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Caroline Farrow: Who would have thought it? Germaine Greer as a champion of motherhood


If regular Conservative Women readers were asked to nominate a woman who most reflected their values, Germaine Greer probably wouldn’t be the first name that came to mind. After all, isn’t she supposed to be one of our bete noirs – a feminist?!

Well actually she is, but unlike the majority of feminists, Greer’s brand of feminism is one that The Conservative Woman can actually get behind, or up to a certain point at least. No shrinking violet, never afraid to speak her mind, Greer doesn’t waste her time with the adolescent navel-gazing so typical of today’s brand of feminist. She doesn’t want to waste her time with neuroses about body-image or bewailing that men tend to lust over attractive young women. No Greer is telling women to grow up, take responsibility and live life on your own terms.

While acknowledging the pressures upon women are perhaps greater now than they ever have been, instead of launching into the perennial feminist narrative of victimhood, while slamming the cosmetics industry for exploiting women’s natural anxieties about growing older, Greer also has little truck for those famous women who have succumbed to and perpetuated such fears. Speaking of her peer Jane Fonda, who is just a year older but who sports the smooth unlined and dewy complexion of a twenty year old, Greer unkindly asks whether or not Fonda had a brain replacement at the same time as her hip, but sagely notes ‘there must be more to life’, think of the more worthy things she could have done with her time and money!

And while I don’t endorse gratuitously insulting other women, or men for that matter, one has to admit that Greer’s bluff Antipodean candour makes a refreshing change from the special pleading of those feminists, which undermines their mantras about gender theory. If there is no actual difference between men and women, why then do they act as though women are a fragile species who are unable to cope with and therefore must be protected from, the gendered and triggering taunts of men?

What Greer has definitively proved for me with her latest controversial remarks on IVF , surrogacy and Elton John, is that she is a proper, old-school feminist who actually dares to address the fact that discussions about femininity have to confront and incorporate motherhood. Speaking at the Hay literary festival over the weekend, Greer attacked the fact that Elton John’s legal husband, is actually listed as ‘mother’ on their children’s birth certificate. “I’m sorry” she said incredulously, ‘that will give you an idea of how the concept of motherhood has emptied out. It’s gone, it’s deconstructed”.

The remark could not have been more timely, coinciding with the result of the Irish referendum on gay marriage. What I could not understand was how, especially on the intellectually stifling boards of Mumsnet where group think prevails, anyone, particularly mothers themselves, could be mindlessly trotting out the Lennon McCartney platitude, that when it comes to motherhood, ‘All you need is love’.

How could women be selling themselves so short, I wondered. How could they deny their own birthright and dismiss the biological imperative that is motherhood? That’s not to dismiss the importance of fathers, but as women who have experienced pregnancy and birth know all too well, babies need their mothers. That’s not a matter of subjective opinion, it’s scientific fact.

It’s ironic that those of who believe that the unborn deserve equal protection or who promote women forgoing work outside the home in order to raise children are frequently accused of seeing women as nothing more than brood mares. Feminists making this charge fail to see that their refusal to embrace motherhood as being more than the ability to produce children is precisely what is dehumanising woman and allowing them to be used as human incubators, providing wombs and eggs and seeing motherhood as a burden or encumbrance to the more important role of building a professional career.

Germaine Greer instinctively gets this. She can see how failing adequately to address motherhood as a concept means that we end up with the preposterous legal fiction of a man being named as a mother on a birth certificate and anyone who dares to question this is branded as a twenty-first century heretic and outcast. Social conservatives have become Orwell’s foot-soldiers; in a time of great deceit, where it is universally denied that mothers and fathers have any value beyond their biological ability to reproduce, telling the truth that their children need them both, really has become a revolutionary act.

Greer can see that splitting motherhood in two, creating both a biological and a gestational mother, instrumentalises women not for their own good, but to serve the needs of others. She intuitively understands that women have an emotional investment in their own eggs, which have the potential togenerate into their own offspring, and says that no-one has yet had the discussion about what eggs might mean to women. She can also see that hyper-stimulating a woman’s ovaries to harvest a large number of eggs could be harmful and that women who ‘donate’ eggs rarely do so for purely altruistic reasons and therefore are deliberately kept in the dark about what happens to them. The answer isn’t pretty. They are used in experiments resulting in the creation and destruction of embryos on an industrial scale.

And while Greer’s observations about the 1967 Abortion Act being enacted due to the lobbying of the fertility industry could have been overstated, the first ‘test-tube’ baby being born 11 years after the Abortion Act, it’s certainly true that research in this field was already beginning. There is something decidedly sinister when BPAS, the UK’s largest abortion provider who derive an annual income in excess of £25 million, primarily from abortions performed for the NHS, regularly contribute to the debate about older mothers, their director Clare Murphy advocating that women have to put the stories about difficulties in conceiving later in life ‘in perspective’. According to Murphy, women need to establish financial stability and a career and not worry about leaving it too late to have children. Which is pretty much what BPAS’s business model needs women to think. And when it comes to the power of the medico-legal establishment, Germaine’s on the money. One only has to look at the recent refusal of Parliament to explicitly outlaw gender-selective abortion, or the refusal to prosecute doctors found to be in breach of the law.

This isn’t the first time that Greer has said some eminently sensible things either. Most recently, she inadvertently espoused the values of male/female complementarity in child-rearing on BBC’s Question Time, by claiming that little girls often subconsciously use their fathers to practice adult sexual relationship skills, for which she was roundly condemned.  It’s true – they do!

She has also written repeatedly about how abortion has become a duty for many women facing unwanted pregnancy, which is presented to them in the guise of a privilege and which unnecessarily destroys many foetuses. She also reminds people that a 10-week-old foetus is far from a blob of jelly or tissue, but is in fact fully formed. Her views on birth control in the developing world are also far more in tune with those of the Catholic Church, seeing it as exploitative and driven by fear and envy of the fertility of the poor.

No doubt Germaine will come in for some severe criticism as a result of her comments, but they were important and valuable. At the same time as she was uttering them, the New York Times was publishing an Op-Ed claiming that ‘the ties of biological motherhood and fatherhood are an absurdity’.

We need more feminists like Germaine Greer, able to advance the notions that motherhood is an inherent part of what it means to be a woman and that to reduce motherhood merely to its biological function, massively undersells women and damages both sexes equally. How can women teach men respect for them, if they don’t see their role in child-rearing as having unique importance?

Greer may not see herself as a conservative woman; she’d positively baulk at the notion, she’s no advocate of the nuclear family. But when it comes to understanding how women are being damaged, dehumanised, and their ability to mother derided by the liberal consensus, which seeks the false and oppressive nirvana of equality, I know which bundle of eloquent and incisive female passion, fury and plain-speaking common sense I’d rather have on my side.

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Caroline Farrow
Caroline Farrow
Columnist for the Catholic Universe

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