will bring lasting change to women’s rights.
Mehdi Hasan (VO): In October 2017, the hashtag MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault, went viral and global.
Rose Mcgowan (archive): I have been silenced for 20 years. I have been harassed. I have been maligned.
Mehdi Hasan (VO): Beginning with Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, a string of powerful men were named, shamed and held to account over allegations of sexual offences, sparking unprecedented debate on sexual harassment and violence …
Tarana Burke (archive): There are millions of people around the world who have used the hashtag #MeToo.
Mehdi Hasan (VO): … and launching a global movement that’s grabbed the attention of the powerful.
German MEP (archive): Me too, I have been sexually harassed …
Jackie Speier (archive): Today we are introducing the METOO Congress Act.
Antonio Guterres (archive): … from ‘MeToo’ to ‘Time’s Up’ women and girls are calling out abusive behaviour …
Mehdi Hasan (VO): My guest tonight is a feminist icon with a reputation for provocation. Never a stranger to controversy, she emerged as one of #MeToo’s most prominent feminist critics and caused outrage with her controversial statements on rape. So, how should the issue of sexual assault be dealt with? And is hashtag MeToo truly revolutionary, or misguided?
Mehdi Hasan: I’m Mehdi Hasan and I’ve come to the Oxford Union to go Head to Head with the writer, thinker and legendary feminist Germaine Greer. I’ll ask her why she thinks the global #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault has gone nowhere.
Mehdi VO: Tonight, I’ll also be joined by Minna Salami, a feminist writer and speaker, and the founder of the award-winning pan-African feminist blog MsAfropolitan; Laurie Penny, an award-winning journalist, author and feminist activist; and Zoe Strimpel, a columnist, author, and historian of gender and relationships.
Mehdi Hasan: Ladies and gentlemen please put your hands together for Germaine Greer.
Mehdi VO: The author of the seminal feminist text, The Female Eunuch, she has been a renowned public intellectual and feminist provocateur since the 1970s.
Mehdi Hasan: Thanks so much for coming. Germaine Greer. Since the Harvey Weinstein scandal erupted in October 2017, the world has been swept by the hashtag MeToo campaign against sexual harassment, assault, violence, rape. Feminists around the world now see #MeToo as a major shift, some say it’s a game-changer. You, however, one of the biggest names in feminism, have said it hasn’t gone anywhere and that “it will be extraordinary if it makes any difference at all”, why are you so down on it?
Germaine Greer: Am I down on it? It’s just that if all it took was kicking ass and taking names and talking loud and drawing a crowd, then we might have got somewhere already. It’s not enough to denounce the abuse of women. I mean, think about this, the police, the New York Police Department has brought a criminal prosecution against Harvey Weinstein on three counts. One count of rape in the first degree, another count of rape in the third degree and then another, an account of a criminal act in which the woman who has complained of this is known to the public, that is, she’s associated with #MeToo. Now, you may say, “Who’s the first woman?” Well, we don’t know. Why don’t we know? Because her anonymity is being protected by the court. Now, this is kind of weird. I’ve been against that forever. I figure if you want to put a man away for seven years, show your face, don’t you, don’t be ashamed.
Mehdi Hasan: I want to get into the subject of rape and anonymity, but before that, just on the big picture, because you did say, “It’ll be extraordinary if it makes any difference at all.” That is pretty negative and pessimistic. Many would argue it’s already made a lot of difference, you look around the world – Congress is passing #MeToo legislation, the European Parliament is debating it, the World Economic Forum in Davos put it on its agenda, you have outside of the US, TV presenters in Australia, orchestra conductors in Switzerland, politicians in South Korea, the Defence Secretary here in the United Kingdom, you have people who’ve either lost their jobs or been named and shamed, or in certain cases prosecuted, you can’t say that’s nothing, can you?
Germaine Greer: I look at what’s happening now that we now have women claiming sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual this and that the first question to ask is, “What took you so long?” In most cases, the Statute of Limitations has already passed and these people who are supposed to have performed these acts cannot be prosecuted. This already became clear, even in the case of Bill Cosby, they could only find one case which had already been heard in a civil case to actually bring against him now, so he now faces a jail sentence.
Mehdi Hasan: But Bill Cosby was prosecuted in the end, post #MeToo, the first trial pre #MeToo was a mistrial, a hung jury, post #MeToo he was prosecuted. I watched a lot of interviews of yours preparing for this, I’ve read a lot of interviews of yours, what you do is you’re very good at criticising, you’re great at critique, I don’t hear the solutions. Let’s say, what would …
Germaine Greer: I don’t have to give solutions.
Mehdi Hasan: You do, if you’re saying the Weinstein trial won’t work.
Germaine Greer: It’s not my job. They’re never satisfied, are they? Clean the toilet and pour on the solution.
Mehdi Hasan: Well, I would argue that the audience here and at home probably do wanna hear, are you saying that Weinstein shouldn’t have been prosecuted? Bill Cosby shouldn’t have been prosecuted because you’re very good at saying what’s wrong with all these trials. But a lot of people see them as victories for #MeToo and for feminism.
Germaine Greer: They haven’t been victories for anybody. Sexual assault continues, abuse of women continues.
Mehdi Hasan: A rather high bar, either get rid of all sexual assault or you don’t prosecute Bill Cosby, it’s a bizarre kind of…
Germaine Greer: Wait a minute, you’re persecuting a man in his 80s, who’s been offending for 60 years, what kind of a triumph is that?
Mehdi Hasan: Let’s go to our panel, Laurie Penny, who’s an award-winning feminist writer, author, activist, you’re jumping up, wanting to come in there.
Laurie Penny: I just wanted to… look it’s only been six months, patriarchy has been around for a very, very, very long time and I think this is kind of as soon as women start doing something together suddenly. It’s like, “why haven’t you changed the entire world?” It’s been only just over six months, I think there’s a long, there’s a long game here, but also you ask, “What took you so long?” Right? And it is a fear, a very legitimate fear of the social consequences of speaking up against rape. And what has happened in the past few months, is we’ve seen this sea change where women and girls are suddenly able to come together and compare notes and support one another, that’s what’s changed.
Mehdi Hasan: Germaine, do you want to respond to that?
Germaine Greer: I have spoken out about rape and about my own rape and I did it many, many years ago when I was 19 years old. I am now 80. It’s not true. We haven’t been here, …we’ve never been here before, we have.
Laurie Penny: I didn’t say, “We haven’t been here before.”
Germaine Greer: And we’ve got nowhere. We’ve got nowhere because the law is upside down, the law is if you pardon the expression, cock-eyed… The most important thing for it to do is defend the defendant against the malicious allegations of other people, and there is a legal obligation to do that …
Laurie Penny: Look, #MeToo was never just about legal solutions though, I mean …
Germaine Greer: No, I know that too.
Laurie Penny: Yeah, of course. But look, I don’t need to have, you know, to have somebody convicted in a court of law of rape to say, “I don’t want to invite that guy to my party, I don’t want to work with that guy on my project,” you know. It’s also about creating social consequences and creating new social norms and that is a big important thing that’s changed.
Mehdi Hasan: OK. Zoe Strimpel is a historian of gender and relationships. She’s a columnist for the Sunday Telegraph. Do you agree with what Laurie is saying?
Zoe Strimpel: Well, I definitely see what Laurie is saying and I don’t disagree, but I just wanted to say that I think there is absolutely a place for Germaine to pour cold water on this movement that’s, you know, if you’re gonna be someone who’s sort of smiled upon by kind of polite society you must say, it’s just absolutely the best thing since sliced bread. And Germaine’s job is to be a critic and I think she should absolutely be criticising it. I also think, there are other kinds of threats that a lot of women encounter, frankly, on the street, at night… is #MeToo actually reaching those perpetrators, is #MeToo helping women facing domestic violence all the time. So I think Germaine is right to question the efficacy.
Mehdi Hasan: And Minna Salami is a feminist writer, blogger, founder of the award-winning pan-African blog, MsAfropolitan, when Germaine talks about why did it take them so long and the whole anonymity issue, where do you stand on that?
Minna Salami: The point is not why it took so long or what a woman wore or what her sexual history is, which is, which are not claims you have been making. But I’m just saying that it’s a similar type of question, we’re always avoiding focussing on the actual crime, and it’s incredibly unfair to suggest that #MeToo has not been tremendously impactful. I mean, #MeToo is definitely one of the feminist peaks and I think it’s unprecedented in one way specifically which is that it is bringing home these conversations into our intimate spaces with #MeToo, unless you have been living under a rock, you cannot avoid having these conversations with your partners, with your father, with our fathers, with our uncles, sons, etc. And that is really unprecedented and as a…
Germaine Greer: Is it really unprecedented?
Minna Salami: I think it is.
Germaine Greer: You’re talking about, “Oh, we need to concentrate on rape as a crime.” Now, most of the people in this country do not believe that non-consensual sex is rape. They think it has to be violent: wrong, it doesn’t. They think that it is uncommon, monstrous, done by outsiders.
Minna Salami: It doesn’t matter what they believe because in the court of law it is a crime.
Germaine Greer: Except it isn’t. You will not find …
Minna Salami: Non-consensual sex is a crime.
Germaine Greer: Hang on just a minute, you will not find the millions of women who had non-consensual sex last night with their partners fronting up at the police station. It never happens. The longest struggle when it came to trying to rationalise the law of rape, which is a mess, was the one on whether it was possible to rape your own wife. That was not decided in some American states until 1994. But the fact is it hasn’t changed the law.
Minna Salami: But that’s why #MeToo is so effective because women are now speaking about these issues.
Mehdi Hasan: Okay, so I’m going to ask again Germaine, sorry, if it’s not effective – what do you propose instead? What is effective?
Germaine Greer: I would, well there are many things that could be effective, but we won’t do them. I mean, we have teenage girls who have never had an orgasm, who have no idea why they’re even doing it because the pressure on them to have a partner is so great. Somehow, we have got to rescue the institution of hetero-sex from the mess it is in and that is partly brought about by pornography, prostitution, commercialisation and the cheapening of everything about a woman’s body.
Mehdi Hasan: But I’m guessing a lot of people here wouldn’t disagree with you, including some of our panellists. But again, I’m waiting for a solution. Yes, we need to do something. What?
Germaine Greer: Oh, wait on, dear boy, I’m not in charge.
Mehdi Hasan: I’ll keep waiting. It’s easy to be a bomb-thrower. I’m asking for a, what. #MeToo, you say, it doesn’t work, it’s not unprecedented. I’m asking you – (a) what’s come before #MeToo that was similar in your view; and (b) what would you do instead? It’s two very simple questions.
Germaine Greer: We are in an unsafe situation, we have unsafe convictions and we have other marauders like Harvey Weinstein apparently able to operate with complete impunity. Not because he’s who he is, but because he’s surrounded by people who are scared of him. This is, this is a much bigger problem. It affects all of us.
Mehdi Hasan: Germaine, here’s what I don’t get – Harvey Weinstein the marauder is now facing trial – so I’ll re-ask another one of my questions. Apologies. Do you support the prosecution of Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby to be regarded as two successes for #MeToo?
Germaine Greer: Well, they’re not successes yet, hang on.
Mehdi Hasan: Well, one was found guilty and one is now being prosecuted for the first time despite having this army of people protecting him.
Germaine Greer: There will be, there will be an appeal in the case of Cosby and you want to have him in jail – half-blind, in his 80s, after 60 years of doing what he’s been doing and you’re calling that a victory?
Laurie Penny: I think he at least belongs there. Just seeing the guy has to face some sort of justice is a moral victory in itself and, I think, you shouldn’t discount that. You know, this argument feels incoherent. It really does. I feel like in the 21st century. We should be living in a sexual culture where we can get beyond. Let’s not rape each other, right? ‘Let’s not rape each other’ should be a baseline, you know. We can do better. We can actually have some sort of understanding and pleasure, desire and agency …
Mehdi Hasan: Zoe, you wanted to come in?
Zoe Strimpel: I have a question, why don’t we, in terms of your questions about solutions, …is there not a need to think quite pragmatically and simply about while women lack physical confidence that women consider themselves weak, men can overpower them physically? After all, that is like where the rubber hits the road, you know? Should girls be given martial arts training in school mandatorily? I mean, is that not a kind of suite of options we should be turning to first?
Laurie Penny: I mean, no. We should be teaching men not to rape, not women to defend themselves.
Mehdi Hasan: I mean, you say, martial arts, Germaine? Let me pick up on that. I mean, you’ve invoked Carry On comedies, 1960s’ comedies. You’ve said that people should slap down the man who kind of harasses them instantly on the spot and stand up for themselves, which kind of feeds into what Zoe is talking about martial arts. Do you really think that’s the kind of solution?
Germaine Greer: Yes.
Mehdi Hasan: How would that, how would that have helped the women who were drugged by Bill Cosby? How would that have helped Dylan Farrow, who was seven years old, how would she have slapped down her assaulter?
Germaine Greer: Look it wouldn’t have, it wouldn’t have helped everybody but it would have helped the people who themselves were in that situation but …
Zoe Strimpel: Ordinary women on the street, it helps their physical strength.
Minna Salami: This is a Carry On comedy, it’s not reality.
Germaine Greer: Yeah, but this is not where the offences are being carried out. Stranger rape is very rare. Most women who are, who complain of sexual assault, know who their attacker was and is a friend of theirs and is a part of their circle.
Mehdi Hasan: It doesn’t mean that they have the ability to fend off an attacker. I mean, Harvey Weinstein is the case you started with. Harvey Weinstein, they say, was pretty brutal with a lot of these women. What are you supposed to do? I mean, you’re sighing, I’m just wondering, what were they supposed to do?
Germaine Greer: Look, we’re behaving as if Susan Brownmiller had never written her book on rape. And there she argues that men used the threat of rape to keep us all in continual submission, and that isn’t true. We are all made afraid of rape. And God knows why, because we’re more likely to be mugged than raped. But isn’t it strange, we’re not afraid of being mugged, we’re afraid of being raped and the chance of being? I was raped by a stranger and the funny thing was that I wasn’t even annoyed with him. I felt as if I’d stepped in the path of a bus. I still don’t know his name or else I’ve suppressed it, and it was nasty, you know. I was beaten half unconscious, so that’s about as bad as it gets, but would I want him put away for seven years?
Mehdi Hasan: Okay, well this is, this is when we get into territory where you’ve been getting in trouble recently for some of your remarks. People think you’re downplaying the crime of rape.
Germaine Greer: Well yes, if …
Mehdi Hasan: You said recently at the Hay Festival it shouldn’t always be thought of as a violent crime but as “bad sex”, which many would say is not just offensive but inaccurate.
Germaine Greer: Oh, for Christ’s sake, non-consensual sex isn’t always violent. You can have non-consensual sex with a woman who’s fast asleep without even waking her up. What world do you people live in? We’re not talking about bashing people up, we’re talking about really destructive sex where a man climbs onto his partner because she’s in the bed next to him. I’m actually passionately opposed to double beds, they’re probably more responsible for bad sex than any other single piece of furniture. I mean, most of the sex we are having is bad and what you’re looking …
Mehdi Hasan: But do you stand by that rape is bad sex? You stand by that comment?
Germaine Greer: It’s non-consensual sex, which is bad sex.
Mehdi Hasan: And it’s not always violent.
Germaine Greer: No.
Mehdi Hasan: Because many would argue that all rape is violent because it’s a gross bodily violation of a woman.
Germaine Greer: Well, you, yes you can argue that if you want, but you’re pushing the point really. Violence is violence.
Mehdi Hasan: Well this is what Rape Crisis, England and Wales says. They say, “If penetrating another person’s body without their consent is not an act of violence, what is? Rape is an inherently violent crime regardless of whether external visible injuries are sustained.”
Germaine Greer: You’d better tell that to the traumatised women who turn up for their rape kit examination who are penetrated again and again, who have blood taken, who have all kinds of liberties taken with them…
Mehdi Hasan: Well let me, well let me ask Minna, do …
Germaine Greer: I mean it’s not about, it’s not about Harvey Weinstein masturbating in front of you. Believe me, that’s completely banal.
Mehdi Hasan: No, we’re talking about, well we’re talking about rape which he’s also accused of. Minna, not all rape is violent and it’s bad sex sometimes?
Minna Salami: I mean, violence does not just mean physically attacking someone, violence is using force, it’s creating damage and you can create a lot of violent sexual damage when you force somebody to have sex with you. I would hope that you agree with that. Furthermore …
Germaine Greer: Well you can, but you know something, of all the crimes in which injuries are sustained, rape is the least impressive. People get hurt all the time, it’s mad to pretend to a woman that a penis walking down the street is more dangerous than a knife, that’s just nonsense.
Minna Salami: That is not for you to judge, you cannot decide what one woman experiences as a great violation of her body and, and you’ve been speaking about, you know, reducing the sentences for rape…
Germaine Greer: Have I?
Mehdi Hasan: In fact you’ve suggested 200 hours of community service.
Germaine Greer: That wasn’t me, I actually said …
Mehdi Hasan: What about the, what about the tattoo? You also said tattoo the letter R on their hand or cheek.
Germaine Greer: Yeah, why not? A tattoo is all right, at least it says, “Don’t go out with this bloke, he’s got form.”
Mehdi Hasan: I just need to clarify something, you’re saying you don’t support reduced sentences for rape because you’ve been quoted in plenty of interviews saying, “The burden of proof should be lowered, the tariff should be reduced, to get more convictions.”
Germaine Greer: Why do you think juries can’t convict? Why do they sit there listening to revolting stories and when it comes to the point, they can’t convict? One of the reasons for that is the extremity of the sentences. We’ve had them raised and raised and raised in the misbelief that women, more women, will complain and more juries will convict. The effect is the opposite.
Mehdi Hasan: So you think lowering it would get more convictions?
Germaine Greer: Well, you haven’t got anywhere near enough prosecutions.
Mehdi Hasan: But that’s fine, that’s speculation, do you have any evidence that lowering it would lead to more convictions?
Germaine Greer: It might.
Mehdi Hasan: It might, so you don’t actually know. You’re making quite a big proposal based on nothing?
Germaine Greer: No, I …
Mehdi Hasan: Many would argue that they’re not convicting, not because of tariffs but because they don’t believe the woman and really we should be working on getting people to believe the woman.
Germaine Greer: Well, that’s a problem because juries these days have women in them.
Mehdi Hasan: No woman has ever disbelieved another woman?
Germaine Greer: Well, who knows, but hang on a minute, the really important thing to remember is that most rape, if we’re talking about …
Mehdi Hasan: Well you keep saying you’re misquoted, so just here in front of the audience, on TV, do you support, in the UK and the US, shorter tariffs in prison, maybe alternative to prison for rapists, for convicted rapists?
Germaine Greer: It would depend. They’re not all the same, you see, the crimes are not all the same and the outcome is not all the same.
Mehdi Hasan: You say in one place, “I’ll reduce sentencing”, and in another place you say, “it depends”, but okay, Laurie.
Laurie Penny: Honestly, it seems like this argument hasn’t been thought through, I think. I’ve seen more coherence in some ways on Twitter. The heart of your argument seems to be that the legal system is inadequate to be dealing with the problem of rape and consent, and I agree with you on that basis, but the #MeToo movement has never been simply about the legal system. The whole point is that if the legal system has failed women, there is not just that binary between doing nothing and only ever believing the guy and assuming that the woman is lying and put the guy in a box forever.
Mehdi Hasan: Zoe, do you want to come in?
Zoe Strimpel: Yeah sure, I think we would all agree that sex is inherently full of grey areas because there are no witnesses. It’s, it’s highly subjective, and I think one of the problems with #MeToo has been that it’s lumped a lot of things together and we’ve had, sort of, totemic ideas of men, women, and then inevitably what happens is like as Germaine said, you get, you know, to have such a phallocentric image, these like terrifying penises everywhere and then you get a sort of slightly victim narrative emerging for women. So really just to sort of support the idea that we need to have a system in place that’s sensitive to differences in this.
Mehdi Hasan: So to pick up on that point, just before I go back to Germaine, Minna, there has been this criticism of #MeToo that, to use Zoe’s phrase, lumps in too many different behaviours is that, do you think that’s a legitimate criticism when people say, “Well, you know, there’s a difference between somebody groping you at work and somebody raping you a la Harvey Weinstein,” allegedly.
Minna Salami: No, because they’re all part of the same conversation which is sexual harassment, rape, sexual abuse toward women, these are conversations that we haven’t historically been able to have out in the open and I become so confused with your arguments because they’re completely contradictory, like you say that on the one hand, you have been pushing for women too to come out with a first-person narrative and to name themselves and surely that is what is happening with #MeToo. I mean, for the first time you have hundreds of thousands of women speaking about sexual abuse that they have experienced, using their personal names.
Mehdi Hasan: Germaine.
Germaine Greer: Yes, I agree and I agree that women should come out and take names and talk loud and draw a crowd and ostracise the person who is behaving badly. I mean, I’ve been teaching in universities all my life and I know who the sexual predators were at the universities I was in and there’re many ways of abusing women, they don’t all involve the penis. In fact the penis is the only part of a man I know what to do with frankly.
Mehdi Hasan: Okay Germaine but let me ask you this, you say now you welcome, you say to Minna, look you welcome that it’s a good thing, people should come out and take names and yet, just a couple of months ago you were on TV, accusing #MeToo of presenting women as victims. You’ve said also, for example, “If you spread your legs because he said, ‘be nice to me, I’ll give you a job in a movie’, that’s tantamount to consent, it’s too late now to start whingeing about that.” Do you think women are whingeing in association with #MeToo? Do you think they’re presented as victims as you’re quoted as saying on Good Morning Britain in March?
Germaine Greer: I think, there is a Maria Goretti aspect, which is, I was virtuous, I fought him off and he punished me by not putting me in the movie. And I’m thinking, “Somebody stitched that together for me. He is the executive director, investor in the movie he put the hard word on you, you said no, you didn’t get a part in the movie, how can you prove that the two things are related?” And the fact is, you can’t. This is, it’s what the world is about. People are negotiating, using sexuality and using vague threat and using promises that are fake …
Mehdi Hasan: You said to Minna that you welcomed people taking names, you said elsewhere that women are being presented as victims, which is it? Are women being, do you believe that #MeToo is presenting women as victims or has empowered strong women coming forward to call for justice? Which is it?
Germaine Greer: Oh, it, well it’s probably both and neither at the same time because we’re not even allowed, wait a minute here …
Mehdi Hasan: It’s like trying to pin jelly to the wall, okay.
Germaine Greer: If you spend as much time working on rape as I do, you know that we’re not even allowed to call complainants victims, anymore. We have to call them survivors as if being raped was like the wreck of the Titanic. I’m just fed up with the whole thing.
Mehdi Hasan: Okay, we’ll have to leave it there, we’re gonna take a break. Do join us for part two of Head to Head with Germaine Greer, we’re gonna continue the conversation about feminism, misogyny, discrimination. Germaine is gonna be equally lively I’m sure and we’ve got a very patient audience here in the Oxford Union who are gonna put their questions to her, so come back after the break. Thanks.
Mehdi Hasan: Welcome back to Head to Head, my guest here at the Oxford Union is the legendary feminist writer, intellectual, author, Germaine Greer. Germaine we were talking about some of your more provocative claims in part one, just to continue in that vein, in 2014 you wrote, “Women persecute other women, humiliate them and discriminate against them” and that while they may not threaten to rape them, “women have more effective ways of doing other women in”, but you yourself, some of your critics would say, are pretty well-known for humiliating other women. You said on national television that the then Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard had a big arse and you said the nicest thing about Hillary Clinton is her rear end, “because it’s big and fat and close to the ground”.
Germaine Greer: I said that about Hillary Clinton?
Mehdi Hasan: You did, yeah.
Germaine Greer: I’ve no notion how big Hilary Clinton’s arse is, not the faintest, and I don’t regard it as humiliating. A big arse is a wondrous thing, you’re the one who has trouble with the idea, you think it must, it’s like some sort of blight.
Mehdi Hasan: Well you say I’m the one, but Julia Gillard, the then prime minister of Australia, said your comments reinforced stereotypes of women and that it frustrated her that you, of all people, would catapult into that kind of conduct. Do you think it’s right to judge female politicians on their appearances?
Germaine Greer: Look, it was part of a much longer conversation about clothes and prime ministers.
Mehdi Hasan: Female prime ministers?
Germaine Greer: Well, see male …
Mehdi Hasan: You’ve commented on Theresa May’s clothes, Julia Gillard’s clothes.
Germaine Greer: Male prime ministers tend to all wear the same thing and they all look the same in it.
Mehdi Hasan: So they get a pass from you?
Germaine Greer: No, there’s no point talking about it, it’s totally boring.
Mehdi Hasan: So they get a pass effectively. So you can talk about a prime minister’s appearance, clothes, backsides and it’s not humiliating them at all?
Germaine Greer: Yes, I am allowed to say that if Theresa May would give as much thought to Brexit as she gave to her f***ing necklaces, you have to bleep that out, then we might get somewhere. She must be carrying around this enormous case full of very heavy things, they look like the things that donkeys wear outside temples in India, these big wooden things, just do without them, get on with the job here, jump out of bed that 10 minutes earlier.
Mehdi Hasan: Maybe it would be easier to get on with the job if feminists like yourself weren’t focussing on her clothes, appearance …
Germaine Greer: I don’t think she gives a monkey’s.
Mehdi Hasan: You’ve rightly pointed out the ageism and sexism in western societies, like the UK, Australia, US and of course across the world, but you’ve suggested also that feminism has been “infected” by ageism as well, why?
Germaine Greer: It’s a very curious thing; I spent 1970 travelling in India, looking at how women lived, to see whether you could grow in authority and power and dignity as you got older, as you cannot in our society. Even Mrs Thatcher got slung out like an old rag and left government in tears, no man has ever had to do that. Then she had to go on the lecture trail while Tony Blair, the great liar Blair is rolling because he’s got so many directorships and seats on boards and so on and it’s always got me that we mostly identify with young sexually active women and we don’t think about what happens to older women. I mean, I went on Good Morning TV the other day and they were talking about, you know, misogyny and nastiness to women and I had to say, “Try being an old woman, everybody treats you like an idiot.”
Mehdi Hasan: And some younger feminists, while agreeing with you on this point, they would say the problem is that you are maybe out of touch with some of the struggles of younger feminists today and the feminist movement and they point specifically, one of the most controversial issues, as you know associated with you is your position on transgender women and trans rights and the idea of excluding these women from the modern feminist struggle. You’ve said …
Germaine Greer: I’ve never said they should be excluded from the modern feminist struggle, what I’m …
Mehdi Hasan: Well, you’ve been accused of being, you’ve been accused of being transphobic.
Germaine Greer: I’ve never said it.
Mehdi Hasan: Because you said they are “ghastly parody driven by misogynistic beliefs”. You’ve said, “They’re not women.” How is that not exclusionary?
Germaine Greer: What am I excluding them from? I don’t understand. I mean, I’m not a Jew, I’m not an Aborigine, I’d love to be one or other or both but I’m not. That happens to be just the way people are organised or I don’t believe …
Mehdi Hasan: That’s fine, that’s your position. But you are excluding them, you can’t have it both ways.
Germaine Greer: I don’t believe that somebody can say to me, “You are not a woman, you’re a cis-woman, I’m the real thing.” I’m very happy to believe that men make better women than women do because we know from what it takes to turn you into a woman. We used to call it conditioning, nobody even mentions that anymore, where you learn how to dress, how to speak, how to love pink and all the other things that make you a girlie girl. We had to learn all of those things and they are fake, they are a masquerade.
Mehdi Hasan: You’ve been …
Germaine Greer: And now we have to accept the masquerade as the thing that is more real than we are at this point, as the author of the Female Eunuch, I can’t do anything else.
Mehdi Hasan: But you would accept that you are being exclusionary? Put aside the rights and wrongs of the issue.
Germaine Greer: What am I excluding them from?
Mehdi Hasan: They say they’re women and you say they’re not women, by definition that is exclusionary or are you going to question that definition as well?
Germaine Greer: I don’t know, what’s the group that they’re being excluded from?
Mehdi Hasan: But you stand by the position?
Germaine Greer: That they’re not women, yes I do.
Mehdi Hasan: Laurie Penny wants to come in.
Laurie Penny: Well, I think this distinction, this idea that it is somehow offensive to draw, to say, you know, you are a cis-woman, people used to say that about the word straight, people used to say, “Oh, I’m not straight, I don’t want people to call me straight, I’m just normal, those people over there are weird.” I think what the trans movement today is concerned about is making it clear that there is a spectrum of gender experience and just because gender is a made up construct and is an artefact of conditioning, it doesn’t mean that it’s not also a real thing that people suffer and that affects people’s bodies. You know, most trans people are not living in this stereotypical, you call them pantomime dames, that doesn’t actually reflect reality. Most trans people do not live like that and it’s stereotypical and offensive to suggest that they do.
Mehdi Hasan: Zoe, do you want to come in here?
Zoe Strimpel: You know, there does seem to be this incredibly strong reaction to, to the definition, “Is this person a woman? Is this person not?” And Germaine gets, you know, hugely pilloried or no-platformed for, sticking to one definition which other people disagree with, so it’s very interesting that people, when it comes down to it, are actually obsessed with the definition of woman. I think I would also say, you know, I just, I really worry about the fact that there’s this no platforming culture and I love this conversation, not because what you’re doing is what you’re supposed to be doing, which is engaging, you know, theoretically as feminists and you know, I, you can see the damage that, that no platforming type of things did to the Women’s Liberation Movement in the 1970s. It just shut everything down so.
Mehdi Hasan: Minna, on the issue itself, the question I put to Germaine about exclusion, do you think she’s guilty of excluding people from feminism?
Minna Salami: Absolutely. When you say that they are not women, even though they are trans women and furthermore, I’ve never read or heard or come across a trans woman saying “I have the exact same experiences as a cis-woman”, they’re very aware of the fact that they have unique experiences as trans women, just as I am aware as a woman of African heritage that there are certain experiences that I have had that none of you have had. That is what trans women are saying. So to, to dismiss that and to dismiss that they can be women with a set of unique experiences is absolutely exclusionary and it’s, don’t you find it, somehow dreadful that we are doing this work of exclusion and oppression that we as feminists are fighting at the same time?
Germaine Greer: Do you know one of the things that’s been happening over the course of my life is that women who had a raw deal when I started out are getting an even worse deal now, but nobody talks about it. You know, we can’t run maternity centres, they open and close like clams, women get sent hither and yon, we can’t explain miscarriage, so common, a catastrophe. Why don’t we understand menopause? Why don’t we understand …
Mehdi Hasan: But that’s not the fault of trans women, is it?
Germaine Greer: But nobody suggests …
Mehdi Hasan: It sounds like whataboutery – look at the problems over here, why can’t you deal with both?
Germaine Greer: No, no, but the point is I’m being told that I’m being exclusionary because I’m not taking on board Caitlyn Jenner’s problems. I can’t take them on board, I’m too concerned about the woman who died in the back of an ambulance in, during a crisis of postpartum psychosis because they couldn’t decide where to put her, she should never have died.
Mehdi Hasan: So Germaine, why not then say, so Germaine, why not, when interviewers like me or others come along and say, “Well, what’s your position?” why not say, “You know what, I don’t wanna talk about that”? Why make gratuitously offensive remarks, you know, you do? Come on, Laurie mentioned pantomime dames, ghastly parody, there’s stuff you’ve said, I can’t even say here because we’re on pre-watershed.
Germaine Greer: Hang on a minute, that happens to be a quotation from a book called The Whole Woman written years ago, I have not been going around making these statements, that is a quotation from a whole chapter about the fact that …
Mehdi Hasan: Germaine, I have quotes here from you from 2009, 2015, 2018. Do you have any regret for the way you’ve talked about this issue? Given this is a community which in the words of many human rights groups is facing an epidemic of violence? No one is saying you’re not entitled to your views, but the way you’ve expressed yourself on this, do you have any regrets?
Germaine Greer: I have had to listen to so much stuff about an issue that doesn’t interest me, I have been forced to talk about transgender as now, not once, not twice, but a thousand times and I think that the male to female transgender community is very good at talking about itself, very good at grabbing the headlines, appears all over the place and is caressed by all and sundry. That’s fine, go right ahead, but don’t expect me to join in, I’m not interested.
Mehdi Hasan: Some might say that’s a really good self-description as well, but let’s go to the audience here, who have been waiting patiently to come in. Raise your hands if you want to come in and ask Germaine some questions, that lady here in the front row.
Audience participant 1: Thank you, thank you. I’m from Solace Woman’s Aid and we work with women who’ve experienced domestic and sexual abuse. One of the things I wanted to speak to you about and ask you about is the lifelong experience of trauma that very many have gone through. What happens is that the blame that they experience from the courts, from the police, but also from people around and society is obviously catastrophic. #MeToo is part of a culture of change and we need that culture of change and I’m asking you, as an icon of feminism, to stand up and to name misogyny and to challenge that, rather than what you’re talking about in terms of rape and the courts.
Germaine Greer: Well, I’m forever attacking misogyny and trying to get people to believe or understand how pervasive it is and how unconscious it is and how children learn it from the time they’re small and I think I, I do understand about the lifelong state of abasement that can result from extended abuse from childhood onwards.
Mehdi Hasan: What about the trauma she talked about, you’ve been quoted as dismissing some of the trauma that, for example, rape victims have experienced.
Germaine Greer: That’s absolutely not true.
Mehdi Hasan: You have, you’ve mocked the idea of them suffering PTSD, for example.
Germaine Greer: Oh, listen, when somebody tells me that you’re more likely to suffer PTSD as a rape victim than you are as a veteran of foreign wars, something has gone seriously wrong.
Mehdi Hasan: And you say that in your, you say that in your position as a leading psychiatrist?
Germaine Greer: No, I say that in my position as a rape victim, thank you. I mean every rape victim is practically told …
Mehdi Hasan: Unfortunately, what happened to you was a horror, but it doesn’t give you the opportunity to speak for all women.
Germaine Greer: No, no, hang on a minute …
Mehdi Hasan: I mean there have been studies done, the World Health Organization says PTSD is associated consistently with sexual violence, one of the most traumatic events. You know more than the WHO?
Germaine Greer: Uh, yes, I think so in that case.
Mehdi Hasan: Wow, okay, interesting.
Germaine Greer: Think about it, the first thing that happens to you as a rape victim, is you get told that this has ruined your life, that this, you will never get over this.
Mehdi Hasan: That’s not what happens, Germaine. Sorry, that’s not what happens. You know that before even …
Germaine Greer: Have a look at the work up.
Mehdi Hasan: Well here’s, here’s a study, a US study found that in the first two to three hours after an assault, before people have even gone to the police, 96 percent of victims experience physical shaking, trembling and shock.
Germaine Greer: Yeah, that would happen to you if you were run over by a bike. I mean, really and truly, this is getting silly.
Mehdi Hasan: So you’re saying this, this is getting silly? The analogy between rape and being run over by a bike and I’m the silly one?
Germaine Greer: No, it’s the turning of, the turning into something that happens every day. We’ve already talked about the fact that rape is universal, rape occurs in practically in every house in the land, that non-consensual sex is everywhere and then you want to say and it’ll drive you mad and you’ll have PTSD, but I can’t be doing it.
Mehdi Hasan: I need to go back to the audience, but Laurie Penny has got her hand over her face.
Laurie Penny: I’m sorry, just the idea that, the idea that when you are, when you’ve experienced rape the first thing you’re told is that you’re meant to be traumatised for life, look as somebody who has also been raped. Well, the first thing I was told when I went to try and talk to someone about it was that I was a liar and, you know, nothing had happened to me and I swallowed that for 10 years, even though, you know, I experienced pain and trauma from that, and that’s what these movements are trying to do, they’re trying to actually make violence and trauma visible and de-normalise them because it’s not just the case that rape is universal, it’s that we think it’s okay, we think that these behaviours are normal and we put the blame and the shame on women, when we should be putting it on men.
Germaine Greer: I agree with that, do you not see that I agree with that?
Laurie Penny: Well, good.
Mehdi Hasan: Let’s go back to the audience, the lady here.
Audience participant 2: Hi, in regards to your feminism, how would you address someone who cannot simply slap down assault, women who are oppressed by race, class, ability, sexuality, in fear of losing a job, or in, in a vulnerable situation like a refugee camp, anything like that, in the principles of your feminism, feminism that’s supposed to be an encompassing field of study and an encompassing way of living?
Germaine Greer: Um, I’m not entirely sure that I quite understand the context of that, I mean I understand what you’re saying, I’m saying…
Mehdi Hasan: You’ve talked about people slapping it down, dealing with it instantly, not being victims, some people are not in the same situation, don’t have the same privileges.
Germaine Greer: What I was actually talking about when that particular statement had a context, was the fact that #MeToo has brought up these cases after as much as 20 years, when the Statute of Limitations means that there can be no criminal prosecution. Now, when it comes to intersectionality, there’s not a lot that I can say because I am what I am, I’m a white, middle-class academic. I am not God almighty. I don’t understand what it’s like to belong to a minority except that it’s pretty interesting being an Australian in England.
Mehdi Hasan: But Germaine, sorry to grab you on a contradiction, a moment ago you were extrapolating from your own horrific experience to make a sweeping judgement about what women experience after violence. Now you’re saying, “Well I can only speak for myself.”
Germaine Greer: Well, yes.
Mehdi Hasan: Okay, it’s a little bit of a contradiction.
Germaine Greer: No, I was speaking as myself as a rape victim, it may surprise you to learn that I am not a career rapee, I don’t spend my entire life as a rape victim.
Mehdi Hasan: That’s one of the phrases of yours that upsets a lot of people.
Germaine Greer: Oh, be upset, it’s upsetting.
Mehdi Hasan: Okay, the lady here and then the lady there.
Audience participant 3: Hi, my name is Fatu, I work with a local charity here in Oxford, called Oxford Against Cutting. Okay, so you have said in the past that the way the women of the Maghreb treat their genitals is their business. Are you saying that charities like us should pack our bag and go home? And you’ve also said that you wouldn’t even condemn female genital mutilation at all, how does that view fit in with the human rights agenda of saving all children from harm?
Germaine Greer: You and I both know that this is not a simple question. That there are many different ways of doing the cutting and they have different significance in different communities. So we, this is not an easy question but what annoys me is that we decide that African women or whoever, from whichever community, may not do these things to themselves.
Mehdi Hasan: I know this is complicated, but most people would say FGM, wrong, WHO says, “It’s a gross violation of human rights.”
Germaine Greer: Then you’d better stop American women and English women from doing it.
Mehdi Hasan: Okay, that’s nice whataboutery, the question is, do you condemn it?
Germaine Greer: No.
Mehdi Hasan: No, you don’t, you don’t condemn female genital mutilation?
Germaine Greer: Look we do …
Mehdi Hasan: There are lots of cultural practices that are horrific, that doesn’t make them defensible.
Germaine Greer: Oh for God’s sake, you can never finish a complicated point.
Laurie Penny: If somebody beats their child …
Mehdi Hasan: I let you speak for a while and then I asked at the end, are you for or against it? You never give a straight answer.
Germaine Greer: Let me explain to you, that the commonest operation on the female genitalia, in America, is the shortening of the labia minora, it’s practically the same operation and it is practised in great numbers.
Laurie Penny: But it is not practised on toddlers. We’re talking about children, we don’t beat, to beat a child, to cut a child’s genitals is so much worse.
Germaine Greer: Oh just a minute, genital cutting, genital cutting shouldn’t be carried out on children anyway.
Mehdi Hasan: Okay, so that’s your position, it shouldn’t be cutting, but adults is different, okay. We’re not gonna resolve this here.
Mehdi Hasan: Gentleman in the glasses.
Audience participant 4: You seem to me to be a contrarian, so my question is, when in particular should we listen to you and perhaps when not so much, you mention transgender issues?
Germaine Greer: You don’t have to listen to me at all. I don’t have to listen to you either. There’s no compulsion.
Mehdi Hasan: Do you accept the label of contrarian?
Germaine Greer: No. Why should I?
Mehdi Hasan: Yeah, a good answer. Okay, the lady here.
Audience participant 5: Many of your comments about #MeToo are quite flippant and I think made with kind of comedic intent, like you said something about Woody Allen should stop film making because he’s old rather than because of the alleged abuse of his younger daughter.
Germaine Greer: I never said any such thing, Christ, honestly.
Audience participant 5: Okay, well I’m sure in one of this big pack of papers there’s proof that you did say it, but that’s fine. We’ll do the contrarianism thing, that’s absolutely fine.
Germaine Greer: No, but just let me explain something …
Audience participant 5: No, before you explain something can I ask you something palpable because I picked up your book when I was 16 years old and that was my pathway into feminism and as you sit here before me, you are just totally incompatible with the theory that I’ve read, it’s like surely high up on your agenda as a feminist is just less rape, because you’re delineating what counts as rape or not, instead of having a conversation about what the psychosocial bases of rape is, why are men raping is a better conversation than does that count as rape or not?
Germaine Greer: I’m sorry, I don’t know why men are raping. I don’t know why men are raping and I don’t know which men are raping.
Audience participant 5: But that’s your responsibility as a feminist academic and you have written text that shows that you do know why men are raping, you do understand why there is a male hegemony, you do understand how patriarchy translates into controlling sexual violence, your own theory shows that, so I just don’t understand where you’re coming from now.
Germaine Greer: By the way the Female Eunuch is not a book of theory, I don’t know how you’ve worked that out.
Audience participant 5: Well what is it then?
Mehdi Hasan: Okay.
Audience participant 5: What was it supposed to be?
Germaine Greer: It’s a description of life as we lived it in 1969 when I wrote that book.
Mehdi Hasan: Given you’re not gonna agree and we’re running out of time, let me just do a follow, do you get, I know what the answer is gonna be, but I’ll ask anyway, do you get a sense of disappointment when you hear people who were once big fans of yours, now feeling disappointed in what you’re saying today?
Germaine Greer: I’ve never asked for or wanted a big fan.
Mehdi Hasan: With respect, that’s not what I asked, does it bother you at all, that people who once agreed with you, looked up to you, now are not?
Germaine Greer: I’m not worried about being disagreed with, why would I be?
Mehdi Hasan: Just wondering, okay, let’s go to the lady there in the glasses.
Audience participant 6: I’m a huge #MeToo campaign supporter and the reason why I supported the campaign was because it was an eye-opening campaign for me, it made me realise how many women around me had been affected. While I agree with you that a lot of women in the Hollywood, who have used sexual exploitation to climb up the ladder, somehow weakened the voice, strong women like you, when you do not support the #MeToo campaign, you weaken the voice too. What we really need is you to support the young women in this campaign and let us move ahead in this fight.
Germaine Greer: I’m sorry to be crabby about this, but when Uma Thurman tells me that Harvey Weinstein, who was clearly her good friend, pushed her down somewhere and then tried to expose himself and generally gives the account that she was in danger but she escaped and I think, “He tried to expose himself? What stopped him? How does he go to the toilet? If he can’t work out how to expose himself?” Why did she give us this narrative, what does it mean?
Mehdi Hasan: You always do this, you always have a go at Uma Thurman but there are plenty of actresses and non-actresses, his assistant, a marketing executive, all of whom were his quote, unquote, whatever you want to call it, you say victims, others survivors, do you not see what you’re doing by picking on the one person you don’t like and … dismissing them?
Germaine Greer: The reason, the reason for naming them is that they could finance the whole thing, so far I’ve been told that there are civil suits being brought, but I haven’t found them and I do nothing but look for them.
Mehdi Hasan: It’s your dismissive tone I think that it bothers people, Zoe and then Laurie and then we have to finish. Very briefly.
Zoe Strimpel: I just, I don’t think we, younger feminists do need Germaine to validate and sanctify what they’re doing. It’s okay for you to be appalled and disappointed. I personally am glad that Germaine is shaking things up, ideological diversity is great, we all need it. I think we’re a little bit too prone to warrant, so yeah, we don’t need Germaine’s approval.
Mehdi Hasan: Laurie, briefly, Laurie and Minna very briefly, final words.
Laurie Penny: Well, I’m all for ideological diversity but the question is how, is somebody who is still regarded by many as an icon supposed to support young women in their current struggle and I think the answer has to be either by getting behind it and showing the solidarity in a critical way or by getting out of the way because this is a distraction. I’m sorry, it’s disappointing.
Germaine Greer: But I didn’t invite myself here tonight and I’ll tell you something else: If there’s anything I don’t want to be, it’s an icon. I grew up with holy pictures and I don’t want to be one, and I’ve never pretended to be one. I’m not speaking on women’s behalf, I’m trying to talk sense, especially in an environment where we seem to be talking a lot of sloganising nonsense.
Mehdi Hasan: Minna needs to come in, briefly.
Minna Salami: That’s wonderful that you don’t want to position yourself as an icon, but you are to very many women, so at least, at the very least Germaine, could you not just look at #MeToo for what it is, rather than have your single narrative that it’s about Uma Thurman and Meryl Streep. #MeToo has been translated to Chinese, Yiddish, Arabic, Finnish, you have women in Nigeria, Kenya, India, Brazil galvanising and organising and using #MeToo. I was at the EU Parliament where hundreds of feminists took over the EU Parliament on the back end of #MeToo to speak about women gaining power in Europe. So can you at least acknowledge that there’s all this other stuff going on, it’s not just Hollywood celebrities speaking about taking cocaine with Harvey Weinstein?
Germaine Greer: Wait until something happens, I mean, signing hashtag MeToo, means nothing.
Mehdi Hasan: But, but why be so negative, you say, “Sorry to be crabby,” why be so crabby?
Germaine Greer: Cos I want to be crabby, I can be as crabby as I like, just like you.
Mehdi Hasan: Even if it’s, even if it’s unhelpful?
Germaine Greer: I don’t have to be helpful. I’m one person, I’m being told to help all the women of the world or something or say things that will be accepted by everybody.
Mehdi Hasan: Let me ask you this last question, on #MeToo, you know, Laurie said at the start, you know, we’ve only been six months, seven months in, you keep saying, “Let’s see what happens,” do you have any regrets about how you’ve handled it at all?
Germaine Greer: I don’t do regrets.
Mehdi Hasan: Well, what do you call a person who has no regrets?
Germaine Greer: Dead, probably. But I mean what am I supposed …
Mehdi Hasan: Do you think there’s any chance of you undoing your position on #MeToo, the last question? Any chance?
Germaine Greer: If they suddenly pull the rabbit out of the hat, if they actually managed to bring a case that they can actually win, but I don’t think they’re going to, that’s my feeling, but when they do, I’ll cheer.
Mehdi Hasan: On that very negative note, Germaine Greer, thanks for joining me on Head to Head and thanks to our panel.
Mehdi Hasan: Thank you so much.