Feminist icon Germaine Greer

Why Germaine Greer is wrong on rape

The latest book from the great feminist thinker is a total muddle
September 17, 2018

According to Germaine Greer, rape is not an “extraordinary act carried out by monsters.” Instead, it is a commonplace act, far more likely to happen at the hands of a thoughtless partner than those of a violent stranger. For the most part, it also goes unpunished. Only a tiny number of cases reach the courts. Those that do usually fail, and often create additional trauma for the victim. We need to find a new approach.

Greer, a giant of feminist thought and a rape survivor herself, has also become one of the movement’s most controversial thinkers, alienating herself from a new generation of feminists via a stream of controversial assertions. The controversy in this long essay lies not in her claim that non-consensual sex is far more routine than we care to think. That point is widely accepted: the #MeToo movement has sparked conversations about consent that confirmed it. The problems with the criminal justice process are also well documented.

It is Greer’s conclusion that is troubling: if rape is so common, and prosecution so futile, we need to stop treating it as an exceptional crime. Punishments should be reduced to encourage juries to reach guilty verdicts. Restorative justice—mediation between the perpetrator and victim—should be pursued more often, allowing women to reclaim the narrative of their experience.

In this muddle of an essay it is not always clear why Greer believes this. At times, she points to problems with courts or confusion around consent. At others, she seems to question whether rape is such a traumatic experience at all, placing it on the spectrum of “bad sex” and suggesting it is the discourse around rape, rather than the act itself, that causes the damage. Bizarrely, she also discusses the existence of “rape fantasies” among women, although why these are pertinent to the treatment of real-life rape is not clear. On the back cover of the book The Independent says: “Greer dares to think the unthinkable.” True, but not everyone would take it as praise.

On Rape by Germaine Greer (Bloomsbury, £12.99)