Saturday, 18 June 2011
Germain Greer at Malvern Theatre
I have always thought that women should be treated as equal to men, but I became a more serious supporter of the feminist cause when my first daughter was born, so I went to listen to Germaine Greer in Malvern. She is a professor so I expected something a little academic. To my surprise, much of the material that she quoted was about celebrities cavorting about, rather than an emerging evidence base in peer reviewed literature. It seems to me that if you read too much into the slogan on the tee shirt that Annie Lennox happens to be wearing you risk arriving at an unreliable conclusion.
She spent some time talking about the recent slut walk phenomenon, and I think she was right. The whole concept is brilliant, in that it produces a very visible confrontation to a set of deep underlying attitudes. Pulling the whole of an iceberg of prejudice to the surface is often effective because such things frequently look ridiculous in the daylight. To take the iceberg analogy a little further, they melt in the sunshine.
Germaine also quoted from a card she had been sent by an anonymous revenge seeking person, she presumes it was a man. The card blamed Germaine for every woman that ever walked out of a marriage. I can’t quote it exactly because I didn’t think to take notes, mea culpa, I am a professor myself, what was I thinking.
I’m not sure who was getting revenge on whom, the postcard writer for sending it, or Germaine for reading it out. She quoted from it repeatedly and simply refused to take the blame for anything it alleged. I have no problem with that because the accusations were ridiculous, but I think she could have delved for a deeper meaning.
Why do people write such things? Surely if they gave it a moment’s thought they would realise that the receiver of such a message, written in a vengeful and exaggerated style, and I suspect in capital letters, would bin it in a moment. Such a message reveals a complete inability on the part of the sender to see into the mind of the person the complaint is aimed at. From that one might surmise that the writer cannot comprehend why they have been abandoned. Might it not be exactly those attitudes that lead to someone writing such an intemperate letter that are the root cause of the deteriorating relationships that were the trigger for the letter?
I think if I were in Germaine’s shoes I would have asked the audience, who were about 80% female, ‘Would you live with a person who writes postcards like this?’ I wouldn’t be expecting them to say yes.
I am reminded of one of the maxims in Stephen Covey’s book, the seven habits of highly successful people – Understand and be understood. If you want other people to comprehend what you are saying, then the first thing you have to do is get where they are coming from. The writer of that card clearly had no understanding at all of Germaine Greer.
I have to pause here and ask myself if I have either. I was initially shocked at the hostility she appeared to show in the early part of almost all her answers to questions from the audience. For example, one questioner asked, what would her ideal world look like? The answer began along the lines: ‘What sort of fascist question is that?’ She went on to elaborate that the Nazi view of the world was an idealised notion of everyone in their place, all that fresh air and hiking of the Hitler Youth etc. All true, but hardly the answer to the question, though further into the answer she did begin to show some empathy without actually ever answering the question.
Why did she respond like that? I suspect because she has spent about 50 years being asked hostile questions, so the first thing to do is clobber the question into the long grass and then construct an answer that takes you back onto your main material, which is what she did. It is a strong response, but one that may have surprised a few people. Whilst the answer disappointed me, it was good to see a tough and seasoned campaigner at work.
I think my other disappointment was that, although the title was 40 years of feminism and fun, she didn’t talk much about fun. She did criticise the women’s movement for not having enough fun, contrasting the average women’s march with the gay pride events in Sidney and in effect saying that the gays were so over the top and clearly enjoying their own outrageous behaviour, that they were impossible to ignore. You can see why she like the slut walks.
I wanted her to go into more depth in examining the role of women. I was surprised that she made no mention of the value of female literacy and education of women. As Kofi Annan has said:-
“We know from study after study that there is no tool for development more effective than the education of girls and women. No other policy is as likely to raise economic productivity, lower infant and maternal mortality, improve nutrition, promote health -- including the prevention of HIV/AIDS -- and increase the chances of education for the next generation.”
As a professor, with access to that literature that Annan was quoting, I expected some of that in the lecture. What better way to drown the cynics and the vengeful postcard writers than to point out to them that treating women as equals would make the world better for all of us.