Germaine Greer and the tale of the big bum

So Germaine Greer has caused some controversy by criticising Julia Gillard’s choice of jackets while on the TV show Q&A, saying that they’re obviously cut too small around the hips: “You’ve got a big arse, Julia. Just ‘get on with it’!” This has caused outrage amongst some folks who feel that as a feminist, Germaine Greer shouldn’t be insulting other women’s bodies.

A post over at Mammamia states: “An Australian feminist icon, a woman who is rightly described as an academic, an intellectual, a trail-blazer, a woman who has spent decades fighting and arguing and agitating for the rights of women goes on national TV and mocks the size of our Prime Minister’s arse…that one comment, that one cheap shot, that one moment when Greer decided that it was okay to criticise a woman based on her size, saw everything Greer has fought for over the past thirty years unravel like the yarn of an ill-fated scarf.”

REALLY? So everything Germaine Greer has done for women’s rights is now IRRELEVANT because she commented on the size of the PM’s dress wear and her bum?

Firstly, everyone knows Julia Gillard wears terrible jackets. It’s an objective fact.



IF the only thing Germaine Greer had to say about Julia Gillard was to do with her looks and her figure then I could see where the anger comes from. I do not think that women’s bodies should be put up as conversational fodder that otherwise distracts from their intelligence, achievements and so on. But the fact is she didn’t sit there and belittle Ms Gillard, reducing her to nothing but a body (or fashion sense) worth of criticism – she made a humorous observation about Julia Gillard’s terrible, terrible jackets. The bum thing was incidental as far as I can glean.

In the video below you can see that Germaine Greer lists many things about Julia Gillard that are positive only to say ‘I wish she’d get rid of those bloody jackets’. This could be seen as undermining her previous comments, or it could be taken as a humorous comment meant to undercut Germaine’s own seriousness. Now I am not of the opinion that you can say ‘It’s just a joke – get over it’. Humour can be very damaging and has been used throughout time to degrade, humiliate and belittle not only individuals but entire groups of people – women, people of different races, people who are disabled etc. What I did not get from this humorous comment (I won’t call it a joke) was that it was spiteful or designed to make Julia Gillard into a figure of ridicule.

There certainly is an unfortunate and disproportionate amount of attention paid to the way women present themselves in politics. I remember seeing political commentators commenting on Hillary Clinton’s wrinkles when she was running for office. It was shameful. But for some reason I do not feel that Germaine Greer’s comment is a part of that culture. Perhaps it is because of who Germaine Greer is and what she has done for women’s rights, or maybe it’s purely the context – but even though I am usually very sensitive to the issue of women’s rights and am very cautious about how humour is used in relation to women, I just do not feel that these comments fit the sexist bill.

And this is mainly because, and this is something I can’t stress enough, Germaine Greer didn’t criticise Ms Gillard’s bum. She said that it is big and that Ms Gillard should ‘get on with it’ – in other words, not worry about it and stop dressing like she wants to hide herself, ultimately to her own detriment. Pointing out that someone has a big bum isn’t an insult unless you mean it as one. If you immediately assume that ‘big bum’ is an insult, maybe it’s because you think having a big bum is a bad thing, which is more revealing about you than the person who made the comment in the first place.