Until last week I thought The Monthly benign, mostly harmless, occasionally stimulating.
Sure, it published articles by male writers over articles by female writers in a ratio of 4:1, and had a tendency towards husband-and-wife writing sinecures. But if it wasn’t ideal, it wasn’t uncommon either (especially as some of my readers and me discovered when looking at the gender split of writers for similar publications in the US and UK).
Now it looks anything but benign. For The Monthly has recently devoted its cover and major article to a juvenile disparagement of Germaine Greer on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of her seminal text, The Female Eunuch.
Louis Nowra’s article, “The Better Self?”, and the fact of its publication is bewildering. This is how we examine the contribution of one of our most famous citizens and the impact of a book that sold millions of copies and has never been out of print?
By deriding her appearance?
… she looks like a befuddled and exhausted old woman. She reminded me of my demented grandmother who, towards the end of her life, was often in a similarly unruly state.
By marshalling pages of non-sequiturs?
In The Female Eunuch, she mentions that women shave their pubic area “in extreme cases.” Now “Brazilians” are common among young women. Her exhortation to women not to marry hasn’t been taken up. And as for women opting out of their roles as prinicipal consumers in the capitalist system, young women today love shopping more than ever.
By patronising any woman who’s ever been within the author’s ambit?
One day when I was loading trucks to earn money, I had to pick up goods from a spinning-yarn factory where my Auntie Helen worked. The enormous hangar-like building was filled with spinning-yarn machines, all of them operated by women. The clanking, whining machines made such a noise that everyone had to shout. I saw my widowed aunt sweating in the heat, her hair in a net so it didn’t snag in the machines and scalp her. I realised then that none of the working-class women who worked with her would ever read The Female Eunuch; it would remain always inaccessible to them with its many quotes from Nietzsche, Blake and Shakespeare.
By attacking Greer for doing by accident what she does by design?
… there’s now a sense that she is impersonating – even parodying – herself. She has become a grotesque character called Germaine Greer.
The last is the most serious failing. For Nowra — along with a certain segment of the population who, as one blog commentor noted, becomes crazed by Greer — just does not get who Greer is.
Germaine Greer is a performance artist; always has been, always will be. She happens to have a huge intellect and to have written one of the most influential books of the last half-century, but all of it has been in service to her main aim which is to perform and dramatise the conundrum of being a woman. And parody, saying or doing anything “to get noticed,” and grotesqueries are all tools of the trade. Nowra, and those like him, don’t get that she spends her amour propre, jettisons it, trounces it, because she’s demonstrating its meaninglessness.
It’s as if Nowra thinks it was someone else who in the 70s bent over naked and looked through her legs on the cover of Suck magazine, or someone else who debated Norman Mailer in the New York Town Hall, or someone else who, as I can attest, did a spontaneous routine based on the consanguinity of the words “banking” and “wanking” at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge University in 1996 on what was the (mere) 20th anniversary of the admission of female students to the college.
Fact is, there are more things in heaven and earth that Germaine has done or contemplated doing than a journeyman like Nowra could ever dream of. That this same Nowra, this chronic misinterpreter, has been charged with writing a retrospective on Greer’s book is both depressing and laughable.
At least the débâcle has generated some funny blog postings and comments. Here are some choice ones from the blog, Larvatus Prodeo.
The Monthly is the same old introspective masturbation produced by the same myopic mutton dressed up as libertine lamb … All it really is is the same old in-fighting and witless bitchiness amongst the same old 150 people who harbour a lifelong delusion of being the Antipodean equivalent of [insert favourite intellectual/artistic movement here].
Associate with any of these people and do/say something the least bit wild and they’ll cringe in fear or spew such self-righteous moralising hypocrisy as to make Lady Bracknell embarrassed for them. The culture of this country would be improved 3000% if you could give this lot a pleasure cruise and sink the boat with a cruise missile in shark-infested waters.
Not that I have anything against them.
But what Nowra and I have in common is that we’re about as marginal, creative, original and interesting as IKEA furniture.
Thanks Mercurius and Trotsky for making the thread bearable. Are we that bereft of intellectual fertility that we have to swing Germaine Greer’s public persona around like a bored cat on a flabby bungee cord?
I’ll leave the last word to Germs herself.