In April this year Germaine Greer alluded to ‘village India’ during a televised panel discussion on her home turf Down Under. The topic was child marriage and the veteran feminist asserted that it was quite wrong to make the assumption that sexual intercourse would be part of that particular marital arrangement. She went on to say that ‘it is not expected that the little girl will be subject to sexual intercourse’ and that anyway ‘her mother-in-law probably’ would be looking out for her. ‘Access to the child’ would happen only when said child was ‘able to deal with it.’ Right. That’s ok then.
At the moment, India’s not looking a great place for little girls to grow up. The most recent horrific reports are all about child rape and girls as young as ten giving birth after having been raped by fathers, stepfathers, uncles, teachers. Sexual abuse is rife in India. According to Unicef, there is a rape of a child under 16 every 155 minutes, a child under ten every 13 hours. More than 10,000 children were raped in 2015, 240million women were married before they turned 18 and 50 per cent of abusers are known to the child or are ‘persons in trust or care givers’. Information was not provided about quite what had happened to the decorum-enforcing mothers-in-law. Maybe Greer can enlighten the concerned. One thing’s for sure: this epidemic of appalling crime that sees children as young as three or four being raped is not all happening within the squalid despair of Delhi or Mumbai slums. It’s also in that more fanciful village setting invoked by Greer. Why? Because the problem is not just to do with social deprivation in urban breakdown, but one that has become widespread within the country’s very culture. A couple of years ago a courageous Indian male MP, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, began a campaign to draw attention to the ‘culture of secrecy and denial’ in a place where parents are reluctant to admit child sexual abuse and incest is always hushed up. Campaigners say they are up against ‘a conspiracy of silence’.
They certainly are. Greer and the sisterhood that she and her ilk have fostered over a good few decades now have bought into that very conspiracy. It is not just India, let’s be clear, but many other parts of the world, especially Africa. As the most high-profile professional controversialist on such matters, Greer has form. Indeed she surpassed herself on the same TV show when she likened female genital mutilation to cosmetic labia reduction in the West. Many years ago she argued that any attempt to outlaw the practice would amount to ‘an attack on cultural identity’. She posed the question in her book The Whole Woman: ‘If an Ohio punk has the right to have her genitalia operated on, why has not the Somali woman the same right?’ Those remarks in 1999 drew widespread criticism, and the Commons International Development Select Committee called them ‘simplistic and offensive’.
So why does any of this matter now? It matters because this week the government has published its long-awaited Race Audit and among the findings are that Pakistani women are living in an ‘entirely different society’ and are ‘shockingly badly integrated’ in Britain. These are women who do not speak English and do not go to work. Louise Casey, the government’s integration tsar, has said that Britain needs to be ‘less shy’ in setting out rules and expectations for immigrants and called for an oath of allegiance, adding that it would be ‘no bad thing’ if there were lessons on the British way of life as well as helping immigrants develop their language skills.
What we have now in this country are many thousands of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) women living in the margins: silent, voiceless, subject to abuse. Is feminism doing anything to help? Not really. In fact, not at all. Does the Women’s Equality Party founded by Sandi Toksvig and Catherine Mayer have anything in its policies? Of course not. You see, feminism is interested only in what it sees as domestic violence and repression perpetrated by white men. That’s moral relativism for you. If white men, or some fundamentalist Christian sect, were found to be carrying out FGM procedures, there’d no doubt be calls to lock them up and throw away the key. Quite right too.
In an interview four years ago with Jon Snow of Channel 4, Greer’s fellow Antipodean, poet, essayist and erstwhile broadcaster Clive James was commenting after the shooting by the Taliban of Malala Yousafzai as she tried to go to school. James berated feminists for their failure to speak out: ‘Germaine is only one of many feminists who should have said much more about this and much earlier.’ On the attempted murder of a young girl by the Islamic hard line, he said ‘We shouldn’t need that kind of publicity for what is plainly an injustice.’ His view was that the ‘women of the world, the feminists of the world, and above all women of the Islamic world have to intervene against the structure’.
Mothers-in-law in places like that notional ‘village in India’ would be a start, Germaine. But those girls, those women could use some extra help too. Dare we hope that feminists might also, as Casey urges, be ‘a bit less shy’ when it comes to calling out a ‘bad thing’ such as forced marriage, child brides, female circumcision? Or is it that the ‘bad thing’, the repression that is keeping women out of view, is not really a bad thing if it’s in the name of cultural (non-white) identity? Come on, sisters, what do you really think? What are you actually going to do about it? How about a march in central London, a demo outside all those embassies where we can proclaim that FGM and all those other forms of female oppression are not, to use Casey’s term, ‘the British way of life’ and we’re having none of it?