This morning’s Guardian G2 has a piece written by Professor Germaine Greer about Posh Spice’s superlative dress-wearing skills.   One particular dress is given as an example, a dress that other women have worn, apparently, with far less success.  Professor’s Greer’s argument may be reduced to this: other women wear the dress too tight and the dress looks dreadful on them because their breasts begin to squeeze out of the armhole.  Otherwise put, Posh Spice is very thin and has tiny breasts so the dress looks good on her.  In addition, shoes, that Professor Greer has previously described as “f**k me” shoes, set off her body to great advantage by tilting her pelvis provocatively forward…

Posh Spice is wearing a dress designed by French designer, Roland Mouret.  It is called the “Moon” dress and has become almost iconic.  Impossible to get hold of, costing a thousand pounds.  Mouret designed the dress to show off a woman’s curves.  This is what the designer said to one journalist about the dress:

“The point with the Moon dress is that it is not about any shape except the exquisite natural shape of a woman … Men are simple creatures: if an outfit becomes too intellectual or complicated it’s not nice. My dress is not about perfection. I prefer to see the girls I work with slip out of their jeans and trainers and into my dresses than any model, because it’s all about the transformation and the look on their faces.”

Ironically, Professor Greer, Victoria Beckham had to have the dress altered because even the smaller size was too large for her tiny frame.  She is curve-less though breast implants and a wonderful designer would have us believe otherwise.  It is Mouret who is the star.  Here are other celebrities wearing an earlier Mouret dress, the Galaxy.

The girls and I went to hear Germaine Greer last week and afterwards she told us she was writing this article about Posh Spice.  Lola B commented that she had moderated her language since her descriptions to us (no mention of “tits”), and Elder Daughter noticed that in the by-line thumbnail photo she was wearing the same “Elephant” Dress that she had worn last week, that we now know she always wears.  We queued up afterwards with some friends to get a book signed, one for each daughter.  Ms Greer looked at the girl ahead of us in the queue, a beautiful statuesque girl with peroxide hair and braces who was recently scouted as a model.  Ms Greer looked very pointedly at the girl’s stomach, then at her braces.  Then she said that she hoped that the girl did not stick her finger down her throat because the bile from her vomit would rot her teeth.  We were all stunned.  Where did that come from?  What right did Germaine Greer have to speak like that to a fifteen year old girl whom she has never met before and with whom she had never exchanged even so much as a word?  Up close and personal, none of us liked Professor Greer – there seemed to be no kindness in her.

I had been warned about going to see Professor Greer, that I would feel very angry afterwards.  I imagined that my advisor thought it would bring out any latent misandry in me.  It did anything but that, but I was left feeling angry.  More angry than I realised until later. 

My daughters had not wanted to go to hear Professor Greer.  It was another crackpot idea of their mother.  So I resorted to my default tactics.  Each was bribed with a pre-talk meal of pizza or pasta according to her taste, and a girl friend to dilute the boredom.  I did want to go, having already heard her speak several years ago when her book about beautiful boys had just been published and I had been amused by her wit.  The delight with which both daughters pounced on G2 this morning makes me feel vindicated in my insistence that they accompany me to hear this world famous arch-feminist in person.  If only I knew what to do with my anger.

She kept us waiting forty minutes and then did not apologise.  Why should she, she is Germaine Greer, after all.  We should have been grateful that she bothered to come at all, especially since she had recently broken her ankle falling down stairs in her rain forest home.  She mentioned her rain forest home quite a lot, actually, more than was strictly necesssary, or necessary at all.  I felt inferior, because I did not have a rainforest home, but that is exactly how she intended that I feel.  I also felt inferior because I am not as educated as Germaine, but then almost nobody is. 

She is a large women.  Tall, big boned, and wearing one of the most unflattering dresses that you can possibly imagine, and that my elder daughter has so aptly described as The Elephant Dress.  A dress that can only have been chosen to make a point, or several points all at the same time.  Amongst the many points that this dress (grey, kitted, figure hugging) were surely these: “I refuse to make my body look more attractive than it already is” and “Why should I dress up for you lot?” and “Comfort above everything” and “I’m almost 70 and look at me”.  You see, the odd thing about the dress was that it accentuated her stomach, a stomach which was worthy of Lucian Freud’s attention.  I thought that somebody should definitely appraise her of the benefits of a gluten free diet, as her upper and lower stomach both appeared distended and swollen.  You may think it rude of me to comment, but the dress forced me to spend a long time looking at her stomach, especially since she chose to speak to us perced on a bar stool, in a position which advanced her stomach towards us.  She might as well have been wearing a leotard, or nothing at all. 

Germaine Greer in the Elephant Dress

Chop off her body, and her head is remarkably well preserved.  She is striking, beautiful perhaps, and does not look her age.  Her hair is subtlely coloured to be an interesting grey and it is well cut.  She has globular balls of large pearls hanging from her ear lobes, and invisible glasses so that we can see her as well as she can see us.  She wears several rings, one on top of the other, on one of her little fingers, not dissimilar to the family-crested signet worn by the British upper classes.   She looks well off, educated, healthy, arty.   Her ankle showed no signs of being broken, her shoes were sensible if adorned by a bow.  Her voice is mellifluous and her delivery lively.  She shocks and amuses and informs by turn, and I could listen to her for a very long time. 

It struck me that talking about “women” in general is a very good way to keep people away from this woman in particular.  She was very closed, quite aggressive, easily put out, not at all generous or kind.  She described herself as a “bolter”, someone who runs away from difficult things.  She was married once, for three weeks, but slept with seven other men (previous boyfriends who were all too willing to comfort her when she asked) in that period and the marriage did not last.  Which must have surprised a lot of people.  Not.  In another interview she said she was not sure that she could tell the difference between love and lust.  She has never had a child, therefore never been a mother.  She has only briefly had any kind of in-law.  She is a feminist.  Which, according to her, means that she thinks of herself as a woman before she thinks of herself as anything else.  That makes me a feminist too. 

She constantly, constantly, derided her stupid male colleagues for their phallocentric interpretation of Shakespeare.  She said she had years of teaching at Cambridge as evidence that men are good looking in inverse proportion to their intelligence and left us in no doubt that intelligence mattered least, yet pitched much of her talk at post-graduate level.  She spat out her regret that the hebraic traditions in literature had been eschewed in favour of classical knowledge, and moved on without explaining though there is a whole book in that single comment.  She threw out her conjectures about Ann Hathaway’s rock-like-ness and Shakespeare’s abiding love of her.  She combined scholarly learning and research with wild guesses.  It felt as if she looked at those of us who queued up with our daughters to have books signed, as “breeders”, women whose only role is to reproduce, yet she left us a picture of Ann Hathaway knitting to support her brood. 

Afterwards I read that Greer’s father was absent a lot during her childhood and mother used to whip her around the face with a kettle flex because the face was the only place where she could hurt her daughter, and I wondered how much she liked mothers and whether she had chosen never to become one (she says her fertility was impaired early in her life and she later wanted to be a mother).  She seemed to be a creature of enormous contradictions who was still not sure what she really thought and who was probably happiest away from everybody in her rain forest home. 

I already had one book by Germaine Greer, The Whole Woman, and have read parts of it at numerous times in my life.  One passage, in particular, had haunted me for several years.  I’ll include it as a separate post since it deserves its own angst ridden introduction. 

The other book was a collection of 101 poems by women which she had collected together.  Reading through some of them in the forty five minutes that we were waiting for Ms Greer, I came across a poem by Maya Angelou.  It is an I will Survive poem, a fillip for down days.  Afterwards, I asked Professor Greer if she would sign the book on that particular page, and dedicate it to Lola B.  She started, looked up at me, and down again at the book.  Very pregnant pause.  I thought she was going to refuse.  But she didn’t. 

Instead she said “I’m her co-wife”. 

Another hugely pregnant pause.  Not the sort of pregnancy that Victoria Beckham can hide in her Mouret dress.  I wasn’t sure how to take this loaded comment, and so asked her to explain.  “We were both married to the same man,” she said.  I wanted to lie on the floor and kick my legs in the air with laughter, so funny and full of serendipity life is.  I had had no idea, so I looked it up when I got home. 

Germaine Greer was married for three weeks to a French cartoonist who later posed nude as a Cosmopolitant centrefold.  Maya Angelou was married to him for much longer and counts it as her happiest marriage.  Germaine Greer signed the page and after her name she wrote, in brackets, “Co-Wife”.  At least she didn’t smile.  I had the feeling that it was all about “power” in her unsafe world, not love.

Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Maya Angelou 

Professor Greer (Co-wife)