As a prelude to International Women's Day this week, Germaine Greer spoke at The Sydney Opera House yesterday.
I love Germaine Greer. But I’m not the only woman who is a touch intimidated by our most famous feminist. Last night, after seeing her speak at the ‘F-Word’ forum at the Sydney Opera House, a huddle quickly formed around the woman many had come to hear. Spying a friend taking snaps, I urged her to step up and meet our idol. I was surprised when she whispered, ‘no way too scared’ as she’s a bit of a famous feminist herself and rarely fazed.
Naomi Wolf wasn’t frightened of the big bad Germaine at all. But while the author of ‘The Beauty Myth’ talked about giving your kids “love bombs”, Germaine just kept throwing bombs of her own. She bemoaned the misuse of the word ‘fuck’; rallied against our phallocentric culture and declared the ‘penis ... the most vulnerable part of a man and the only part I know what to do with’. She talked about genital mutilation in Africa and surgery of the clitoris in California, and how being a woman involves “lots of expensive and painful shit”.
Germaine’s grenades are love bombs too. Sometimes shocking, often entrancing and always entertaining, they spray laughter and insight, savagery and wit. And power. Each time she speaks, the author of ‘The Female Eunuch’ shows us how to be fearless. Germaine Greer bemoans the fact that women are socially conditioned to appease and please. By refusing to be either, she shows us how to cause a stir and to consider not being so goddam ‘nice’. She genuinely doesn’t care if she annoys, alienates or threatens men. Or women. And in not caring she shows us true liberation.
When a young woman in the audience expressed confusion about being a feminist, Germaine gently and firmly told her to be challenging and ‘difficult’. It’s a confronting thought. I think many women have been told they are difficult at some stage or another. At work and in love. I was furious when a former boyfriend broke up with me by saying “I love you it’s just that you’re, well, difficult”. Difficult is challenging, difficult is interesting, difficult is perplexing, difficult is questioning and difficult is defiant. But difficult can get you dumped and difficult can get you sacked. So perhaps it was understandable that Ms Greer followed up her urge to challenge with the order to not be needy. “Be happy” she urged with a beaming smile. “Only you can make yourself happy.”
Of course she’s right about that. She’s also right about being challenging and if that’s called difficult – well so be it. The more we question, the more we challenge and the less we need to be liked the stronger we will be to take on the threats to our happiness like self doubt, inequality and unfairness.
And yet, despite all the talk about not being too nice, Germaine talked about her university students in the UK with all the tenderness and pride of a loving mother. And, as the young things swarmed around her outside the Opera House she showed nothing but grace and charm. At the end of the day, I think Germaine may be a bit nice after all. But don’t tell her that. And, as International Women’s Day nears, we should pay her homage by being deliciously difficult all week.