Germaine Greer: Equality, Liberation and Creativity

Last night I went to see Germaine Greer talking at the Sydney Festival. I have long been a fan of Greer—that doesn’t mean that I agree with everything she says or does—but she is, in my view, a deep cultural thinker that always throws up interesting questions.

After last night, I came away with a new view on the difference between gender equality and female liberation that I had not been aware of before.

One of the issues with gender equality that I have struggled with is that often it appears as though it is about making sure that women get the same as men. So we get the right to work for the same pay, for example. Now, while this is important, in many ways it limits the opportunity for women to decide what their version of equality might look like. What men do has set the standard and in our search for equality we seek to aspire to that standard.

Greer prefers female liberation, which she sees as women being liberated from all the things that hold them back from creating their own futures. This would include childcare, cleaning and the broader unpaid community roles that women often occupy. If we liberated women from these roles, would could potentially have the opportunity to create their own futures to their own standards.

One key point for Greer in this was the ability for women to be able to access their own creativity. She feels that male and female creativity is different. While male creativity is often focused on a concrete result (something that requires a plinth, as Greer put it), she sees female creativity as an ongoing attempt to mould the environment around them. We see this in the role of women as the homemaker, but what, says Greer, if women were able to take that creative element and have more power in relations to how we create our built environment and how our built environment relates to our natural environment. Would we have more child-friendly cities, for example?

She also made a point that I often think eludes policy makers when it comes to female workforce participation and child care arrangements. Women, she noted, often like to be with their children and so asking them to subscribe to 10 hours of work and commuting five days a week is in conflict with this. Having affordable childcare is great and necessary, but it doesn’t solve the internal conflicts that many women have about simply not being around enough for their children.

Finally – I used a critical thinking technique to listen to Greer. There is a technique called ‘methodological belief and methodological doubt’ by an academic called Peter Elbow. This suggests that one way to explore your thinking on a topic is first of all to believe it completely and see how that feels/sits with you, and then to doubt it completely and see how that sits with you. Then take time to reflect on your position.

Too often we think that critical thinking is about criticising something—how often do we listen to people talking with a voice in our head disagreeing with them, or looking for holes in what they are saying. At that point, we are not really listening, rather we are waiting for them to stop talking so that we can say our piece.

Last night when I was listening to Greer I found myself doing this—mentally disagreeing with her and taking apart what she was saying. When I noticed this, I decided to use the technique of belief and doubt to listen to what she was saying. Believing everything that she said really opened up for me a fresh comprehension of her point of view—and with that she achieved what she set out to do—she got me thinking.