This is about a parochial stoush in the ongoing Australian / Expat Australian skirmishes which might make your eyes glaze over. Mandy Sayer, author of Dreamtime Alice and partner to Louis Nowra, has published a piece in the Australian defending Nowra’s article in the Monthly which, according to this article and other people who have read it, is pretty poor stuff. Not having read it myself*, the following will unavoidably be a bit meta: it’s about Sayer’s response and the facts which I’ve gleaned from other trustworthy readers with Monthly subscriptions.
In an essay to mark The Female Eunuch’s 40th anniversary, Nowra lambasts the book as “hopelessly middle class” and Greer’s depiction of women as misogynistic. The playwright and novelist writes: “She wanted women to undergo a profound change in the way they viewed themselves and their relationships with men. If you look at how Greer thought this could happen and what actually did, then our contemporary world must come as a disappointment to her.”
In the essay, published in The Monthly, a current affairs magazine, Nowra not only attacks Greer’s work, but criticises her appearance, her character and even her sanity. “She will do anything to get noticed,” he says, adding that when Greer appeared on the reality TV show Celebrity Big Brother, she looked like “a befuddled and exhausted old woman” who reminded him of “my demented grandmother”.
Sayer’s piece is another example of an bad editorial decision, I think – publishing a piece dashed off in anger by the partner of a public intellectual in the heat of the moment, while the argument’s still unfolding. Would “too close to the action” be a reasonable description? But it sells newspapers, I guess.
It’s wearying how every time feminists write something disagreeing with anyone, the verb used will be “attacked”. You’re writers, people, find another one. Another example of people not practicing what they preach about playing the argument and not the arguer (“play the man and not the ball”). I haven’t noticed Sayer take to the stage to denounce people like Devine, Bolt and Albrechtsen, although “attack” would be a more accurate description of their writing. And “attack” wouldn’t be so out of place describing a piece where one public intellectual attacks another public intellectual (and by extension their dead grandmother) by condemning her based on her perceived unf**kability as a woman and comparing her to his “demented” grandmother.
The whole of Sayer’s argument rests on the idea that because Nowra is such a great guy in her world, and does something to help poor and oppressed people, then there can’t possibly be anything wrong with the Monthly article. I blame the remnants of what a misty-eyed John Howard used to refer to as “our Judeo-Christian culture”. Nowra contributes to charity for marginalised peoples’ education, washes dishes and buys groceries, and respects Sayer’s personal space (all excellent things, I agree), therefore, he is allowed a hateful piece of character asassination in a national magazine, because he’s racked up so many credits in the niceness bank. In other words, he’s purchased an indulgence.
I’d hope that in the twenty-first century we would no longer believe in the Medieval practice of buying indulgences to offset things that we do. If I give a certain amount of money to social justice causes and do a wonderful job of the housework and my paid work and treat everyone around me with respect, it doesn’t allow me to go out and glass someone at the pub, for instance. It’s not a balance sheet. The rest of the world is perfectly within its rights to approve heartily of Nowra’s charitable contributions and domestic virtue, while soundly criticising his hateful article. That is what addressing the argument and not the person means.
*I haven’t read it because I agree that the publication of this article is a massive troll by the Monthly to boost its circulation, but I did go to the local library this morning in an attempt to get my hands on the library copy. Unfortunately the “librarian” on duty at the desk, and I use those scare quotes advisedly, wasn’t aware of the periodical’s existence and was unwilling to ask any staff member to help me locate it, although Computer Said Yes, it was in and available.