Who’s afraid of Germaine Greer?

In case you missed it, Germaine was in Melbourne over the weekend speaking at a conference on Jane Austen and Comedy organised by blogdom’s own Laura. Helen went along and has all the good oil posted at the Cast Iron Balcony. Another Outspoken Female was there too. And so, Helen reports, was that lioness of teh Decent Left, Pamela Bone, who, as you would expect at a conference on Jane Austen and Comedy, seized the chance to ask Greer why she wasn’t doing teh loud condemnation thang about rape in Darfur:

Maybe shamefully, I was hoping for a hint of controversy – a provocative remark, a hint of intellectual stoush maybe – and blow me down if Pamela Bone didn’t stand up right at the very end, in question time, and ask why, if Germaine was able to talk about the patriarchal structures binding Fanny Price and other female heroines, why she wasn’t … I forget here what she was actually advocating Greer do at the time, but anyway, feminists aren’t doing enough.

Unsurprisingly, this is the one aspect that Andrew Bolt has picked up on, taking time out from that last redoubt of the defeated culture warrior, climate change denialism blogging, which has seemingly been the focus of most of his energy since the election. Bolt observes of Greer:

(She was speaking to an audience of English teachers, nearly all women.)

Hang on dude! Remember the culture wars script. You’re meant to be the true feminist… So you might be better off not implying that an audience made up of “nearly all women” are teh dumb. Or those Maoist postmodernist teachers. Whatevs. I wish I’d been there to hear Greer talk about, well, Jane Austen and Comedy.

Update: Another Greer talk report from Pavlov’s Cat.

Posted in blogosphere, culture, feminism, media, politics
51 comments on “Who’s afraid of Germaine Greer?
  1. Frank Calabrese says:

    Barcelona Tonight had their usual quality story on Germaine wiining the FHM Woman of the Year Award and opining that she wasn’t a worthy winner. 🙂

  2. Helen says:

    It’s just all QUALITY from the abovementioned media outlets. And ACA (see story on Laura’s blog). What maroons.
    Thanks for the link Kim!

  3. […] LP has more – and that hilarious Andrew Bolt has weighed in too, wouldn’t you know.       Crossposted at Road to Surfdom […]

  4. Laura says:


    I would certainly have missed teh Bolt piece. Good to know he too is on the ball with regard to all things related to Jane Austen.

  5. Darlene says:

    It was conference about Jane Austen.

    The worst forum I attended at the MWF featured Bone and a couple of blokes (the editor of The Age – Landeryou would know his name). Bone’s an impressive woman, but she’s obsessed with the old ideological divide. She had a kind of Margo quality about her: couldn’t sit still or let go.

    I say people who don’t think feminists aren’t talking about issues like Darfur don’t know how to use Google.

  6. Craig Mc says:

    “Barcelona Tonight had their usual quality story on Germaine wiining the FHM Woman of the Year Award and opining that she wasn’t a worthy winner.”

    But that’s only because they don’t have a Pointless Crone of the Year award.

  7. Klaus K says:

    I really wish I could’ve made it to the conference, and not just for Greer’s lecture. I’ve been reading some Austen with one of my students and am reminded of how much there is to these novels.

    PS In light of the MSM response to her visit, I’ve decided to abandon the qualifying statement that tends to accompany any positive mention of Greer – ‘…but I don’t always agree with her’ – since it should really go without saying. I hope that everybody that appreciates any aspect of Greer’s body of work, but who is prone to using such defense mechanisms, will do the same. Call it polarisation, but I’m sick of the scoffing half-wits: it’s time to follow the enlightened readers of FHM and come out as Greer fans.

  8. Katz says:

    We of the Right have nought to fear.
    No one is as irrelevant as Germaine Greer.
    And Germaine was irrelevant yesterday.
    I pray to God she’d go away.

    For as long as Greer provokes irrational frenzy from The Right, her contribution continues to be useful.

  9. Paul Burns says:

    It sounds like it was a brilliant lecture, and well worth attending. No cxomment on the out of context question from the ultra feminist in the audience. Its irrelevance speaks for itself. Austen is probably one of the greatest novelists who will ever write in English. I take gentle exception to the idea that being an admirer of Austen is a girl-thing.Its a literature thing,which has bugger all to do with issues of race, gender and class (I’m sure some will disagree with me there) unless the texts are being used as primary sources for history. Its to do with widening ones understanding of one’s own and others’ humanity.

  10. Ambigulous says:

    Hear hear Paul Burns

    The TV series of “P & P” awoke our household including a teenage daughter not until then a novel reader; we thank the BBC, but mostly Jane with her wit and deep understanding and deft touch. It’s a person thing, or a reader thing. I’m the grateful Dad of the former teenager.

    Homage to Jane Austen.

  11. TimT says:

    No comment on the out of context question from the ultra feminist in the audience.

    It in fact had a spurious connection with the subject at hand – the question was something like the following:

    Do you think the repressive patriarchal society outlined in Jane Austen’s books relates to the oppressive patriarchal society in Darfur, and by the way, what do you think of the rape situation there?

    In no way a direct quote, just illustrative of the general way in which the question was asked.

    A fine lecture, all up. GG was eloquent, witty, and diplomatic in her answers to questions from the audience.

  12. Craig Mc says:

    “Do you think the repressive patriarchal society outlined in Jane Austen’s books relates to the oppressive patriarchal society in Darfur, and by the way, what do you think of the rape situation there?”

    And that’s why marijuana should be legalised. You don’t think someone went with that question under their arm determined to shoe-horn it into any Q&A session, do you?

  13. Laura says:

    Good on you Paul and Ambigulous. I was taking tickets and was pleased to see *some* men in attendance, even some young ones. Men do tend to stay away from things to do with Austen, though – in my course on her last semester I had 59 students one of whom was male, and he broke his leg in week 4 and couldn’t come to class.

    It’s the cluuter and paraphernalia of bonnets and muslin etc which puts off men ore than it does women, apparently. Those of both genders who look past that and get into reading soon find out that what Paul said is right. (Although I would argue that race, gender and class are part of what constitutes humanity, gender especially. Wouldn’t be happy to universalise gendered experience out of the picture in the Austen novel.)

  14. Laura says:

    Craig, given that the questioner in question rang me some weeks before the lecture and said she would ask her question from the audience if GG would not grant her an interview, Yes.

  15. How did Bolt know the women in the crowd were mainly English teachers? Did they have their occupation tattooed on their foreheads?

  16. Craig Mc says:

    Robert: It’s Jane Austen dude.

  17. FDB says:

    “the questioner in question rang me some weeks before the lecture and said she would ask her question from the audience if GG would not grant her an interview”

    How did you respond?

    “Ummm, sure Pammy, knock yourself out. Sure you don’t want to think of something less, y’know, stupid to say?”

  18. Helen says:

    Robert, they have a barcode tattooed just behind the ear, and a microchip embedded under the skin (which they get at maoist boot camp). Some Herald-Sun operative must have bought a ticket to the lecture and waved a barcode reader.

    Oh and Darlene:

    I say people who don’t think feminists aren’t talking about issues like Darfur don’t know how to use Google.


    That is all.

  19. Paul Burns says:

    Of course gender, race, class are part of humanity. But that is probably not where the reader is coming from when one first approaches her novels. Its the elegance of language, the subtle wit, the comprehensive depiction of male/female relationships, and, if you look deep enough, her depiction of Regency England. [smile]/

  20. Helen says:

    and, if you look deep enough, her depiction of Regency England.

    …which was beset with issues of gender, power and class, as exemplified by the tension surrounding the getting of a suitable man by various women, and the impact on their lives and that of their families if they did not.

  21. TimT says:

    ‘On first encountering Jane Austen’. Hmmm…

    I remember when I first fished Pride and Prejudice and Emma out of a cardboard box sitting at the back shed of my place in Annadale in Sydney, evidently left there by a previous owner. (My attitude has always been you take literature where you find it!) I hadn’t read anything by Austen at that stage, and had only the vaguest image in my mind of BBC serials, bonnets, and so on – I don’t think it really had anything to do with my choice to read the books. It was more to do with a deep interest in English literature, and some knowledge of Romantic and Augustinian literature of the period that Austen was writing in.

    Of course, when I first dipped into P&P shortly afterwards, it was the constant wit that drew me in, the acerbic observation of certain characters and situations. By the end, it seemed to me I recognised something of the same spirit that I had met in certain poems by Swift and Pope. Though of course, in this case, it was enlarged and complemented by a comprehensive plot, and a novelist’s eye for dramatic events and character reversals.

    In other words, I agree with Paul! Perhaps the marketers think they’re onto something with this bonnet/romance/chick-lit angle that is continually associated with Austen – maybe they are. Though from my own experiences, I’ve come to think that people’s reading any author – Austen included – are always much more individual, and idiosyncratic than the marketers could ever wish for.

  22. FDB says:

    I agree with Helen. No Austen I’ve read has been more than spitting distance from feminist politics for more than a couple of paragraphs, and I don’t mean the “everything’s political” claptrap. She’s talking about gender politics non freaking stop.

    Which is of course not to say that it’s writing “for women” to the exclusion of men. That would be a silly thing to say.

  23. Katz says:

    JA invented the literary tone whose echoes are easily audible in comments of many women on this blog.


  24. Klaus K says:

    There is a kind of class-bound immanence to Austen’s characters that can unsettle ‘progressive’ (and especially male) critics, who tend to lazily assume that literature can and should cross those boundaries unopposed, and that transgression is a more valuable approach. Of course this ignores the constraints of the present (even in our transgressions), but they are scarcely visible to us, whereas those in Austen’s work are totally visible.

    On the other hand, there is a small, middle class universe of values in Austen that seduces the reader into it’s own dominant complacencies. The condition of being an insightful and aware ‘insider’ is the risky but rewarding part of Austen, and it is very easily lost without diligent and critical attention.

  25. kimberella says:

    Update: Another Greer talk report from Pavlov’s Cat.

  26. Ambigulous says:

    I have to confess extreme stupidity: in Year 12 English Lit “P&P” went right over my head. Probably too subtle. I thought it was just about class (incomes, husband hunting). I didn’t notice the wit, or to be charitable to the pimply youth – didn’t LOL. Now I do.

    At that time I liked a translation of “Good Soldier Schweik”, so apparently I could appreciate slapstick and broad irony.

    Litterateurs, mesdames et messieurs: now I’ve fessed up at last after 4 decades.

    Homage to Jane Austen

  27. Ambigulous says:

    PS: my teenage daughter LOVED the BBC “P&P” right from the first scene. Mr Darcy emerging from the lake was just a bonus.

  28. Craig Mc says:

    “I thought it was just about class (incomes, husband hunting).”

    I thought it was about boring people sitting around drinking cups of tea their whole lives. I may have missed the magic.

  29. kimberella says:

    Go back and have a read, Craig Mc. I think you might have. She’ll repay your trouble in spades, I guarentee.

  30. Katz says:

    Craig Mc would be well advised not to attempt to read Austen until he turns sixteen.

  31. Craig Mc says:

    If only schools thought like that Katz.

  32. anthony says:

    I agree with Craig Mc [winks to audience] Austen’s good but she’s no Frank Herbert

  33. TimT says:

    True, Austen continually failed to take into account the larger socio-galactic perspective and the possibiities of interstellar travel in favour of the rich dramatic possibilities of the drawing room and cups of tea. Quite an astounding oversight. I’m sure H G Wells never forgave her for it…

  34. Paul Burns says:

    Craig Mc should try Treasure Island.
    Not Kidnapped. That opening chapter is too long and boring for him.

  35. Katz says:

    It isn’t widely known that Jane Austen wrote an unpublished science fiction novel. An extract:

    It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of the planet Arrakis, must be in want of the Emperorship of the Known Universe.

  36. Craig Mc says:

    Anthony: Busted. Although I tend to read Noir these days having fished out most of the good sci-fi. Perhaps you’ve read “David Coperfield” by Edmund Wells.

    It’s true! If Mr Bennett had eaten his new-born progeny in a murderous, primal frenzy it would have improved the book no end. Alas, by halfway I was hoping that tea was carcinogenic.

    Maybe I’ll try again. OTOH, maybe I’ll just pop Clueless into the DVD player instead.

  37. Craig Mc says:

    Maybe this sums the divide. 🙂

  38. Laura says:

    Craig – try Persuasion. War, and only one fleeting reference to tea.

  39. Klaus K says:

    It’s really like comparing apples and oranges, though, comparing genre fiction with literary fiction. I agree with those who suggest that it may be worthwhile giving Austen another go, but ultimately sci-fi etc is mostly about pushing different mental buttons to the ones pushed by literary fiction, or at least pushing them in different ways.

  40. TimT says:

    I went to a talk, I think it was last year, by Karen Joy Fowler – writer of book ‘The Jane Austen Book Club’ (now a film), and before that, several pieces of science fiction. She made a point contrary to yours, Klaus – that Jane Austen fans and readers were quite like science-fiction fans and readers.

  41. Klaus K says:

    Maybe the fandom shares traits, but I find the pleasures of genre fiction to be quite distinct from those of literary fiction, and the pleasures of different genres to be markedly different as well. Also ‘fan’ and ‘reader’ are two different, if related, things, I would imagine. I might also argue that Austen can be read, and is read and enjoyed, as a genre author by many people who enjoy her work.

    Of course there are problems with sharp distinctions, as there is much variation within ‘the literary’ or ‘science fiction’, and there are authors and works that draw on both and on other genres at the same time.

  42. Craig Mc says:

    Laura: I’ll try your recommendation. I was going to crack “Vanity Fair” after “The Cold Six Thousand”, but Thackeray’s waited this long, he can wait a bit longer.

  43. Nabakov says:

    “that Jane Austen fans and readers were quite like science-fiction fans and readers.”

    Try James Tiptree Jr, a bisexual and respected female member of the US intelligence community during the cold war whose short stories take Jane Austen into pansexual, polymorphus SF terrority well beyond what Ursula Le Guin, Philip Jose Farmer or William Burroughs ever came up with. And while never losing sight of the sly and subtle social and cultural nuances that underpin all our dealings with our known corporeality and how that would translate into geninely unhuman terms.

    Start with “Mamma Come Home”, where a CIA black psy-ops unit deals with an stealth invasion of interstellar seven foot tall Amazons by using Hollywood tech to create even scarier men. Yes, it’s bloody funny as well. Or “And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill’s Side” about sex with aliens as an uncurable and society-sapping addiction.

    And then Ms James gets really out there. Rocket packs? Who needs ’em when your ship is powered by the Lovepile. Only Angela Carter came close with “The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr Hoffman.” And then only on this planet.

    And I defy any bloke to read “”Beam Us Home” without feeling a lost twitch for their childhood dreams of being an astronaut.

    The only writer I can think of that was on first name terms with the architect of he Bay of Pigs and had access to top secret U2 stuff while also writing stuff that’d make Williams Burroughs do a double take.

  44. Helen says:

    Have you read Rudyard Kipling’s story about the Janeites? It’s a hoot.

    ‘Well, then,’ Humberstall continued, ‘come on this secret society business that I started tellin’ you about. When those two—’Ammick an’ Mosse—’ad finished about their matrimonial relations—and, mind you, they weren’t radishes—they seldom or ever repeated—they’d begin, as often as not, on this Secret Society woman I was tellin’ you of—this Jane. She was the only woman I ever ’eard ’em say a good word for. ’Cordin’ to them Jane was a none-such. I didn’t know then she was a Society. ’Fact is, I only ’ung out ’arf an ear in their direction at first, on account of bein’ under instruction for mess-duty to this Macklin man. What drew my attention to her was a new Lieutenant joinin’ up. We called ’im “Gander” on account of his profeel, which was the identical bird. ’E’d been a nactuary—workin’ out ’ow long civilians ’ad to live. Neither ’Ammick nor Mosse wasted words on ’im at Mess. They went on talking as usual, an’ in due time, as usual, they got back to Jane. Gander cocks one of his big chilblainy ears an’ cracks his cold finger joints. “By God! Jane?” says ’e. “Yes, Jane,” says ’Ammick pretty short an’ senior. “Praise ’Eaven!” says Gander. “ It was ‘Bubbly’ where I’ve come from down the line.” (Some damn revue or other, I expect.) Well, neither ’Ammick nor Mosse was easy-mouthed, or for that matter mealy-mouthed; but no sooner ’ad Gander passed that remark than they both shook ’ands with the young squirt across the table an’ called for the port back again. It was a password, all right! Then they went at it about Jane—all three, regardless of rank. That made me listen. Presently, I ’eard ’Ammick say——’

    ‘’Arf a mo’,’ Anthony cut in. ‘But what was you doin’ in Mess?’

    ‘Me an’ Macklin was refixin’ the sand-bag screens to the dug-out passage in case o’ gas. We never knew when we’d cop it in the ’Eavies, don’t you see? But we knew we ’ad been looked for for some time, an’ it might come any minute. But, as I was sayin’, ’Ammick says what a pity ’twas Jane ’ad died barren. “I deny that,” says Mosse. “I maintain she was fruitful in the ’ighest sense o’ the word.” An’ Mosse knew about such things, too. “I’m inclined to agree with ’Ammick,” says young Gander. “Any’ow, she’s left no direct an’ lawful prog’ny.” I remember every word they said, on account o’ what ’appened subsequently. I ’adn’t noticed Macklin much, or I’d ha’ seen he was bosko absoluto. Then ’e cut in, leanin’ over a packin’-case with a face on ’im like a dead mackerel in the dark. “Pa-hardon me, gents,” Macklin says, “but this is a matter on which I do ’appen to be moderately well-informed. She did leave lawful issue in the shape o’ one son; an’ ’is name was ’Enery James.”

    ‘“By what sire? Prove it,” says Gander, before ’is senior officers could get in a word.

    ‘“I will,” says Macklin, surgin’ on ’is two thumbs. An’, mark you, none of ’em spoke! I forget whom he said was the sire of this ’Enery James-man; but ’e delivered ’em a lecture on this Jane-woman for more than a quarter of an hour.

  45. anthony says:

    Nicely summed CraigMc

    and thanks for the Tiptree tip Nabs, and yes I did sit upside down on the recliner chair as a kid while having conversations with Mission Control.

  46. tigtog says:

    I recently picked up a Tiptree anthology that I’m saving for Xmas hols reading. I’m looking forward to it even more now!

  47. Craig Mc says:

    Just to flog this dead thread a bit more, here’s a pertinent article. I’d concur with his assessment of lean times for Sci-Fi. Sci-Fi shelves have been swamped by erzatz Tolkein books for years now. It’s frustrating when you’re looking for some book tackling future possibilities only to see endless books about: friendly dragons; noble hyper-intelligent dragons; dragon porn (see everything!); and dragons’ favourite recipes and gardening renovations. I don’t know how it began, but I think dragons have become the nerd-chick’s version of a pony. Still, Amazon solves everything.

    Laura: you’ll be glad to know I picked up Persuasion last night. I was a bit disturbed by the bodice-ripper blurb on the back, but i’ll break its spine soon anyway.

  48. mbahnisch says:

    Not sure where you are, Craig Mc, but a specialist sf bookstore like Pulp Fiction in Brisbane is usually a good corrective to the shelves of Dymocks or whatever.

  49. Laura says:

    Good for you, Craig. I think Persuasion is exactly analagous to a contemporary novel about the aftermath of 9/11, ‘told slant’ – filtered through the perspective of a mourning widow who’s psychologically isolated in a very self-absorbed social scene which just doesn’t recognise her (and the nation’s) massive wounds.

    Contemporary possiblities SF is a bit lean I agree but Kim Stanley Robinson and Geoff Ryman have both written exciting stuff in this mould recently.

  50. […] question to Germaine Greer on behalf of ALL DECENT LEFTIES EVERYWHERE (discussed in this post from me and by Helen at the Balcony) didn’t just get play on Andrew Bolt’s blog, but […]

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