Germaine Greer’s feminist philosophy is, to say the least, problematic, and her track record on any other kind of anti-oppression work is absolute bollocks. We’ve been over here for a bit in our irrelevant little corner of the blogosphere talking about agency and how, when certain segments of the population talk about sex workers, it sounds an awful lot like they’re saying that the effect of past physical, emotional and sexual abuse, not to mention drug addiction or alcoholism, has rendered these women nearly brainless, helpless pawns tossed about in a sea of patriarchal fatalism, salvageable only by the kind hand of a feminism that understands that only the eradication of porn by way of a declaration of its suckiness that we’ll all sign before we move to our penetration-free island. And simultaneously, Germaine Greer is publishing very similar arguments in a pretty damn widely circulated publication, only this time, she’s talking about Australian Aborigines rendered powerless to not beat people by rage at their experience of racism.
See how that sounds an awful lot like sympathy? It’s understandable that people would feel rage if they’ve been victimized by an incredibly racist society, if they’ve experienced horrific abuse, both personal and systemic, and if they’ve watched those they love experience the same abuse. That rage needs to be acknowledged and respected and addressed. None of this healing shit is easy. And it’s not okay to send it violent forces that will perpetuate the cycles of racist violence under the guise of increasing vigilance with regard to spousal abuse, child abuse, and sexual violence.
But then, see how it also sounds an awful lot like saying that “these people” are beyond help, that their rage, their victim-status, their place in the cycle of violence, is now a given, an immutable reality, and well, given the circumstances, we can’t really expect much better of them? Call me crazy, but if you’re talking as though entire populations of people are incapable of making basic moral decisions, I don’t think, in practical terms, it makes all that much of a difference if you argue that it’s because of centuries of colonial violence or because of genetic inferiority, especially if you’re speaking in these fatalistic, completely solution-free terms. I’m not denying the impact of abuse on one’s psychological makeup, I’m not denying the existence of a rage that is destructive to self and other, and I’m certainly not denying the feelings of hopelessness, despair and yes, anger, that characterize addiction.
But none of that makes a human being stop being a human being and an attitude born of genuine compassion has to see that. It has to work from a place that considers how to get through the layers of destruction and rage and let that human being just truly be. It has to be collaborative and cooperative and in no way can it be condescending. If someone is playing out hir self-hate on the bodies of others or on hir own body (whether that be through self-mutilation, addiction, or sexual behaviour/work that really has become a trap or an expression of a complete lack of self-worth), that’s not okay. In my experience with people who have done any or all of those things because of that self-hate, on some level, they usually know that. There’s a word for those who say that the poor dear just can’t help it, things are just so bad for hir, sie has suffered so much – “enabler”. It doesn’t help, and it nearly inevitably includes the comforting ability of said enabler to continue to see hirself as superior, the other as almost…well, subhuman.
This agency thing matters. This agency thing is really this human thing, and whether it be Germaine Greer with her Pontius Pilate hand-washing routine or the various members of the blogosphere “save the whores” brigade, missing it means, flat out, that you are participating in dehumanization.