I took Girlchild to the Germaine Greer lecture on Jane Austen on Wednesday night. It was part of the Jane Austen and Comedy conference organised by Laura. I’d expected to have to drag this Millenial along under gentle duress, eyes rolling, in the hope that she might be intrigued in spite of expectations, and that she’d look back on it as an interesting experience, hearing a public lecture from one of our most prominent intellectuals and shit-stirrers. How I underestimated that girl. She, like, totally got it at once, came cheerfully and willingly and listened attentively (with the odd chuckle), despite not being a huge Austen fan.
Shameful confession: I’ve never been inside the Capitol Theatre before. The theatre itself is a larger than life personality which would upstage a lesser speaker. It was nice to hear a voice say hello in the queue outside and turn around to see Genevieve from Reeling and Writhing, who I’d met at a couple of blogmeets.
If you didn’t want girl cooties, it was the wrong place for you. I was amused to see that the crowd was overwhelmingly biased to women my age or older, and that many of them – Genevieve included – had the same idea of bringing a daughter along. Initiating them into TEH HIVEMIND. (Tim T was in the audience, but I didn’t spot him.)
“Check out the estrogen level in this place,” said Girlchild. I wondered if we’d all start menstruating at the same time the next day. Hell, with this many women in one room, the men would be, too.
Germaine Greer has an image in the popular mind as a ballbusting terror on wheels. It doesn’t reflect her real-life persona, as most of the people who read here would know. She’s like your favourite auntie, the generous and funny one who nevertheless doesn’t take any crap from anyone, and might come out with Outrageous Remarks after a few sherries. “Hello, there,” said a sweet voice to kick off the lecture. She spoke self-deprecatingly of not doing written lectures very much, but aiming to please anyway, and her disappointment at not being able to see our faces because of the stage lighting. She took us on a magical mystery tour around the Bildungsroman (with reference to The Getting of Wisdom and Mansfield Park), the eighteenth century, Colin Firth’s wet shirt (she’s over it); Why she doesn’t write fiction herself; Psychoanalysing Fanny Price in Mansfield Park; the invention of scottishness, Percy Shelley, and many other fascinating side trips, rather like the alleyways of Melbourne into which we spilled afterwards – you never know what you’ll find, but like Greer, you always return to the firm grid of Bourke/Elizabeth/Swanston which keeps us on topic.
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.
I recognise not everyone frequents the same corner of the blogosphere, so if you don’t immediately recognise this popular strawargument, I’ve blogged it before here, and you can find much robust discussion (cough) here and here.
Greer’s reply was a study in fluency and civility, although her voice was fighting irritation in response to Bone’s, which was sullen and accusatory. I wonder how many times Greer has had to take on that stuff from the Decents in her own home base. Rather than focusing on the savagery and needless suffering caused by the West’s concept of direct “intervention”, as well as the fact that our incursions onto middle-eastern soil have not really been prompted by concern for the status of Muslim women, Greer’s central point is that in the places where the barbarities happen, we have no standing. We can only help people on the ground who have some standing in that society. Otherwise, we can denounce until we’re blue in the face, but nothing will happen– the people practicing the barbarities just think we’re weak and degenerate for doing so. Also, as we can’t seem to get the justice system to do much for rape victims in Australia, we won’t be very effective anywhere else.
No stoush ensued. Laura asked a question about the reading of Jane Austen, and do we read it in the wrong way – that is, as a romance novel? Greer’s answer is that there is nothing to worry about, the text is always there and we will always have it no matter how many production companies make bodice-ripper movies out of it.
I wish we could always have Germaine, but at least we had the experience of hearing her speak; Girlchild and I were exceedingly diverted.
LP has more – and that hilarious Andrew Bolt has weighed in too, wouldn’t you know.