Germaine Greer - Disappearing Women

The Brindley Theatre, Runcorn
Sunday 16th February

Reviewed by Kathryn Lamble

Arguably the most famous face in second wave feminism, Germaine Greer is back (not that she ever went away) with a new talk, Disappearing Women, which took place in Runcorn's Brindley Theatre.

Proving to be just as astute, engaged and troubling as she has always been, Greer opened her hour-long talk with a series of statistics on the low birth-rate of female babies in the Indian subcontinent. She proceeds to examine possible explanations for this; most interestingly, she confronts the reality of women who choose to abort their female foetuses owing to the systemic neglect of female children in certain areas, and why for some women this is a compassionate act, despite the illegality of gender-specific abortions.

Greer does a remarkable job at giving women agency in ways that are overlooked or taken for granted. She breathes life into normal women's stories that could otherwise risk becoming assigned to fringe concerns. These are, in fact, very real problems faced by women across the globe.

Throughout the hour, Greer tackles a number of issues somewhat haphazardly - some successfully, and others with less sensitivity than was maybe necessary. I found myself wishing she had spoken more on the issue of the female body as cultural commodity. A few brief comments on the lack of bodily diversity in visual culture and a pervasive obsession with 'cleanliness' and grooming that implies an inherent dirtiness about the female-sexed body had much potential but, frustratingly, weren't expounded upon.

She's not lost her trademark sense of humour and gusto ("Men do the washing up and think they deserve an OBE") but still remains problematic and occasionally divisive; I found myself wincing at her bemoaning of the length of skirts and level of alcohol consumption in young women, both of which comments risked straying in to victim-blaming territory.

Ultimately, Greer's answer to these issues seemed to focus keenly on our re-assessment of and joining up to The Women's Institute. Rid yourself of the conservative image you may have of this very British peculiarity, she says, and instead start to view it as an organisation of women with the power and voice to send shivers down Westminster's spine, to participate in policy making and shift focus firmly on the still very troubling social and political position of women today.

It was a strange and somewhat downbeat note to end on, feeling not arrived at but happened upon, and which didn't manage to weave together the multiple strands that Greer attempted to cover during the course of the afternoon. The hesitant applause at the end of her talk hinted at the audience's confusion as to whether that was really the note on which she was choosing to end.

Nevertheless, it's obvious that Greer retains great passion and vivacity for the subject of women's rights and proves to be a rousing speaker with no less revolutionary flourish and rebel spirit than that allowed her to rise to prominence 40 years ago.

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