Germaine Greer's dangerous ideas about rape

Germaine Greer

Holly Thomas is a writer and editor based in London. She tweets @HolstaT. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)For someone who's spent most of her life advocating for other people, Germaine Greer appears to have very little interest in other people's feelings.

This week, at the Hay Festival of literature and arts in Wales, the 79-year-old author of "The Female Eunuch" and vocal figurehead of second-wave feminism claimed that we shouldn't think of rape as "a spectacularly violent crime," but as 'bad sex ... where there is no communication."
Holly Thomas
Greer suggested a more lenient approach to punishing rape, perhaps "200 hours of community service," or an 'R' tattoo on a man's hand, as suitable penance.
"Why not believe the woman and lower the penalty?" Greer asked. 'If we are going to say, 'Trust us, believe us,' if we do say that our accusation should stand as evidence, then we do have to reduce the tariff for rape."
    She cited her own survival of rape at 19 as testimony that it really isn't that bad, calling rape "something that leaves no sign, no injury, nothing."
    "I wasn't that angry," she stressed.
    Earlier this year, Greer also drew outrage with remarks around the #MeToo movement. She told The Sydney Morning Herald: "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."
    Where to begin.
    These would all be strange things for anyone to say, let alone someone who has famously identified as a feminist for the past six decades. But they are far more than that: They are dangerous.
    If, for example, rape is not that serious, as she asserts, then how are women's feelings about it to be taken seriously? As someone so invested in women's freedom, why would Greer place the burden of men's crimes -- as they are in her eyes -- on women's shoulders? If women are to value and treasure their bodies, free of shame, the violation of those bodies must be intolerable.
    Her suggestion that we should demur because the prosecution of rape is difficult is curiously at odds with a career spent pushing back against establishment ideas. And at bottom, her statements make no sense.
    Why is believing the victim of a crime -- whom Greer assumes is female -- incompatible with a proportionate penalty for the aggressor? A common whine of #MeToo decriers is the statistic that between 2% and 4% of accusations of sexual assault are false. The proportion of false accusations of murder and theft is the same, yet that contingent has yet to suggest we reduce sentences for those offenses.
    So why cast doubt on rape victims, when the burden of proof is the same, and the odds of painting a target on your back for ridicule and abuse if you speak up far greater? "Prove you didn't give him your wallet voluntarily," said no one, ever.
    If, as Greer suggests, the issue of consent is so hazy, then permanently inking rapists with an R is a weird contradiction. It's also a dangerous idea. If someone is predisposed to violence enough to rape, it's not out of the question they'd go further to silence someone entirely, rather than risk being identified later.
    And if, having committed a grotesque act, a rapist genuinely repented and rehabilitated, branding them would impede their assimilation back into the community. So why bother? It's as medieval a suggestion as saying that wives should just grit their teeth and take it every time their husband wants sex and they don't.
    The expla