Give Germaine a Break

Give Germaine a break. When did we women want go back to being all prissy and needing protection?

In my day, very slightly after that of Germaine Greer, we females fought hard for some control over our decisions about clothing. We no longer wanted to have to wear white gloves or else the school prefects patrolling trains would put us on detention. We did not want to be told we could not wear slacks to dinner or out of our University dormitories (what a multitude of sins an academic gown fortunately covered). We were disgusted that we had to wear hats in court or we could not appear for our clients or to sport high heeled shoes on formal occasions. Even well into the eighties we could not wear trousers if teaching in schools.

Through being very outspoken and, at times obstinately flouting convention, we became able to choose to ignore these strictures and, like men, to dress comfortably and exactly as we liked most of the time. Work places can still and should be able to demand a uniform or a  certain level of respect in employees’ clothing if they deal with the public as long as these demands are gender neutral, but in our private lives we are on our own.

But this certainly does not mean that what men and women choose to wear does not send messages and that no one can comment on these messages. Even my dog knows that when I put on sneakers I am going for a walk and, when I wear certain clothes, I am going out.

If we wear a burqa we may expect to be treated as if we do not wish to have too much intimate conversation with people with whom we are unfamiliar. If we show a lot of spare flesh we may expect people to think we want to look extremely sexual or even perhaps a “slut”.  If we are men and dress in braces and bow ties we may expect people to imagine we may be very extroverted and if men have their stubbies so low as to show “bum cracks” we might expect some people to be mildly nauseated at their tastes. But we can still dress like this. We can cop on the chin what people say about it. I often comment on the ridiculousness of the male tie as a clothing accessory.

If a woman wears, on a suit coat, an addition called in the “old days” a “peplum”, one can assume that she thinks her bottom is too large and needs to be concealed.

Like Germaine Greer, I think this attitude is germane to our opinion of a Prime Minister. I do not want my Prime Minister, or any of her “minders”  for that matter, to be focused on her appearance or to think it is part of the bigger picture. What matters is what comes out of her mouth and what decisions she makes.

But more importantly, I think every one can already see this fear of hers. What is wrong about saying it publicly?  As long as we have the freedom to dress as we like within the bounds of unoffensiveness, we must also have the freedom to comment on what we draw from others’ choices, also within similar bounds of unoffensiveness.


About Anne Powles

I am retired from paid employment. During my working life I have been variously and sometimes contemporaneously, wife, mother of four, lawyer, teacher and psychologist. I have also been a serial education junkie. As are we all, I have been an observer of the world around me. Here I have recorded some of my memories, observations and theorisings.
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4 Responses to Give Germaine a Break

  1. My objection to what GG said was not about her criticism of JG’s fashion sense. It was her constant repetition of her comment about the size of the PM’s arse. I thought that was plain bad manners. As you know, I grew up in GG’s [and your] era and I liked her work very much, but she seems hellbent now on going out of her way to be outrageous just for the sake of it. That gives a very different impression of her qualities for a generation who only know her by what they see now than ours. We knew she was out to make a splash then but it was on behalf of women. I’m not sure this furthers the legitimate [dare I use that word?:)] goals I think women have.

  2. Anne Powles says:

    Thanks for your comment.
    I agree that GG is quite rude (in a manner that I always prefer not to be) but I think this has always been the case. She was known for several quite rude outbursts as a younger woman and has not ever been particular about her choice of words. I agree she was “out to make a splash” in those days. She has always been much more acceptably moderate in her language and apparently considered in her writings.
    I am particularly interested in your opinion about this as my son @BriP74 told me that he thought GG was trying, these days, to “parody herself”. I am not sure that I agree with that but I am still thinking about what that might accomplish for her.
    On the other hand I thought her book “The Change”, essentially about societal attitudes to older women, was very good and am wondering if that is a current motivator. Several comments that I have heard and read refer to her age in reference to what she said on the Q&A program (and what she herself was wearing). I wonder if the attitude to what she said would have been different had she been a younger feminist?

  3. No doubt she’s never been afraid to be outrageous and generally speaking I admire that, because it takes courage, and sometimes the outrage is well deserved. I don’t think she’s parodying herself; I think mainly she’s a woman with 40 years more life on this planet than she had in those early days. I haven’t read The Change but it would be surprising to me if she didn’t write now from her age based on a lifetime of observation/experience.

    But my point is a generational one, and the time of Female Eunuch must seem like ancient history to someone born in the 1980s+. All they now see is her in Grumpy Old Women mode. So to me she’s not in danger of the self-parody but in creating a caricature of herself, and likely to be taken less seriously than she deserves to be on other counts. I’d love to know what an under 30 audience watching QandA make of her. The proof would be in that pudding.

    I’d have thought she might have shown some restraint in speaking about the body of a woman whose leadership qualities should not be classed as relevant to the style of clothes she wears. If she’s trying to help out by making the PM more appealingly dressed [for whom?], is this not pandering to the dictates of the superficial, and the opposite of trying to take down the ‘attractiveness’ barriers that women have had to factor in for all this time? People were quick to ask for a clamp down on attacking Gina Rinehart and Clive Palmer for physical appearance, so it seems to me that shouting about JG’s appearance very loudly on national TV as if it were the most important thing about her leadership just seems a bit paradoxical to me after a lifetime of denying all this should affect women’s careers.

    I might be way out of step here, but like you I don’t mind getting an ear/eyeful from another direction on a topic! Never too old or scared to learn….

    Your fond buddy, writing very much off the top of my head 🙂


  4. Anne Powles says:

    I must agree with you that to the younger generation Germaine Greer does come across as being in the “Grumpy Old Woman” mode and this does not help her to get her point across to them.

    If I were speech writing for Germaine Greer, her first comments on Q&A would have been something like this, “Our Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, is a very successful intelligent woman. She has achieved a high office. It saddens me to think that in this day and age she is still so uncomfortable about her body image in a way a male Prime Minister would not be, that she has to wear ridiculous jackets to unsuccessfully conceal what we all must now know that she considers to be a physical flaw, the size of her bottom. It is a shame that she cannot set an example to young women that her physical appearance is irrelevant to her position and her value to the country”. Her comments on her second appearance on Q&A would have been, “I am flattered that the Prime Minister listened to my comments and has discontinued wearing the offensive jackets I mentioned on my last appearance”.

    Unfortunately that would have been so boring she would not have got another gig!

    I think GG was probably talking to those like me and my cohorts who have deplored that Ms Gillard felt that she had, not to dress in a more attractive way, but in a way that just, in reality, revealed her as vulnerable and as concerned about physical appearance beyond the point of just being respectful to her audience. I was hoping she would also forego some of the other physical alterations she made after her appointment to the positioned PM for the same reasons, such as her additional make up.

    However, that we have to have such discussions shows that feminism still has far to go.

    I do agree it is rude to talk about the physical attribute of such as Gina Rinehart and Clive Palmer. The comments on Ms Gillard, however, were quite different as they were triggered by the way she apparently felt about her own appearance as shown by clothing, and the flow on effect of this to women as a whole.

    The wave of young post modern feminists and their very public comments on the media in equally direct language, but less meaningfully, than that of GG also concern me , as do their obvious needs to flaunt certain styles of overtly female dress and body decoration that we fought against for years. However the conviction of many feminists over the years, such as myself, that just to set an example and live in a manner that ignored outdated restrictive conventions for women would be enough, has proved wrong. For proof of that just look at stiletto heels and other weird shoes for women, including the new thong boots!

    Perhaps we need Germaine Greer to restart the conversation, even though it is uncomfortable and done in a way I would agree sounded gauche if not plain rude.

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