01 February, 2007

Meeting Germaine Greer on the Road to Damascus

Another famous person whose birthday I’ve just missed is Germaine Greer. As of two days ago, Ms Greer is 67 years old. Happy birthday Germaine.

It was writing about Jane Fonda and Lewis Carroll that got me thinking about Greer. By the usual subterranean mental processes, I moved from the topic of “Australia Day”, via the recollection of 1970s radical females, to Greer’s comment that the Australian people are like the English working class with money. (Sorry but I can’t find a source for that. You’ll just have to trust me.) Having lived with the English working class for the first 20 years of my life and with Australians for the last 10, I’d say she was pretty spot on with that one. I think the things that really give it away are the fanatical obsession Australians have with sports, gambling and drinking; also their racism, sexism and an extremely strong anti-intellectualism. Just like the English working class. All of these things go from the very top to the very bottom of Australian society (i.e. from the workers all the way down to the thugs with money who run the country).

This doesn’t especially bother me. It’s like going back to my roots – but with money. (Actually, the politicians do bother me. I can’t get used to the idea that the kind of people I’d see at the local ‘working men’s club’ on my council estate back in Hull, are actually running the country here.) However, Greer seems to have disliked it quite a lot. Once she left Australia at the age of 25, she never did come back. What’s more, after her recent comments on the late Steve Irwin – who would now be Saint Steve if the locals had anything to do with it – she probably wouldn’t be welcome at too many barbies around here.

But I remember reading The Female Eunuch back in 1970 and the epiphany it brought on. In the sexist, misogynist, patriarchal, English working class culture in which I lived, that book might as well have come from Mars as from Warwick (where Greer was working). The ideas it contained were new and surprising – not at all the kind of thing I was used to. A veil was lifted. It set me thinking along paths that quite literally changed my life. I’m not saying I would never have noticed all that oppression going on without The Female Eunuch but I’m pretty sure it opened my eyes a lot sooner than would otherwise have been the case.

People often comment on Greer’s ranting tone, that she likes to shock people for the publicity, and that she doesn’t have good evidence for much of what she says. This may all be true but the fact remains that when I first read what she had to say, it resonated with what I was seeing in the word around me. And so much of what she has said since keeps on ringing true.

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