Q&A recap: Germaine Greer, once again, puts her foot in it
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Q&A recap: Germaine Greer, once again, puts her foot in it

In the midst of the national debate on quotas for women in politics, the ABC met one of its own key benchmarks on Monday night: the annual quota for members of the Q&A panel named Germaine Greer. And women named Germaine Greer are always happy to oblige.

There's only one, of course, and there she was again last night, saying things like this on gender quotas for MPs, based on the British experience with "Blair's babes".

It was complicated. "They had a dreadful time and they were not helped by their male colleagues," Greer said. "They got things wrong. They were sneered at… The whole thing was in some ways a disaster."

The UK women "had no idea, really, what they were likely to be up against".

One suspects female members of the Australian conservative parties do have some idea what they're up against by now. But Greer was keen to make the point that quotas are one thing - the lack of supportive spouses quite another.

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"The way our system runs is that our politicians use their wives for everything, for raising the family, for keeping the show on the road… I think we have to understand something here: Women politicians need wives."

Germaine Greer on Monday's Q&A.

Germaine Greer on Monday's Q&A.Credit:ABC

What women want, what women need: this has been Greer's intellectual and public patch for six decades, but in these later years she often seems to enrage women as effortlessly as she used to infuriate men.

This was the undercurrent of her latest Q&A appearance. Some viewers wish they'd stop inviting her on, or that she might start saying no to the invitation and spare them their fury at the very mention of her name.

But for Q&A, Greer is like Santa Claus. Like clockwork, at least once a year she slips down Tony Jones' chimney bearing her range of famous gifts - the bon mots, the big ideas, the broad brush, the bulldust and that seemingly indestructible bravado. Q&A has been the setting for some notorious moments - the time she ruminated on Julia Gillard having "a big arse", and the night she asked Julie Bishop if she would pose topless to save the Bali Nine pair on death row.

"Please don't go there, Germaine," said Bishop on that 2015 outing - a red rag to the bull in the china shop, because Germaine is always going somewhere.

So it was on Monday night, her 13th appearance in this program's 11 years on air. On her first show in 2008, she shared the panel with Julie Bishop and Bob Carr. A decade on, Bishop and Carr were not present but were there in spirit.

It was Carr who was recently disinvited from the Brisbane Writer's Festival along with Greer, sparking a debate over freedom of speech, generational relevance and the instinct to banish rather than debate. And it was Bishop whose recent slide from the political pinnacle to the backbench helped crystallise a debate over sexism, and the bullying of women in the Liberal Party.

These and other slices of the zeitgeist were ripe for the Greer picking. Throw in the #MeToo movement and the sex-and-consent debate - and Greer's controversial new book about rape - and the night was tailor-made for the old hand.

When challenged by a young questioner on her feminist credentials in the modern era, she laughed and said: "Wait a minute here!", before affirming she was just doing what she had always done.

A feminist? "I couldn't be anything else. What else would I be? I could be rejected. Old women are used to being rejected, it happens to us every day. Reject away. I'm where I've always been. In business at the old stand."

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Yes she is. Nearly 50 years after The Female Eunuch, she still gets the sparkle in her eyes sparring with the blokes on stage, who on Monday night were journalist David Marr and British media luminary Andrew Neil. But with Greer at the centre of many of the best moments, it was the other women on the panel who helped elevate this to one of the more entertaining episodes of the year.

South African writer Sisonke Msimang and people's panellist Elena Jeffcoat are a million miles removed from Greer in age and background and experience, but there was more harmony than discord between the feminist generations. Where they disagreed, they were respectful, and their contributions thoughtful.

Msimang, in particular, sounded her arrival on the national stage with impressive aplomb - eloquent and nuanced, she owned her every minute on camera. Of Greer's recent essay, On Rape: "[I] surprised myself on enjoying it, because I'd read the media around it and seen some of her off-the-cuff comments, I fully expected not to enjoy it…"

That's Germaine for you. You sometimes appreciate her in spite of yourself. And sometimes you don't.

Sometimes there's not more to what she says than meets the eye - there's less. Ponder this comment on rape trauma: "Trauma is something that is dictated really by the sufferer. You know, I can't bear huntsman spiders. It is not their fault. It is my fault… I decided to be frightened of them."

As Jeffcoat responded: "I don't know how I feel about the huntsman analogy for rape and the trauma involved there."

That was being polite.

Greer had, once again, put her foot in it. She didn't seem to notice. It's Germaine's way - and love or loathe it, it's surely why she is still in business at "that old stand".