Saturday, August 23, 2008

the Greer hat trick

The past year has seen me trotting off to get a dose of Germaine Greer at every opportunity. The first left me stunned and besotted. A purely academic speech, there was some Big Words I needed to look up the next day. But even with a few gaps in my vocab she blew me away.

The second was from up in the Gods at the Athenaeum theatre, where from a great height I observed her talking passionately about Shakespeare’s wife. No new words to discover, she’d tailored the speech for a public audience. Her research methodology left me wondering. But I loved her spirit.

Yesterday I missed her talking about Frank Zappa and pubic lice to Tony Biggs on RRR. Darn it, work got in the way. I hope it will be podcast. But I did make it to the literary audience, as she opened the Melbourne Writers Festival with her missive on Rage last night. She introduced the topic better in some ways than in the essay itself. She exposed herself, she was humble, angered and amused. I loved her even more. Why? Because she keeps popping her head out over the trenches to allow people to take pot shots at her. Even in question time (my favourite part of any Greer talk) she implores people to take her on, disagree with her, challenge her.

This is what sets Greer apart. She wants her theses to be questioned. Sure she gets hurt over some of the misguided personal attack, she is human after all. But intellectually she is a provocateur. I get her. She wants to be a catalyst, get people talking, arguing, thinking, anything that gets heads out of arses and acknowledging the issues.

But an outspoken, provocative woman, especially one of intellect is still deemed threatening in our supposedly modern society. It is hunting season and Greer is the seen as fair game. While a man will be tackled on his thesis directly, a woman gets more than her fair share of shtick for who she is, how she lives, her appearance, her marital or parental status, almost anything else before the work is critiqued.

Other women tend to throw the first stone, often more ferociously than the men. Tracee Hutchison gave her a serve recently. One valid argument – that her take on the Aboriginal male response to The Apology was based on TV coverage while Ms Hutchison was Actually On The Lawn – sandwiched between her own prejudices against Greer (it’s the fault of feminists like you that I forgot to have children and her own relationship with the mother of a playwright who lampooned Greer in a recent play).

Miranda Devine was the next member of the species to go into attack under the Fairfax banner. Devine continues to focus on the personal, rather than put much thought into actually critiquing “On Rage” directly. A typical slab of text in her two page anti-Greer diatribe relates back to the opening anecdote of Greer’s epiphany on rage, having been blinded by it at a dinner party given in her honour almost two decades earlier:
Most reasonable adults control themselves at dinner parties, especially ones held in their honour, and don't fly into a rage when teased. All power to Greer for not needing to belong or grow up, but she is like a particular type of precocious indulged child, allowed latitude because she is so interesting. No society can operate with more than a handful of entertaining anarchists.

Such a diatribe suggests to me that Ms Devine is just a little envious that she cannot get away with such behavior herself. Lets count the derogatory blows in that one paragraph – Greer is not a reasonable adult, she cannot control herself, she isn’t a good sport and can’t take a little teasing, she is precocious, not a grown up, indulged and the kindest thing she can call her is an “entertaining anarchist”.

However Devine is just warming up for her fatal blow, implying that by not ever having had children or “lived an extended period of domestic bliss with a man” that she is not a woman. It is clear that Devine believes that childbirth and the heterosexual nuclear family is the only grounds for womanhood and the rest of us are just “infertile seeds thrown on fallow ground”.

Have you ever seen a male academic been publicly discounted because he has not fathered a child or chooses to not live in so-called domestic bliss? This is sloppy, lazy journalism. It smacks of the hack’s own agenda, how they view themselves, their own desperate play for status – leaving little intelligent debate on the subject at hand.

My reading of “On Rage” is that Greer is addressing the elephant in the room. She offers her reading of the situation, from the angle that she sees it – it is an essay, a starting point to provoke spirited discussion to bring about positive change.

But the horror of what we whitefellas have done to destroy the spirit of the custodians of this land is too confronting for most people. Much easier to play the (wo)man not the ball.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great piece. GG would be proud of you.

One thing, I don't get the evil she has supposed to have done re her writings on transexuals.

Any guidance here?

1:22 pm  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

No I don't either. It would be a good question to ask her - as I said she likes questions even the ones that disagree with her - to restate her position on transexuals.

However I find the following quote from her interesting:

"As sufferers from gender role distress themselves, women must sympathize with transsexuals but a feminist must argue that the treatment for gender role distress is not mutilation of the sufferer but radical change of gender roles."

2:09 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well. I would agree with that quote. If people (it is usually men wanting to be women isn't?) want to change their gender especially surgically then they can't expect too much sympathy or even interest from most other people - it is a a pathology that is exploited by the medical profession and others who profit from it and it is a profound misunderstanding of what it means to be human.

3:48 pm  
Blogger Melba said...

great piece AOF well done. nicely crafted and good to read.

let's hoist the banner, i say. and i'm clearer now on how journalists often play the man and not the ball, and it does reveal their weaknesses and biases and views of themselves.

i reckon germaine is desperate for a good argument, on topic, from anyone. she would be sick of people not getting her, or not getting the point.

you're lucky to have seen her so many times. i now devote my life to that.

9:02 pm  
Blogger docwitch said...

Great post. I must listen to that RRR piece when I get a chance. It sounds fantastic.

One of the things I love about Greer is that she is totally up for a rollicking good spar.

Even when Greer is off, (and personally I think she can be very off at times - but I think she knows this and that's not the point), she challenges us to push against ideas and test them out and have a jolly good tussle. Gets the blood flowing doesn't it?

8:37 am  

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