Sisters, Unhook!

Mar 18, 2010 | Updated May 25, 2011

One strange week in September Germaine Greer, the Martha Stewart of orthodox (not to say reactionary) feminism, invited the planet's women to crash my website by sending photos of their "unsupported breasts". The plan was to disabuse me of my alleged sexist idealism about shape and size by confronting me, the hapless romantic man, with dire evidence of what gravity does to the pendulous sacs which cause feminists such bother.

Greer, who regards the bra as "ludicrous", has had her polemic reflexes tickled by my new book Woman as Design, devoting an entire page of splenetic "comment" in London's Guardian. Her charge is that I fetishise and eroticise the female breast. By offering the despised "support", the bra deforms reality while pandering to my crude lust.

What makes elderly feminists so sour, so humourless ? Is it racist even to discuss race ? It certainly seems to be sexist to discuss sex and its aesthetics (at least if you are a heterosexual male). Jenni Murray is the presenter of a popular British radio programme called Woman's Hour. She told listeners that in Woman as Design I had written a coffee table compendium for perverts. Of course, the truly insulting thing in that sentence is the denomination "coffee table". But odd too that Fra Angelico, Oscar Niemeyer and Titian (all featured in the book) should be construed as suitable stimulus for perversion. And Ms Murray has not noticed the irony of broadcasting a cosy sexist ghetto : why no Man's Hour on the BBC where we get to discuss excessive drinking, driving too fast, opportunistic groping and all our other stereotyped interests ?

It's for others to judge the quality of Woman as Design, but Greer's account was a boggling travesty of its contents and purpose. It was written as a generous, sympathetic and ruminative appraisal of how we adapt nature to cultural purposes. For this interesting speculation I have been given a tongue-lashing and characterised as a pervert who demeans women by considering their body parts as industrial components.

The charge seems the more odd because Professor Greer recently published a book called Beautiful Boy. Masculinists, myself included, found this a gruesome, clammy, pseudo-pornographic and wince-making exercise in the arts of objectification. In it Greer pants about the pleasures of firm-fleshed hairless, pubescent youth. Maybe, a friend suggested, I should encourage mature men to crash Greer's website by sending depressing photos of their withered tackle to disabuse her.

Germaine Greer's arguments are ridiculously archaic and contrary. Surely advanced women are no longer ashamed of being feminine and quite prepared to exploit all the advantages in style and social semantics which being female bring. And here's a footnote to Greer : the modern bra which so wickedly "objectifies" the female breast by so stylishly packaging it was designed by Mary Phelps Jacobs.....a woman ! Although I do concede that when Jacobs, re-branded Caresse Crosby, married Hemingway's publisher she did suggest a certain sympathy for a male worldview. Anyway, it's obvious that bras are really for men.

Still, it was a brilliant idea to ask the sisters to send me photographs of nature in the raw. Alas, her rhetoric was not very persuasive. I only received three submissions. And all were from Australia. I am not sure what this tells us, except that gravity may work differently down-under.

Stephen Bayley's Woman as Design was published by Octopus in London in September. The US edition will be published in November.