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.
Categories: culture wars, gender & feminism, Politics, social justice, violence
I would have loved to attend that conference too– and I would have done if not for the PhD thesis being due next year.
I would have loved to have gone. It’s great to hear it was such a success. I hope one of the journalists there to hear the lecture rather than berate the lecturer will write a review. She has a new book on Anne Hathaway which I’m looking forward to reading.
Wow, I think Bone’s rude interrogation fills at least one anti-feminist bingo square [possibly “WHY ARE YOU FOCUSING ON ISSUE x WHEN ISSUE y is SOOOO MUCH MORE IMPORTANT?!”]. Eeeesh.
Regardless, I cannot help but express my admiration for Germaine Greer. The lady is amazing.
It’s funny, because Bone seems the reverse of boorish when writing on other topics. Morag Fraser describes her as a “thoughtful, curious, sceptical, loving woman”. But this topic brings out something else. The same article I got this quote from has Bone saying, about Dubai: “It has been decreed that men should keep cool and comfortable and that women should suffer; and women, as the foolish creatures have done throughout history, fall for it.” Yairs, totally supportive.
I’m counting down to the inevitable article which will appear in the Fairfax oped pages in the next few weeks. 5… 3… 4… 2… 1…
…sorry, article about TEH FAILURE OF FEMINISM (again).
They had one two days ago by Karen Murphy (and again, it’s all the womens’ fault), but you can never have too many.
Why is a journalist, one with as much standing as Bone has at the Age, making petty, predictable swipes at an academic at a cultural studies event rather than getting this NEWS item covered herself?
Because it’s all a self serving front? Because she cares about journalistic standards about as much as she does about women’s rights?
Helen, I used to read Pamela Bone with pleasure, but since she’s succumbed to the culture wars creed on Islam I can’t, even when she writes on other topics.
As Kim mentioned in one of her posts on a typical Bone “feminists are hypocrites” rant earlier this year, FGM and rape in war zones only seem to matter to Bone when she can blame it all on Islam. You’d never know from reading Bone that infibulation is performed by animists in Burkina Faso (and Christians too) or that systematic war-rapes are also happening in the non-Islamic Congo, just as they happened in Rwanda.
Sheesh, Helen. I just read the Karen Murphy article. Total dismissal of the concept that acquiescing to the expectations of femininity roles is the price of ensuring that your children are fed and housed for many women, and that simplistically blaming them for putting their children first is unhelpful at best and grossly unfair at worst. It’s almost as if the entire concept of cultural backlash against progressive movements has passed her by.
Feminism hasn’t failed. The strength of the outcry against it is a sign still of how much power feminist ideas hold, and how threatening that is to the status quo.
Seems like Karen Murphy has missed out on Feminism 101, doesn’t it? Kind of strange for a feminist article to completely ignore the pressure of patriarchal expectations.
Ah, Pamela Bone has finally published on Greer (of which Andrew Bolt seems to have seen advance copy to produce his post I linked to in my post).
Bone makes many valid points about why feminists should (of course) support activists against women’s oppression in sharia law countries, but her mistake is in thinking that feminists don’t already support such activitists simply because we’re not always holding press conferences about supporting these activists.
Why don’t we? It’s not because we don’t care, it is because we want results more than we want the satisfaction of the two-minute hate. Largely because most Muslim women activists themselves prefer Western feminists to not do loads of publicity which identifies intra-Islam efforts to reform Islamic sharia traditions with simplistic Western anti-Islamic culture war crap (because that will only give the traditionalists excuses to ignore their reforming arguments).
Bone is also, as already mentioned, most ungenerously assuming that the audience was applauding a stance of not expressing an opinion about Darfur, rather than the distinct probability that they were applauding Greer merely for being gracious in the face of Bone’s hostility as the self-confessed “spoiler of the evening”.
Shorter Pamela Bone: feminists are such cowardly hypocrites for disapproving of FGM and rape in war whenever any culture does it instead of just specially castigating Islamic societies where such brutalities occur.
It would be interesting to know how Bolt saw the piece before it appeared in The Australian. Yes it certainly would.
I have to wonder whether this is a new strategy – leak your op-ed to one of the columnists with a blog so they can post a pungent quote from it, see what the blogular reaction is, and then tailor what will then appear to be preemptive rebuttals into the final draft of the op-ed piece.
How cowardly would that be?
Unfortunately the loathsome Mark Steyn has picked up on Boning Greer and grew all hot & sweaty in the neocon sheltered workshop, Nation review.
Kim’s written another excellent post in response to Bone’s op-ed.
Perhaps the fact that she has an incurable cancer (http://www.abc.net.au/melbourne/stories/s2050862.htm) gives Pamela Bone a confidence to write something so critical of others. I think that if I were in that situation I would respond with the thought ‘bugger it -I am just going to write what I think I don’t care if people don’t like me any more.’ I think that is what makes a writer more interesting – that they don’t always say things that are paletable and predictable.
I think that there is probably a degree to which her claim that there is in the educated and ‘tolerant’ parts of the west an anxiety about criticising islam, is true. It is obviously it is a bit of a mystery as to why she chose to illustrate this and criticise western feminism via the ‘straw man’ of greer, a point you make well in your post.
Here’s another culture warrior excoriating Greer and all the rest of us Western feminists for not denouncing the whole edifice of Islam:
The Failure of Western Feminists to Address Islamist Abuse
They just don’t listen, do they? Feminists denounce men who terrorise and torture the women in their family and community in the name of patriarchal extremism all the time, we just don’t think that Islam is unique in providing an ideology within which misogynistic extremists can be in denial about their hate and pathological drive to dominate. This writer even illustrates his article with pictures of Muslim women from a few decades ago who were in Western secular dress without hijabs, as if this somehow backs up his argument about the monumental and eternal oppressiveness of Islam, when it is not Islam as a whole which has changed in the last few decades, it is which political groups within Islam have come into power.
All misogynists extremists are evil, and in some Muslim societies at the moment they are the ones holding the keys of power. That is not the fault of Islam itself however, that is the fault of Western governments for the last 50 years preferring to deal with predictable autocrats rather than unpredictable democrats, despite all the rhetoric about democracy. And then the West is oh so surprised when the autocrats are toppled by a popular revolution led by the angriest and most extremist groups around! If we had supported nascent democratic movements against the autocrats instead of looking away when the autocrats had the secular democrats arrested and executed, then we would not have the extremists in power today.
Telling Muslims that their entire religion is so wrong that it is beyond reformation to a more humanist and egalitarian model, when our governments are the ones who ignored the urgent appeals of their reformers for generations, is blatant warmongering, in my opinion. There are many Muslim reformers working for a more secular Muslim society in which the balance of power is set so that the extremists cannot rage out of control: they need support as Muslims, not denunciations of their entire religion.