Tonight, the feminist author Germaine Greer is purportedly arguing that the #MeToo movement has gone too far in a public event hosted by the New York Times in partnership with the How To Academy. Even though the paper of record has taken the lead in chronicling abuses of power, the organizers of the debate have promised an event where “leading public figures go head to head,” a tête-à-tête of female voices, in other words. But like the hype before a prizefight, it’s mostly a tactic to drum up publicity especially as Greer isn’t against #MeToo, despite comments that could be perceived as hostile, she actually wants to see the movement redress the balances of power.
This morning, the BBC interviewed Greer ahead of tonight’s debate asking the Australian author to clarify why she’s arguing against a movement that advocates for women’s rights, and Greer responded that she isn’t—citing her pleas with the organizers not to bill her stance in such a reductive way. “This is what the public has been told,” Greer said of her supposedly anti- #MeToo stance. “I’ve pleaded with John Gordon [the debate organizer] not to do that. I don’t think [#MeToo] has gone too far, and I don’t think we should be debating as if we all disagree.”
When the Australian author wrote the Female Eunuch just over fifty years ago, it was an international bestseller at a time when women couldn’t get a mortgage, or even buy a car, unless their husband or father countersigned the documents. Never one to shy away from radical stances, as a public intellectual she’s rarely played nice. Brazen and forthcoming, her audiences have never had to read between the lines. Her stance is clear: women are too polite or nice to say that men hate them, despite the reality that the vast amount of abuse women endure is perpetrated by men.
There are reasons that Greer’s position could be perceived as hostile towards women who have endured sexual violence or harassment. In the same interview, she went on to say the women who signed a six-figure deal to keep quiet had done “a dishonorable thing” and were “career rapees.” Victim blaming is an antithetical approach to #MeToo, but it should be noted, so is pitting women against each other for the sake of entertainment.
Looking more closely at the intent behind Greer’s occasionally inartful statements, it’s clear that she’s arguing that #MeToo is far from an equalizing event. The origins of this movement, spurred by women of color, has been turned into its own kind of content, one that pushes traffic and sells tickets to debates. As Greer explained in today’s BBC interview, a new legal approach for sexual harassment is what all women should be advocating for. “What’s clear to me is that the law regarding rape doesn’t work and the concepts of it are very confused,” Greer said. “Some people think it’s a crime of violence when often there’s no violence involved at all.”
Isn’t this, after all, exactly what the #MeToo movement is about—exposing exploitation and abuse of women that has been deigned as normal? Or take, another one of Greer’s “controversial gripes”: “Power is power, ultimately, and the people protesting are people who don’t have the power.” Calling out the power structure for what it is, one built on deep inequalities between men and women, isn’t controversial or contra the movement—it’s actually the kind of clarity required of any meaningful social progress. But clarity has never been much of a hook for those selling tickets.