Friday, September 10, 2004

Orthodox Germaine?

Germaine Greer's latest thoughts to the world didn't receive much coverage in Melbourne. Speaking at the University of Western Australia she claimed that modern feminism's greatest achievement was a high divorce rate. She said that compared to her early feminist days,

The big change is the divorce rate. Exactly the thing that people tear their hair out about is exactly the thing I am very proud of.

Even more revealingly Germaine immediately went on to say,

But life for these (divorced) women is difficult. The price of their liberty has been taking on a massive amount of toil. This is because women misunderstand the corporate world. They think you are meant to work in the corporate world, when you are in fact meant to take credit for other people's work.

So Germaine's current position is that a high divorce rate is something to be proud of as it restores "liberty" to women, who are then free to compete with men in the corporate world.

This is something of a return to feminist orthodoxy for Ms Greer. Feminists accept the liberal principle that we are made human by our freedom to act as we will in any direction. Therefore, what feminists aim at is female independence and autonomy.

Independence and autonomy are better achieved through divorce than marriage, so it's not illogical (once you accept liberal first principles) for Germaine to be proud of the high divorce rate.

Similarly, since left liberals assume that "justice" means an equalisation in the power of competing wills, it's logical for Germaine to see male economic power as something unjust and oppressive to women. So it's understandable (within the terms of liberalism) that Germaine would want to release cohorts of newly divorced women into the corporate world to compete with men (though she seems to believe that women can compete successfully without actually having to work hard).

Germaine hasn't always been so orthodox in her feminism. She went through a period where she had to come to terms with her failure to partner successfully, and, even more importantly, her failure to achieve motherhood.

In 1991, far from celebrating high divorce rates, she wrote that "Most societies have arranged things so that a family surrounds and protects mother and child" and she complained of "our families having withered away" with relationships becoming "less durable every year".

Unhappily, Ms Greer's motherhood impulses seem to have died away now and been forgotten, and she is no longer interested in upholding stable family relationships as a way to support mothers and children.

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