Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Tagg'd, or Germaine does Diana

Natalia Antonova asked for my take on Greer's take on Princess Di.

Germaine, who apparently is still germane (har har), who knew? apparently having just noticed that Diana is dead, salutes the fallen Heroine-Princess of the People thusly:

"I have come to the conclusion that she was a devious moron.

Also, Greer is "puzzled" as to why "[Diana's] whole life was such a mess." Perhaps in another ten years she'll have some answers to that burning question. Meanwhile, she's got her some soundbites, bless her.

Natalia finds that

a lot of the criticism leveled at Diana carries some sexist undertones: we do not attack rich men the same way that we attack rich women, this rich woman in particular. Furthermore, even when people express sympathy for Diana many of them do it in a condescending, belittling fashion - “oh, what a poor lamb Diana was. What a sweet-faced little martyr.”

Which is a point; and, one has to admit, at least Greer's take on Diana is rather um refreshingly free of the latter sentiment. And, to be fair, she has also had similarly unsentimental takes on famous male deaths, has Greer. Steve Irwin, for instance:

'That sort of self-delusion is what it takes to be a real Aussie larrikin'

Irwin was the real Crocodile Dundee, a great Australian, an ambassador for wildlife, a global phenomenon, a superhuman generator of merchandise, books, interactive video-games and action figures. The only creatures he couldn't dominate were parrots. A parrot once did its best to rip his nose off his face. Parrots are a lot smarter than crocodiles.

...The animal world has finally taken its revenge on Irwin, but probably not before a whole generation of kids in shorts seven sizes too small has learned to shout in the ears of animals with hearing 10 times more acute than theirs, determined to become millionaire animal-loving zoo-owners in their turn.

The common theme linking Di and Irwin, for Greer, besides both being famous dead people, is that their lives were a mess and their spectacularly gruesome deaths were, well, pretty much what you'd expect, although they really should have known better, and Germaine would have Told Them So, one presumes, if there was any chance of them listening. One presumes that Greer's own death, if/when it comes at all, will be suitably...dignified. And that she'll have something Seminal to say about the whole death experience, much as she has for every other stage of womens' lives (not Whitney, but she, is, truly, Every Woman; except for Paglia, who is also the Cosmos), to be dictated via Ouija Board, no doubt, to some latter day Blavatsky with Marxist/Dianic-Wiccan leanings and a taste for the outrageously attention-getting.

Diana; well, what is there to say about Diana at this point? It seems to me she was just another flawed woman who got lotto-picked for the limelight and then eaten up by the celebrity machine. It seems to me she lived her life like a candle in the wind, never knowing who to cling to till the rain set in. And I would liked to've known her--no, I'm full of shit, I don't guess I would've enjoyed her company at all, and in fact Diana herself doesn't really command any more or less of my empathy or fascination or admiration (maybe a little more admiration, okay, yes, she probably Did Some Good Things, I expect) than Marilyn Monroe, or Anna Nicole; and as for the Royals, well, I think Sue Townsend probably covered it as well as anyone else, back in the day.

Greer is a bit more interesting. She stands up for Shakespeare's wife (as opposed to the fictional sister; but either probably really does have more going on than just being "the silent woman of Stratford," I expect) while dissing Di; she's been a "lifelong critic of marriage" but now wonders why Diana would do "that no-no thing: she sleeps with married men." She's arguably one of the earliest and most authoritative sources for the by-now-widely-familiar arguments that (socially) enforced bra-wearing sucks patriarchal donkey dick; that stereotypical femininity is inimical to girls'/womens' natural sexual autonomy; that radical revolution is the solution, mere reform won't do; and that "women don't realize how much men hate them, and how much they are taught to hate themselves." (And, less commonly taken seriously these days, pronounced that all women ought to taste their own menstrual blood). She's often considered a sex-positive feminist, even a "fun" feminist, indeed perhaps the original "fun" feminist; she has argued against female celibacy and monogamy, posed nude for "Screw" magazine, was a "supergroupie," and is the subject of all kinds of entertaining and risque anecdotes. She is not, however, in favor of "girl power," seeing it as one of many lulls of "fake equality." She is the author of a 2003-released book called "Beautiful Boy," celebrating the attractions of tender male youth, including those of the rather pre-adolescent-looking boy on the cover, who apparently did not consent to being her cover art. She inspired Michelle Talbot, reviewing one of her more recent books, to dub her "The Female Misogynist." The overall impression I, at least, get, from this article (among others) is that of a proto-Camille Paglia crossed with Gael Greene, who's since morphed into a persona very much resembling certain online and offline Spinster Aunts.

(On edit: in comments, kh notes that Rachel Talbot also deserves a shout-out here, perhaps:

The decision to admit Dr Rachel Padman, 43, as a Fellow of Newnham College has caused discord among senior academics, including Germaine Greer, the leading feminist who is a member of the college's governing body.

...Although Dr Greer regards sex-change operations as mutilations, her opposition is based on principles not personality, she said.

"I like Dr Padman. We all know she is a distinguished physicist, but what is the point of having clear statutes if we just ignore them? We should have answered these questions before her appointment. We have to be true to the spirit of the original bequest to the college as a women's college for women."

She did not succeed in blocking the appointment, I understand.

Ah, and about that mutilation thing: more quotage

People like Germaine Greer and Janice Raymond have often stated that infant genital mutilation is a cultural thing and should be respected. Germaine Greer has recently, in her book The Whole Woman, disgusted the feminist community by stating that female genital mutilation is something "African women choose for their own gratification." (Probably referring to the model Waras Dirie who was herself a victim of female genital mutilation and who campaigns against it.)

Separately, regarding transsexual and intersex people, Germaine Greer has also stated that "lack of choosiness about who may be called a woman strengthens the impression that women do not see their sex as quite real."

...and more here.

...There is a witness to the transsexual's script, a witness who is never consulted. She is the person who built the transsexual's body of her own flesh and brought it up as her son or daughter, the transsexual's worst enemy, his/her mother. Whatever else it is gender reassignment is an exorcism of the mother. When a man decides to spend his life impersonating his mother (like Norman Bates in Psycho) it is as if he murders her and gets away with it, proving at a stroke that there was nothing to her. His intentions are no more honourable than any female impersonator's; his achievement is to gag all those who would call his bluff. When he forces his way into the few private spaces women may enjoy and shouts down their objections, and bombards the women who will not accept him with threats and hate mail, he does as rapists have always done.

more Greer quotage on FGM:

" man's beautification is another man's mutilation. Looked at in its full context the criminalisation of female genital mutilation can be seen to be ... an attack on cultural identity...if an Ohio Punk has the right to have her genitalia operated on, why has not the Somali woman the same right?"

You get the idea. Clearly Greer interesting person. And that's without even getting into the whole Big Brother business).

Talbot, along with Laura Miller writing at Salon, observes that Greer--the woman, the myth, the persona, the oeuvre--hasn't aged well. As Miller puts it:

What changed? Not all that much, actually. Greer insists that she hasn't done an about-face on any of her earlier positions, and in a weird way, she's right. She's simply followed her premises to the conclusions implicit in them from the very beginning. And her writing hasn't evolved much, either. It's rather that we -- her readers, her world -- have transformed around her. To be disappointed in "The Whole Woman" and to then go back and re-read "The Female Eunuch" in search of the Germaine Greer who fired up so many women in the 1970s is as disconcerting as seeing a horror movie that terrified you as a child only to realize that it's pitifully tame.

...Greer doesn't feel she's been inconsistent because her method -- inflating her own personal trials into theories about the condition of women -- remains the same. When it comes to sex, she genuinely feels swindled. During her years among the Push crowd in Sydney, the ethic of free love got her into numerous "scrapes" (the group's term for unwanted pregnancies), which ended in several abortions accompanied by other undefined gynecological problems. As a result, in her late 30s, when she desperately wanted a child, Greer was unable to conceive and turned to expensive and difficult medical interventions, all of which failed. Greer's resentment of the sexual utopianism she once so avidly championed springs in large part from this misfortune -- she describes sex in the late 1950s and early '60s as "a bloodsport." Her denunciation of elaborate fertility treatments as causing untold "damage" to desperate women only makes sense when you understand that the process raised her hopes only to trample them -- and finally broke her heart.

In the 1980s Greer suffered another rude awakening: She got older...

...If Greer were a bit more honest and had a bit more perspective, she'd have a useful message to relay to young women about the perils of confusing sexual autonomy with the real but ephemeral ability to manipulate men. She could elucidate the difference between a sexual freedom that abuses body and soul and a sexual freedom that cherishes and respects them. But Greer has always spoken directly from the tangles of her personal experience, shamelessly extrapolating from her own condition to the rest of womankind and seemingly unaware of her presumption. ("She's about as introspective as a sweet potato," Barbara Grizzuti Harrison once observed.) In the '70s, she admonished women who lacked her confidence, stylishness and libido for their timorousness. Today, feeling betrayed, she's become grim and hectoring, a feminist more cartoonishly man-hating than the ones she supposedly defied in the '70s, nattering on about body hair and bras.

...Like most divas -- for that's what she is, a glorious, melodramatic, chaos-making performer -- Greer has made a mess of her life.

--emphasis mine, there. Oh what a giveaway! And so we come back full circle to Greer's take on Princess Di, written some seven years after that Miller piece:

"One of the things I have been puzzled by is why her whole life was such a mess."

Miller, I note in passing, has a somewhat more generous take on Greer than Greer does of Diana: despite the former's "bad behavior" and "blatant hypocrisy," not to mention the empress-has-no-clothes-ness of her work (as Miller sees it), nonetheless:

I've heard women say again and again when the subject of Germaine comes up: 'Well, her book changed my life for the better.' And they'll be modest women living pretty ordinary lives, but better lives." Women entirely unlike Germaine Greer, the feminist who improved the world in spite of herself.

To answer Natalia's question a bit more succinctly, finally, my own thoroughly Gen-X take on this whole brouhaha? Well, what comes most immediately and clearly to mind is, simply, sadly, this:

You're only young once, but you can be immature forever.

--Germaine Greer


Tom Nolan said...

I don't think that Greer is in a particularly "spinsterish" mood at the moment. It's quite correct to say that "The Whole Woman" contains a lot of discouraging advice for the edification of sexually active young women (the right to say "no" seems suddenly more important than the right to say "yes"). But since her affair with a very, very, really extremely young man - the one who inspired her to write "The Boy" - she has reverted to her old self, and I for one am relieved.

As for Dianna, well the sentimental outpouring which followed her demise made me feel pretty ill - the Queen will be glad to know that I was 100% on her side in the battle against unBritish emotional mush. But regarding the woman herself: she was just a mediocrity made to stand for fifteen years in the limelight. That's not a pretty sight - but no fault of hers, surely?

KH said...

Given recent preoccupations, you might have added a mention of "Germaine Greer" + "Rachel Padman."

I picked up a copy of The Female Eunuch the other day, but put it down after a few minutes' skimming.

KH said...

How I learned about the allure of celebrity:

When I was in 2nd grade, my mother had to go into the hospital for ~2 nights for a mysterious operation on her midriff. So I had to sleep over at a friend/neighbor's house. (I retain a very vivid memory of how alien the food, smells, routine forms of interaction, etc., seemed. They watched a lot of TV, shows I didn't recognize, were overnice in a gratingly pitying way, & had multiple copies of Reader's Digest. Even the milk tasted funny. I didn't sleep a wink.)

While the news was on, the mother kept antically going on & on about some man unknown to me, who she was calling by his Christian name, very familiar. Maybe some beloved nephew or family friend, a charming source of amusing anecdotes.

Turns out it was the TV weatherman, who I'm sure she'd never met. She'd formed a one-way relationship w/ this utterly fungible local TV schlub. This struck me as extremely odd at the time, but the scales have long since fallen, & I now know she was the normal one.

I think of her, how alien her household seemed, & the contrast between my separation anxiety & the bouyancy of her imaginary friendship w/ this stranger on TV every time somebody talks about celebrity, Diana or Paris or whoever.

Zenobia said...

I can never work out what the hell Germaine Greer's up to. Occasionally she's awesome, and then she does stuff like that book about underage boys, and, well, most of The Whole Woman - to be honest, the only parts of that book I could really get behind were the bits about beauty practices, and somewhat the bits about harrassment in the workplace.

Most of the time, I think she's just drumming up controversy to sell her own books.

Natalia said...

That was very beautiful and, well, brilliant. I definitely used to have a soft spot for Germaine Greer, and in a way I still do - but, like with your take on Diana, I don't think I would like to keep Greer company.

In fact, I'd much rather prefer Diana over Greer.

If I had been Diana, I would have gone batshit nuts.

Many people say that Diana WAS batshit nuts.

But, no, seriously, I would have been much worse. She makes me feel humble in this really weird way.

I guess a person like Greer would call that a weakness, but I rather like the idea of humility nowadays.

A. J. Luxton said...

"inflating her own personal trials into theories about the condition of women"

sums up my troubles with Dworkin as well, oddly enough, and with most pieces of feminist theory that give me indigestion.

As I explained to some friends once, the reason I think bell hooks is so fantastic is because she goes from personal experience, and uses it as fuel for her theories, but you can see how she gets from one point to another, and they're not conflated.

The "my experience = the world" school makes me feel like I'm trying to read a map through a magnifying mirror.

A. J. Luxton said...

Also, the quote from the publisher about the cover of "The Boy", in the article you linked, strikes me as that particularly violation-happy kind of clueless:

"It's not exploitation, it's the opposite. She's celebrating it, enjoying it. Here's this wonderful- looking young man: enjoy it!"

Er, why does that person think people exploit each other? Because it's no fun? Because it's boring? I can celebrate any number of things about another person, but if they don't want those things to be celebrated about them, I'm not doing them any favor by it.

Daisy said...

You get the idea. Clearly Greer interesting person.

A fascinating person! Great post, Belle! :)

Trinity said...

Okay, so that link "The Female Misogynist" is mainly spot-on, but:

"If a pregnant woman has "the tests, say for Down's syndrome," Greer claims, "and refuses the termination she will be asked why she had the t est in the first place. And she will probably be talked into the termination." This is nonsense. For one thing, some doctors in England and America will now do surgery in utero for conditions such as spina bifida that have been diagnosed in a fetus. Moreo ver, some people would prefer to know in advance whether the baby that they are carrying has a birth defect, even if they would not have an abortion. And far from pressuring women to have an amniocentesis or to terminate a pregnancy on the basis of it, mo st doctors are reluctant to issue a direct recommendation of any kind on the subject, if only because they do not want to be held responsible for a decision that a woman may regret."




*smacking head*

so much for intersectionality


Carpenter said...

I downloaded the TV special of Greer's 'Boy'. I can see the value of what she is getting at there about the value of the female gaze and male beauty. However it does get a bit exploit-y at times, lots of shots of Greer laser-eye-leering at 18 year old male models.

That was the first Greer thing I ever encountered so I read TFE after. It did remind me a bit of Paglia, and also a little Linda Hirschman. with the exception that Hirschman and Greer believe woman CAN make lasting contributions to the Establishment, while Paglia should be crushed to death under 87 tones of pig crap(just my opion of coarse).

Iamcuriousblue said...

OK, this caused a double take –

"People like Germaine Greer and Janice Raymond have often stated that infant genital mutilation is a cultural thing and should be respected."

"Transexual Empire" Janice Raymond??? Either that passage isn't accurate or Raymond has one helluva contradiction at work. Supporting involuntary genital modification for children, but being against voluntary sex modification for adults? Or is something done in contemporary societies not a "cultural practice"?

Iamcuriousblue said...

Carpenter said

"I downloaded the TV special of Greer's 'Boy'. I can see the value of what she is getting at there about the value of the female gaze and male beauty. However it does get a bit exploit-y at times, lots of shots of Greer laser-eye-leering at 18 year old male models."

I don't think that's "exploitative", but then I guess I don't have the "age difference" mega-squick that a lot of people have these days. It is a huge double standard, though – I can only picture the reaction if the genders were reversed.

Tom Nolan said

"But since her affair with a very, very, really extremely young man - the one who inspired her to write "The Boy" - she has reverted to her old self, and I for one am relieved."

Well, good for her (and I don't mean that sarcastically). That probably plays into the stereotype of "prudes" just needing a good lay, but sometimes, well, the effect of a much-needed good lay can be pretty salutary, not to mention a good thing in and of itself.

Iamcuriousblue said...

Then again, getting laid by a man didn't exactly do wonders for Ted Haggard's homophobia. I suppose the difference is whether you can incorporate the pleasurable experience into your persona and self-image, or try to put it away as a shameful secret.

Trinity said...

Eh, I'm not so comfortable about "the boy." Not that I think she's a pedo necessarily or have an age squick, it just creeps me out that someone who's so convinced "men sold us a sexual freedom bum rap" is now looking for youth. It just seems like "I can't handle adults, so I'll lose myself in a fantasy of adolescent docility OH AND CUM, LOTS OF CUM."

I mean, I don't have a problem with D/s (which I suspect is part of the appeal here) but when it coexists with moonbattery and isn't called what it is... then I get leery.

Carpenter said...

It isn't even so much the age gap(though the one really hot guy is like a barely legal lookin' 18) The exploityness of the TV special was mostly in the meat-market like interactions.
I think the female gaze and the male beauty is way too ignored, so I am pleased overall with the spot. But some of Greer's comments go like this for example "every woman of quality would always choose a much younger lover...they can do it all night(paraphrase but almost right on)" which seems a little...I dunno ...not un-exploity? And if an old dude said it I would be pretty turned off...for days.

I wish I could upload this thing, its only 40 mins and some of it is HI-larious. For example the opening credits are pics of hot models and statues set to bump'n grind disco music.

KH said...

I think the bit about Raymond is almost certainly wrong.

Liss said...

I often lurk here, really enjoyed this post, so felt the need to share that I just opened my Guardian to find a Germaine Greer article titled Cuddly Toys Are Bad For Children.

I dearly hope that next week's column will be called 'Puppies Should Be Kicked With Pointy Shoes', or similar.

belledame222 said...

oooo, I hope so, TOO! heh heh. she's gonna out-Paglia Paglia at this rate.

and, welcome, liss.