Having read it, I'm boggling at the vitriol it has inspired. I knew people were outraged (the coverage is hard to miss), so I was expecting the article to be much more scathing than it was, and much wittier too. (For a quick overview of what people are saying, see fandom_wank, or this overview of the mainstream press coverage, or Greer's Wiki entry.)
Furthermore, most of the attacks on what she said are ad hominem, suggesting her opinion is wrong because she's a dried up old woman who is irrelevant to feminism, that her timing is insensitive, and that she only did it to grab the spotlight. A few people agreed that Irwin's tactics were irresponsible, but many of them went on to add that Irwin did more good than harm through his charity work. Even those offering some support, however, tended to bemoan Greer's timing.
At femmecon we discussed, among other things, feminist theory and how to apply it in everyday life. In light of that conversation, I'm finding this barrage of ad hominem objections to Greer's statement particularly interesting on a number of counts.
Most significantly, Greer is an avowed feminist and activist. Whether her politics are still relevant or not, her agenda is quite clear: to spark debate on issues related to how we value people, and to be unapologetic about it even if she gives offence. This must practically be her chief manifesto item! So I'm left wondering why people are surprised when she makes these kinds of statements? And why do they think she's been unsuccessful and irrelevant when she's provoked such a strong reaction?
It makes me think a large part of the outrage is that it's a woman who is saying anything negative, and not even because she's criticising a man, but because she's criticising a man that the mainstream media have decided to bestow sainthood upon this week.
Ironically enough, we didn't discuss Greer much at femmecon; the impression I came away with was that her work was mainly interesting for its historical impact on feminism, but that it was no longer immediately relevant with regards to many of the issues facing younger women. But now, looking at the Irwin debate, I'm left wondering why, if she is so irrelevant, Greer is still one of the loudest and most successful feminists at creating debate in the wider public sphere? Where is my generation's equivalent of Greer? Must feminists now only provoke polite debate? Must they do it in the refined spheres of academia? Is being rude no longer allowed? Is it seen as counter-productive?
And would Greer's opinion even be considered all that rude if it had come from Clive James instead?
I'd love to hear your opinions on this, but if you comment, please try not to wank about Irwin. Be as rude as you like about Greer or feminism or my opinions, but let's leave Irwin out of it--that's a whole other issue and not one I'm interested in opening here.
ETA: Thank you all so much for responding so thoughtfully. I wish I could start replying straight away, but I'm feeling very foggy-headed today, and as I'm in an internet cafe, I can't take my time in responding. It'll have to wait until Thursday.
Please feel free to keep the discussion going; some really excellent points have been made. And I definately think I'm going to have to read more of Greer's work.