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Seven things we learned from Germaine Greer

Australian scholar and public intellectual Germaine Greer is one of the major voices of second wave feminism, and on her 80th birthday controversy still swirls around her. Sitting down with Samira Ahmed, these are the pearls of wisdom she shared.

1. Criticism does not make her cry

“That’s the point of writing anything, is to get criticised. I’m not going to go home and cry because you disagree with me,” says Greer. She once appeared in a collection of Australian essays about ‘ratbags’: “Daddy was hurt that I was called a ratbag. I’m not. Doesn't bother me.”

2. Women today are not snowflakes

Greer believes that women are still discovering who they are: “I think women have changed. That’s the thing that gets me. They are so much stronger than my mother's generation was, they are so brave. So many of them have walked out of marriages that were humiliating,”she points out. “Being condescended to, being left out, being taken for granted, and just thinking, 'hang on a minute I’d quite like to be living with someone who wants to talk to me –that’d be good'. And they go.”

3. Shakespeare informed almost everything she does

“I’m always surprised at how he got there before me, or how he was lurking the whole time. I’m now thinking about writing a whole book about rape. I’m shuddering at the thought, because it’s so depressing. But there in the description in Henry V about what will happen if you don’t surrender,” she explains. “It’s again, and again, and again, and again.”

4. The Gentileschi painting in The National is mediocre

Greer has always championed women’s work, but get’s anxious about adjusting her own standards. Whilst not having a problem with mediocre work hanging on her wall, she does have a problem with it hanging in a gallery. “It is a rather ordinary genre picture, which is assumed to be Artemisia [Gentileschi]," she point out. "Now this is what’s so annoying, that’s what everybody thought about women’s work, that everything was a self-portrait... I think it’s really important to try and appreciate the work in a more principled way.”

5. Women work too hard

"They work too hard, and they still do, it drives me mad, they take it too seriously," she says. "They think the tripos [an exam at Cambridge] will really show their intellectual stature, which it can’t possibly do. It terrorises women in a way that it doesn’t terrorise men, so they work too hard. They were insecure in what they did."

6. Old women can be great exhibitionists

Greer's professor once asked her why Elizabeth Tudor had changed her dress style so that she was "décolleté".

“I said something about old ladies sometimes becoming exhibitionists. And what’s really funny about that is she had a habit of sitting on the chair with one leg on the rung so you could see her knickers.”

7. Silencing doesn't work, it only makes voices louder

“Why people can’t hear unpalatable truths I don’t know. If you want to confute something, you need to hear it, you need to hear the argument, and then you need to actually spend brain power working out why that argument is not valid, or not tolerable. Generally speaking this kind of noise is part of what I regard as masculine behaviour. It’s a threat. It’s threatening behaviour, it’s meant to make you afraid, and shame on them.”

Listen to the full interview online now.

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