Germaine Greer ‘On Rape’: 6 Controversial Talking Points From The Writer’s New Book

She has already sparked outrage.
Germaine Greer
Germaine Greer
Mint via Getty Images

Germaine Greer is no stranger to outrage and her latest book, ‘On Rape’, is bound to cause controversy.

The publication – which, at 88 pages, is really an essay – sees the writer address many aspects of the crime; tackling everything from consent and relationships to trials and punishments.

Here are six talking points from on ‘On Rape’ that are likely to spark conversation...

Greer’s Definition Of Rape

The first line of the book sees Greer declare that the word rape “used in this essay will apply only to the penetration of the vagina of an unwilling human female by the penis of a human male”, adding that her reason for doing so is to “declutter” the “category of rape”.

Before the book was even published, this decision caused controversy and reviewing ‘On Rape’ over the weekend, author Naomi Wolf wrote: “There are so many things wrong with this deeply ill-informed statement that it’s hard to know where to begin.”

In her The Times review, Wolf disclosed that she was raped at the age of seven and explained: “I was orally raped on the first night, and vaginally raped the following day.

“Does the first night somehow not count?” she asked. “I can assure Greer that the first night was no less traumatic than the next day.”

‘Rape Is A Jagged Outcrop In The Vast Monotonous Landscape Of Bad Sex’

In May, Greer was met with outrage when she took part in a Hay Festival discussion about rape and made numerous comments that now appear in print form.

Understandably, her previous statement that “rape is just bad sex” was not well-received and in the new essay, Greer attempts to explain her thinking, lengthening the sentence to include the words above.

Recalling a story from a friend, whose husband would “often” wake her up in the night “for sex that she didn’t want”, Greer explains that she told the friend she was “probably” raped. She later asserts that while “stranger rapes” happen, the reality of most sexual assaults is “less spectacular, common, unapologetic and entirely unavenged”.

Her defence of the “rape is bad sex” comment gives the impression that a better way of wording it – which could have caused far less controversy – would have been: “Some bad sex is actually rape.”

Her Comments On The Judicial System

At numerous points, Greer makes observations and arguments relating to rape and judicial systems, using examples from around the globe.

These range from the sensible – pointing out that no other violent crime trial would require the complainant to prove they hadn’t consented – to the bizarre, as she claims that if juries have to rely on the victim’s claim she didn’t consent, “we will have to reduce the penalties for rape”.

Germaine Greer at a 2015 literature festival
Germaine Greer at a 2015 literature festival
Mint via Getty Images

After asserting this early on – and correctly observing that her remark is sure to shock readers – Greer returns to the argument and confusingly claims the amount of times a crime is committed should affect the punishment, writing: “Given the prevalence of sexual assault [...] we have to wonder why the sentences are so long.”

Greer also advocates for alternative punishment methods which, she claims, would help rape survivors, making the case for “restorative justice” that would see survivors have the chance for mediation with their attacker.

‘Joystick vs Weapon?’

Yes, this reference to penises is the title of an entire section of the book – and it’s here that Greer makes a series of her boldest and most confusing leaps.

Her argument on why women shouldn’t “fear” rape starts with the assertion that men have “foolish” names for their penises and somehow ends with talk of women posting online to say they have enjoyed being raped.

It also includes an assertion on rape fantasies that is a controversial point of its own…

‘Women Do Fantasise About Being Raped’

Greer backs up this claim by referencing a university study with a sample size of just 355, following it up with comments on female “misconceptions” about rape, that are accompanied by no evidence at all.

Her sources in the essay as a whole are incredibly varied and mean that academic journals, Bertrand Russell and MailOnline articles all feature – and the last page of the essay includes a quote from a John Donne poem.

The Absence Of #MeToo

Perhaps wisely, given that she previously said the women involved in the campaign were “whinging”, Greer sidesteps direct mention of Me Too – but it feels like an misstep given how huge the movement is.

She does address other systems which encourage women to speak out though, mentioning the “Shitty Media Men” list that circulated as the movement was gaining pace last year.

Greer also discusses Callisto, a system used by 13 US colleges that allows women who have been sexually assaulted to upload an encrypted report on the incident. If it matches with another account, both stories get shared with the university, which can then take action.

Greer criticises the universities using this system, and those who contributed to the “Shitty Media Men” list” for “bypassing the judicial system”.

Despite the fact she frequently states the judicial system fails rape victims, Greer fails to joins the dots and consider why women might decide to take protecting each other into their own hands.


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