The portrait of the Australian academic, writer and broadcaster Germaine Greer, by Paula Rego shows its subject filling the canvas, legs apart. Her hands are rough from gardening and she is dressed in her favourite Jean Muir dress and old, silver shoes. The portrait’s lack of flattery appealed to Greer: “A portrait that is kind is condescending. The last thing I would want is for Paula to condescend to me, and it's the last thing she would think of doing.”
A major voice of second wave feminism, in 1970 Greer published The Female Eunuch, which argued that traditional family structures repress women’s sexuality. Still one of the most widely-read feminist texts, it has never been out of print.
Greer has long courted controversy, and is regarded by many as a combative and frequently frustrating icon of feminism. A New Statesman column once stated that Greer “doesn’t get into trouble occasionally or inadvertently, but consistently and with the attitude of a tank rolling directly into a crowd of infantry.”
For all of this, Greer remains a crucial and powerful figure in the development of feminist thinking. One Guardian commentator put it: “As it goes with pioneering figures, there is much to doubt and dismiss; yet we are still indebted to them, as we are to Greer, for taking risks in the first place.”
Greer is 80 now, still writing, still vocal. On a midweek morning Laura Barton visits her at her home in Essex. There they discuss Greer’s current works and her plans to return to her homeland, leaving behind the garden that she has been creating for the last three decades.*
Image: Germaine Greer by Paula Rego. Pastel on paper laid on aluminium, 1995. © National Portrait Gallery, London. Discover more pioneering women from the National Portrait Gallery Collection in the book 100 Pioneering Women, featuring portraits of remarkable women from the last five centuries.
*Please note, this episode contains strong language from the start.