Louis Nowra? He has no idea what makes sexists tick

Long term readers of this site know that there have been several occasions in recent years where we have felt that Germaine Greer has lost the social justice plot. But we’ve never dismissed her entire body of work.

Louis Nowra has no such qualms in an essay he has written to mark the 40th anniversary of publication of Greer’s The Female Eunuch. It is nothing but contempt and dismissal of every single thing Greer has ever done, and is summarised in the Independent(UK): ‘Germaine Greer? She has no idea what makes women tick,’ says Nowra.

In ridiculing Greer’s vision of a transformation in gender politics, Nowra casually dismisses second-wave feminism in its entirety. This bit in particular mad me go WTF?

He also ridicules her for exhorting women to give up clothes and make-up. Far from “opting out of their roles as principal consumers in the capital system,” he writes, “young women today love shopping more than ever”.
[…] pokes fun at Greer for urging women to shun marriage and cosmetic surgery. Women are still getting married, he observes, and Botox injections have become virtually a “rite of passage”.

So, because of the backlash pushing consumerism and the beauty myth even harder over the last decades, this is somehow proof that Greer was wrong to posit that consumerism and the beauty myth are toxic to women and should be rejected? For Greer to express this idea is somehow “misogynistic”? That women are still highly interested in ‘fripperies’ and cosmetic surgery 40 years later somehow shows that Greer was wrong about the desire for ‘fripperies’ & unnaturally youthful looks being culturally instilled? That their continued prominence in women’s lives actually says something essential about women’s innate attributes and resultant “needs”?

The irony within his own essay, which instead of simply engaging with Greer’s ideas includes gratuitous slams at her personal appearance, slams based on Greer eschewing these allegedly essential feminine fripperies, eludes him. Why, how could people like Nowra mocking women who fail to delight his eye with fripperies possibly have anything to do with women’s “inherent” desire for fripperies?

FSM on a pogo stick, the man is a braying jackass positively dripping with sexist condescension. So of course he’s just exactly who The Monthly would commission to write a piece on Greer.

Is Nowra this scathing of people who predicted moon colonies and flying cars back in the 60s, or this smug about how race is still the primary social division in the USA and elsewhere despite the efforts of the civil rights movement? I bet not, because he’s not willing to sneer at male scientists or male activists/leaders. But sneering at a woman whose vision has not yet come to pass? Oh, what a fool she is for even imagining it.

Sometimes engineering projects, whether mechanical or social, are simply much more challenging at a fundamental level than early visionaries calculate, particularly when it comes to social willingness to embrace the cost of such projects. NASA came to realise that Congress was unwilling to hand over the necessary level of taxpayers money for moon colonies to become a reality, and racial minorities and women have come to realise that racists and sexists are both unwilling to lose any of their social privileges in the name of equality and are even more unwilling to admit that their motives are indeed racist and sexist.

The failure (as yet) of such projects and the consequent absence of their potential benefits to humanity should not provoke smug celebrations consisting of flinging poo at a visionary whose predictions have not come to pass. The continued failure of such projects should provoke despair at humanity’s short sighted selfishness.

Kim at Larvatus Prodeo: Germaine Greer trashed in The Monthly.
Philippa Martyr at Quadrant: Offending Nowra, defending Greer

Categories: ethics & philosophy, gender & feminism, media


32 replies

  1. I read Germaine Greer’s book on women artists, “The Obstacle Race” (1979) near the time it was published. Her contribution to MY life as an artist is HUGE. It’s validating to know. Women artists have been erased from art history. Greer found many and wrote about them. To that end, the NMWA National Museum of Women in the Arts was begun in the mid1980s, in Washington, DC. (It could be better on the not-famous contemporary of us. And they do the “social world” thing for fundraising. But, they have an archive of women artists, artists from all over the world http://www.nmwa.org. Easy to start a file. And a database online, CLARA. ) Women artists are still marginalized in the art world, as in “less than”.
    An example, not too old: in a fundraiser letter I received from
    the NMWA, there were results mentioned from a study, done by a large national group of art galleries. This was in the middle 1990s. Only 1 per cent of artists in the US made enough money from the sale of their/our work to live on, or put another way, to NOT have to have outside jobs. I was a member of a large artists group, Women in the Arts, NYC (same name as the museum’s newsletter – and I fault the museum for having had a Frida Kahlo rag doll with two legs in their gift shop catalog, and I did art about it), in the mid1970s. Women artists did not receive art grants, funding, as often as male artists. It didn’t correspond to the division of men and women as artists: there are a lot of women artists. Do we need to remind folks that women artists who were married to male artists often subjugated their careers to their male artist spouse’s career?
    In the 1990s, Nell Blaine, an artist who I knew through my networking with other professional artists, who are disabled, was the only woman artist to have a postcard of her work on sale at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC. And they had showed some of her prints. (She was a painter and printmaker.) As good as her prices were in a prominent NYC art gallery, they were much less than male artists were getting. Most of us have been the “Medici” of our own careers.
    Those are examples of how important Germaine Greer’s historical research, good writing has been to women artists of our time. I hope she reads this: Thank you Germaine Greer. Even though art is an itch that must be scratched, as can, the history and validation by Greer’s work is magnificent. Sanda Aronson

  2. I am no fan of Germaine Greer’s tendency to hypocrisy and pontification, but Louis Nowra was an appalling choice to write this article, and would appear to have done a terrible job of it. I would have liked to see two women write this article – an older woman who could comment on how things have changed since 1970, and a younger woman who could comment on growing up in a post-Greer Australia. But the Monthly would rather serve up tired misogynistic personal attacks.

  3. Yeah, I’ve got plenty of bones to pick with Germaine Greer: her vicious transphobia, her ableism (the Female Eunch goes on about neurasthenia and similar illnesses like they are a weak response to oppression, rather than considering that they might be actual uninvestigated illnesses) and so on.
    I also have to say that I do think there is a streak of victim blaming and internalized misogyny in her work. I remember one particular occasion when Greer recounts how she has lived with several violent men and comments that she has managed to avoid violence because she made it quite clear that it doesn’t impress her, which I found an outstandingly glib response to violence against women.
    But that so-called “review” is awful and mansplaining at its finest.
    But according to a fellow Australian writer, Louis Nowra, Greer fundamentally misunderstood how women tick, and modern realities have debunked her vision of how they would live after casting off traditional shackles.
    But women haven’t cast off our traditional shackles, so we can’t say anything conclusive about what will happen when we do. When the patriarchy’s smashed (I say patriarchy, because I’m not convinced Greer actually wants to smash the kyrarichy) then we can talk about whether Greer was wrong about her vision for women’s futures.
    she looked like “a befuddled and exhausted old woman” who reminded him of “my demented grandmother”.
    Ageism, ableism, lookism, sexism. What a winning combination!
    He also claims that Greer was “hopelessly idealistic” in her expectation that women would use power differently from men. “Once in possession of it [power], women are just as likely as men to enforce hierarchies and use power for corrupt or ignoble ends,” he writes.
    This makes me strongly suspect that he hasn’t even read the Female Eunch, because as an anarchist Greer was very critical of liberal feminism that attempted just to put more women in positions of power for just that reason.

  4. Now you know Ms. Greer is not my favoritest person in the world what with her insistence that she gets to determine other people’s gender. But I won’t deny she and other second-wave feminists didn’t do an important thing in analyzing the ways [certain classes of] women were oppressed by societal pressures to conform to [those] standards of feminine appearance and behavior [which applied to them]. It’s taken… what would us noisy marginalized-type social-justice folk be? Fourth-wave? Three-point-five? I dunno.
    Anyway, it’s taken a while for anyone to point out that the experiences and oppressions analyzed were a long road from being as universal as they were presumed to be by the creators. There’s been some friction over that. It still doesn’t change that these women helped show those of us who came later that we could do our own analyses of our own oppressions (including *cough* the ways they oppressed us), and helped create the tools to do it with. For that, Ms. Greer, thanks.
    So we’re still working on prying privilege from the warm living fingers of the privileged, so what? That just means it’s a work in process. It doesn’t mean we’ve failed.
    .-= kaninchenzero´s last blog ..Re: Trust Me =-.

  5. H/T to Gummo at LP
    The Quadrant have put up a response to the Monthly’s article.

  6. Hi, thanks for this piece. I can’t believe they got a man to write such a dismissive piece about Greer 40 years after ‘The Female Eunuch’ was published. There are so many people more qualified to write about the influence of her work.
    (Anyway, hi! I’m “de-lurking”. I’ve written a brief piece over at my blog…it basically links to others who have written about this issue, but I’m all inspired to write a piece in defence of Greer now. http://postfeminist.wordpress.com/)

  7. It’s been a long time since I read “The Female Eunuch”, but as I remember it, it was not a series of predictions, so how is it even a relevant critique to say “X, Y and Z have not come to pass”? It just doesn’t make any sense. This guy is not only a raving misogynist, but a complete idiot.
    I’ll chime in and say that although I too have some major disagreements with Greer (her hatred of trans people being a huge one), reading “The Female Eunuch” in my early twenties was a revelation. It was the turning point for me to begining to call myself a feminist, and to begin to articulate all the many things that had been nagging at me, but which I’d previously tried to ignore, about being a woman in this supposed age of gender equality. BTW, this was about 5 years ago. The book was 35 years old, and still revolutionary.

  8. Also: Where’s my jet pack. WHERE. I BLAME THE MASCULINISTS.

  9. Sanda, thank you for your comment @1. I think Greer’s tendency in her MSM columns is to troll a bit, bless her, and it’s really good to hear about her more serious stuff. I took my daughter to hear her speak when she came to Melbourne a couple of years ago (organised by an orsm Melbourne blogger!) and she was really impressive. I think for us busy office drones who don’t get to read more academic/art world stuff, we get the worst of her i.e. her MSM articles. (Except for the Steve Irwin one, which was completely accurate! 😉 )

  10. o we’re still working on prying privilege from the warm living fingers of the privileged, so what? That just means it’s a work in process. It doesn’t mean we’ve failed.
    Money quote. Do we say the firefighting service has “failed” because there’s still fire?

  11. I came to make a correction to my comment @1, but first, Thank you, Helen.
    Many artists are office drones, too. I was one in some of my “outside jobs” to support my art career before I got ME/CFS. A close friend, artist and poet, is an office drone, as you put it. (I smile.) Others are viewers of our art.
    Correction: noting that we are later on the calendar than you all, int’l date line, as I was falling off to sleep, I “saw” something wrong in my comment, in my head:
    I meant to say that Nell Blaine was the only living woman artist who the Metropolitan Museum of Art was selling post cards of her work, her painting, before she died in 1996.
    Some months ago, Germaine Greer had an article on the Guardian website about the dancers Degas used as model and the comments from men were bad.
    I tend to be woman oriented, a feminist and am also married. Am feeling “on top of the world”, having just packed an envelope for the NMWA archives with my e-blog/work diary “Countdown to 7 0″. I did a work process- thought diary as I did art between Jan. 4 and Feb. 23, 2010 – 31 emails to myself. To start, I may just self-publish or find a way to put it online. I am mentioning it because I am pleased to have gotten a major “thing” done: art work to mark my 7 0 –
    17 1/2 leap year birthday and record my art process as I was going along. It was a gamble: could I get work done and sit/type? I got a xerographic made for my birthday (done early) and then a woodcut, small edition after dreaming about doing one for two years. I have observed over my career that how artists think/work process is the mystery to people who are not artists. How do artists make decisions as we work? Art is both problem solving and an itch that must be scratched.

  12. I loathe the idea that the smug Mr Nowra seems to think he does know “what makes women tick”. Playwrights have to write for voices not their own, but then often come to believe in their own creations through the subsequent process of hearing real people say their words, and I think it can engender a particular kind of arrogance.

    • @orlando,
      that’s a great point about playwrights generally needing to be more self-critical about what they suppose about the strength of their own insights.

  13. He was sort of saying “I read this book 40 years ago and it was awesome, but when I read it again recently there was something wrong in it, so Germaine Greer you suck!”
    When I read books again that I first read and thought awesome as a teenager… they usually DO sort-of suck in some ways. (Except Ursula Le Guin. And Middlemarch.)
    I mean, back then when Nowra thought the book awesome, it already had the anti-gay stuff in it, it didn’t just get put in later editions. He didn’t notice it back then. But he still feels able to criticise Greer from a point of ideological purity. (And it really is a personal critique of Greer, not just her book. )
    (I thought his dismissive comments of Greer’s appearance were amusingly out-of-touch— in all the photos with the article— and there were lots of them— she looked fabulous.)

  14. Julie, I had the same thought about how good G. Greer looked in photos I saw recently.
    I’ve spent some of the overnight thinking about this essay/ posting and the comments. I learned things about G. Greer that I hadn’t known. It is ….interesting (can’t come up with a better word), how some individuals can be so good (in my view, of course) in one area and so locked-in to bad ideas in other areas. I hadn’t known about Greer and transgender people. As an artist, I had assumed that artists in general were accepting of people and differences. I was surprised to find artists who were hostile to gay men and lesbians. I also used the assume that people in one minority group would be tolerant of other minority groups. (As someone who grew up Jewish and saw Jews who were racist, I should have known better. Jews who experienced prejudice still had
    bias.) I have a neighbor who is gay who is a misogynist and racist. A close friend of decades “ran” away when I became ill with ME/CFS, while an AIDS educator.
    The only book I read of Greer’s was the one on artists. The only article by her that I read was the one in the Guardian several months ago on Degas and the ballet dancer who was the model for the sculpture of the little ballet dancer in the tutu (one of them is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and a longtime favorite of mine).

  15. hi again, just wanted to add that I’ve now written a little piece about Greer (and the Nowra article) as part of my “feminist of the week” section on my blog: http://postfeminist.wordpress.com/2010/03/07/pondering-germaine-greer/

  16. @18 – also she criticised his use of ‘demented grandmother’ – NOT so she can say stop utilising dementia and aging and to use them as disparaging ‘criticisms’, but to lob it back in terms of ‘demented grandfathers’.
    Then there’s the whole men being more forthright/honest crap, the worship of capitalism, the compulsory heterosexuality, the speaking for all women everywhere (‘we all knew her particular idea was barmy’), some strange determination to link good-wifey-hetero-sexuality with a love of shopping and capitalism, and despite her warning Nowra off of using aging, the charming ‘flesh rots off the bones of their frequently flawed arguments’ trope. Pru Goward makes me cranky quite frequently.

  17. The one thing I think she hit on is that Greer did/does appeal because of the ‘wit, sex appeal and outrageousness’. I do adore those qualities and before I’d read about the homophobia/trans* phobia etc I really responded to her because of those qualities – it’s a pity she couldn’t also display more thoughtfulness and less exclusion/nastiness.

  18. Nowra is no misogynist. It is abundantly clear that a good many of the correspondents above, including the original author (tigtog?) have simply not read either Nowra’s article, nor in fact, much of Greer’s work it would appear. TigTog relies on a review published in the Independent newspaper for goodness sake to form her views on the original article. For too long Greer has been the sacred cow of feminism (bad analogy I just realised, but I’m going to run with it because it seems peculiarly apt). Criticism of her work, or indeed of her entire body of work, or even of the woman herself does not constitute woman hating. Nor does it constitute a criticism of any tenets of feminism.
    There is no doubt The Female Eunuch was one of the most imporant intellectual works of last century. But lets face it, Greer is an unpleasant person and her academic record in later life has been anything but brilliant. Criticism of her work might be right or it might be wrong or it might be anythign in between. But dismissing Nowra as a misogynist because he criticises tells more about the authors above than they probably menat to disclose.

  19. Thank you for your concern.
    .-= kaninchenzero´s last blog ..The More It Hurts the More Sense It Makes =-.

  20. But lets face it, Greer is an unpleasant person and her academic record in later life has been anything but brilliant.
    That’s exactly the sort of unsubstantiated, personal and just plain cock-headed approach that people are complaining about. “Greer is an unpleasant person”. FFS. Have you ever seen her speak IRL?

  21. Indeed, Helen. Controversial and occasionally very wrong is not necessarily the same as unpleasant. Nobody on this thread has been saying that she’s perfect or in any way unassailable on the merits or otherwise of her work, simply that Nowra’s line of attack is ridiculously superficial and sexist.
    As regards her academic record, she essentially doesn’t have one since 1972 by her own choice to resign her position due to her financial independence gained from the success of TFE. Since then she has been a public intellectual who undertakes occasional guest and emeritus academic invitationals, so to deride the academic achievements of someone who makes no pretence to having an active academic career is a very cheap shot.

  22. I found Mandy Sayer’s response to the criticism of her husband over his Greer essay quite amusing, but just because he’s non-sexist to women in his social circle doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have a sexist bone in his body.
    In fact, I’ve known quite a few men who are keen to talk up the achievements of their wives/mothers/sisters/daughters as extraordinary, and been very supportive of them pursuing autonomous careers etc, yet it’s all been on the basis of how their very own special women “aren’t like typical women”. I hope even Rex Smtheringale can see the embedded sexism contained in exceptionalising just some women.
    Of course I don’t know for a fact whether Nowra is one of these blokes who partitions women into honorary men with ladybits and all those other inferior women and/or ball-busting harpy women, but going on what he wrote about Greer it all seems very possible.

  23. OK point taken. I was in error by trying to link my perception of Greer with the question of whether Nowra is a misogynist. With hindsight it was not particularly clever. However I would still argue that crticism of Greer by Nowra does not necessarily constitute misogyny on his part. My take on his piece was that it was a genuine critical view of Greer’s work. And in this context I mean critical in the sense of objective evaluation rather than criticism for it’s own sake. Certainly Nowra’s piece was subjective to some degree, but I could identify nothing in his piece which would lead to the conclusion that he writes from a misogynistic perspective. I am not sufficiently familiar with his other works to argue whether misogyny is an influence on his woprk generally, but this article taken alone, there is nothing to support the contention which appears to have been uncritically accepted here and elsewhere.
    And Helen, I have, FFS as you put it, heard Greer in person. Have you? I am an academic approaching retirement and have attended various fora at which she has spoken. I have also seen her performances in various recorded media. Greer was a working academic all her life and although retired, still retains her chair at Warwick. It is therefore valid for me to express a view on her academic record – as it is for others to express a view on mine. I certainly would never claim to be an academic of the significant standing of Greer, but I am far from alone in expressing a certain view about her academic record in later life. I am also entirely entitled to express a view about her personal nature and I stand by the description I used above.
    TigTog – the last paragraph of your last post does you no credit. You don’t know if he’s one of those types of fellows you describe in such colourful terms, but “..it all seems very possible..” That is just intellectually dishonest. You have no evidence on which to criticise Nowra so you generalise on the basis of his one article. This makes me suspect even more you have not read the piece.
    So, have you?

    • @Rex Smitheringale

      However I would still argue that crticism of Greer by Nowra does not necessarily constitute misogyny on his part.

      Since I never used the big bad M-word to describe Nowra in my post, you just go right ahead with that and enjoy it. It’s got nothing to do with me.
      This blog has in the past criticised Germaine Greer on several grounds where we feel she has been either factually wrong, philosophically suspect and/or ideologically harmful. Feminists generally have no problem at all with people criticising Greer on the substance of her writings, and neither does she. Where Nowra stuck to the substance, he is as entitled to his opinion as anybody else.
      Of course, when Nowra’s argument relies upon the fallacies of gender essentialism with respect to why women still pursue fripperies etc then he simply opens himself up to mockery on those grounds alone.
      Now, do you want to engage with where Nowra departed from engaging with the substance of Greer’s work, or where he made a sophomoric gender essentialist argument in his attempt at a rebuttal of some of her hypotheses, since those remarks are what is being criticised in my post, or do you think there’s still some life in that strawman you’re kicking over there?

  24. For myself, I find Ms. Greer fair unpleasant. I’ve never seen her speak and don’t care to. She has not yet stopped repeating her eliminationist rhetoric against people like me never mind offering any apologies; I deem such sufficient to call a person unpleasant. Somehow I doubt it’s what our gentleman caller had in mind though.
    .-= kaninchenzero´s last blog ..The More It Hurts the More Sense It Makes =-.

    • @kaninchero, I fully understand why you personally find Greer unpleasant, and I agree that that particular side of her is very unpleasant indeed and fully appreciate why you don’t care about other aspects of her.
      It can be an uncomfortable position, defending someone against gratuitous personal slams when you yourself have other criticisms of them, but it’s an ethical stance I feel compelled to take.
      @Rex Smitheringale, thank you for taking the time to reread more carefully and for your comprehensive apology. It’s a rare sight online and I appreciate your courtesy in making the gesture.

  25. And Helen, I have, FFS as you put it, heard Greer in person. Have you?

  26. TigTog – you have completely and utterly defeated me. I should have been more careful and should have read the material better. I got it wrong and I concede without qualification.
    I have done you a disservice and after reading all your posts again I realise that once again I was in error and I do apologise. There have been many in this debate who seem to equate criticism of Greer and the M word. You are certainly not one of them. In my defence I guess I started thinking your material was echoing some of that paff and proceeded on the basis of that inaccurate assumption. This is something I have criticised many students for over the years so of course there is no excuse for me. On re-reading your stuff, I find myself uncomfortably wrong in the arguments directed at you. Once again my apologies; and also my thanks for being so gentle in your rebuffs.
    And also for the record, my own view is that Greer was one of the most influential people in the second half of the 20th century. My personal opinion of her doesn’t change that one jot. She has achieved more than the vast majority of us could ever hope to and she is blessed with a most imposing intellect. Very few of us can claim to be a prime mover of an entire intellectual tradition. I recall the incident some years ago in which a young woman broke into Greer’s home and kept her prisoner for a while. It was well reported in the press here, I’m not sure about elsewhere. Greer’s response in allowing that the young woman was herself a victim was a demonstration of a greater level of intellectual honesty that most of us could boast. But there have also been other incidents which demonstrated characteristics which some of us find less desirable. It was these I was referring to, but in retrospect really didn’t need to.
    So I shall now slink away…

  27. @tigtog Yeah, it’s not fun. I do not like finding myself in the position of defending someone like Ms Greer or any other woman whose work I find repellent against gratuitously misogynist bullshit. I will and did up-thread regarding Mr Nowra. I just think “unpleasant” is a fair assessment. That”s not what our gentleman caller meant. He was calling her a shrill strident bitch while wanting to be able to disavow those words. And that I disagreed with, though I was not real enthusiastic and might have been too subtle to have had much impact.
    .-= kaninchenzero´s last blog ..The More It Hurts the More Sense It Makes =-.

%d bloggers like this: