Too late to complain? Stop whingeing? No thanks, Germaine Greer.

Too late to complain? Stop whingeing? No thanks, Germaine.

In the many conversations I have had about sexual assault and #MeToo since October  last year there is one question that arises often that riles me more than any other: Why didn’t they speak up at the time?

It is desperately revealing. It automatically casts doubt over a victim’s claim and seeks to protect the alleged perpetrator inadvertently or otherwise, and it ignores the gigantic elephant in the room. Many women tried to speak up about the behaviour they faced but no one wanted to listen. No one wanted to know about it, let alone deal with it.

It has taken years and years of dogged reporting to bring about the watershed moment that might change that. Ignoring that context, and pretending that if these women had simply spoken up at the time these terrible things wouldn’t have happened, requires tremendous naivety. Or wilful ignorance.

Which is why it was with a sense of despair and frustration that I digested Germaine Greer’s comments in London overnight about #MeToo.

“I want, I’ve always wanted, to see women react immediately,” she told Fairfax Media. “In the old days, there were movies – the Carry On comedies, for example – which always had a man leering after women. And the women always outwitted him – he was a fool.

We weren’t afraid of him and we weren’t afraid to slap him down.

“What makes it different is when the man has economic power, as Harvey Weinstein has. But if you spread your legs because he said ‘be nice to me and I’ll give you a job in a movie’ then I’m afraid that’s tantamount to consent, and it’s too late now to start whingeing about that.”

Reading that knocked the wind from my lungs. It isn’t hard to imagine how ghastly it would feel for the women who supposedly spread their legs and have now decided to  “whinge” about it.

It isn’t merely naive to liken Weinstein’s advances to wondering hands that ought to have been rebuffed: it is wilfully ignorant and woefully insensitive. To argue his victims were complicit is sickening.

And, it’s worse because it reinforces the fallacious narrative that has prevailed for decades that women concoct stories about sexual assault. #MeToo has made irrefutable the fact that sexual assault is practically universal.

The accounts offered by some of the 87 women who have publicly accused Harvey Weinstein of offences ranging from sexual harassment to rape are nothing short of harrowing. To say that Lupita Nyong’o or Salma Hayek slept with him to get a job and merely withdrew their consent in hindsight is astonishing.

Perhaps Greer didn’t read their experiences? Perhaps she missed the lengths Weinstein and his team of lawyers went to conceal his predatory conduct and force his victims into silence?

I’d prefer that to the alternative. It’s one thing to have conversations about why the argument that “women should have spoken up sooner” is not feasible with men and women who have never given much thought to #MeToo or gender or power.

But from an iconic feminist? That’s brutal.

It’s never too late to speak up. Speaking about being harassed or assaulted is not ‘whingeing’.

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