Short summary: Professor Greer was in Melbourne town last weekend to be the keynote speaker at a literary conference on Jane Austen and Comedy. Many Ozbloggers who are fans of Jane Austen and Comedy attended (I would have too if other areas of my life had been better behaved so that I could justify getting away), and Kim at LP in exile has the roundup of bloggy reports as she noted the inevitable doughty culture warrior response to any visit of Greer back home to Australia – a frenzy of frothing.
The culture warriors were outraged – positively outraged – that Greer didn’t want to do any interviews to discuss anything other than Jane Austen and Comedy, as apparently she owes them – positively owes them – a grovelling justification of every single word she’s ever written on any occasion that she comes to town. I loved conference organiser Laura’s response to the TV current affairs mob who just expected that they should be able to turn up and film the speech at the drop of a hat. Other journalists at least did the proper thing and bought tickets well in advance, although some seem to have missed the memo that the conference was about Jane Austen and Comedy.
None of this seemed to mean anything to journalist Pamela Bone, who appeared to have sat through an entire lecture on literature simply so she could stand up at question time and demand to know why Greer wasn’t in Darfur interviewing raped women. [Pavlov’s Cat]
In comments at LP, Laura mentioned that Pamela Bone had told her ahead of time that if Greer would not agree to an interview with her then Bone would ask her question from the audience. Job done then, Pamela: even if your rudeness wrenched an entire paying audience away from enjoyable literary musings just to satisfy your sense of smug self-righteousness. Andrew Bolt quotes a piece from the Australian (but “lost” the link) that fails to give the conference’s topical context before feigning amazement that the audience would applaud Greer’s polite and measured response to such a hostile non-sequitur of a question, along with the obligatory swipe at the attendees as “English teachers, nearly all women” (so these demented and deluded harridans are teaching your children, ooga booga).
Greer’s response to Bone’s impertinent question, paraphrased from multiple reports, was that racing in and simply scolding people in another culture about their oppressive traditions never works, all that you can do is support (morally, emotionally, verbally and financially) the people within that culture who are working against the ills you detest, and do your best to combat your own culture’s ills (it’s not as if we’ve conquered rape here, is it?). This is the response that is presented as “Despicably self-absorbed. Fatally self-hating” by Bolt (although admittedly he was responding to someone else’s caricature of Greer’s response). Why is Greer’s response supposedly inadequate? It’s pragmatic good sense that will actually see results, albeit slow and sure rather than “shock and awe”, but they will never admit it. Grandstanding appears to be more important to the detractors than actual progress in improving women’s lives.
I’m certain that Bone knows all too well that her standard fingerpointing is all about enhancing her own career as a ladyface fronting the antifeminist wing of the culture wars, rather than actually helping a single woman in Darfur (what help is it, as Kerryn notes, to a rape victim to have a microphone stuck in her face?). Does Bone ever publicise a conference where people discuss pragmatic on the ground community-by-community solutions, or does that simply not provide a strong enough headline compared to a hearty general condemnation? Does Bone ever provide links to any grassroots activist organisations working to end FGM, for example, that her readers could donate to? [more links] No, because doing that would ruin her thesis, that decadent feminists in the West couldn’t possibly be doing enough for women oppressed by traditional practises in certain majority Islamic countries unless they’re actively denouncing Islam on a regular basis, while she bravely struggles on alone.
Perhaps Bone was secretly hoping that her rudeness would be booed by the audience, so that she could get several columns from mischaracterising such a response as a failure of feminism instead of the reality that such a response would be a blast of disapproval against Bone personally for being boorish.
Back to what Greer was actually there for: Jane Austen and Comedy. The talk was by all reports other than Bone’s and Bolt’s a model of a literary excursion though Austenville, touching on classic Australian and American literature of similar emphasis on the lives of young women from a broadly similar era, and Kerryn from Pavlov’s Cat sums it up:
Public representation of Greer is and has always been so distorted and so coloured by masculine fear and loathing that even people who have been following her work for many years tend to forget that she is, first and last, an educator: an explainer, a guide, a putter-together of new ways of thinking, an opener of eyes.
I’m enjoying a pleasurable anticipation regarding Greer’s eventual publication of an essay or book chapter based on this theme. Keep on opening those eyes, Germs.