The icon of the feminist movement speaks

Activist and writer Germaine Greer was the cynosure of all eyes at the Hay Festival in the city. She was patience personified as she signed books, gave interviews and posed for photographs. But as soon as the tape started rolling for the interview, the Australian writer and thinker became the hard-hitting feminist she is. The septuagenarian has lost none of the fire or felicity with words that has made her one of the most important feminist voices of the latter half of the 20th century.

Greer became an icon of the feminist movement after the release of her bookThe Female Eunuch, which went on to become a landmark of the feminist movement and changed the way women looked at their roles in society, themselves and their bodies. Since then, she has written several books, such asSex and Destiny: The Politics of Human Fertility, The Change: Women, Ageing and the Menopause, The Beautiful Boy, Shakespeare's WifeandThe Whole Woman. In a brief interview on the sidelines of the Hay festival in the city, Greer talks about her books, and on women and the world.

Greer says that she is “boringly consistent.” “It was people and especially the Western media who said that I had changed my views on sex and chastity, especially after the publication of my bookSex and Destiny. The pressure on poor people to limit their numbers was actually counter productive and was causing a lot of suffering to women,” she explains

She explained that it was her travels in India and other third world countries that had made her aware of the problems of childlessness, how abstinence may be more effective than methods of contraception in third world countries, and how Western methods of understanding and tackling population problems may not always be correct.

“So, then people were confused. They said that I had told women to go have sex inFemale Eunuch, and now I was for abstinence. Firstly, I never told women to go have sex. I said, if they want to do it, do it, if not, don't, because, otherwise, it becomes oppressive. But a lot of people felt I had changed my views. In fact, I have never changed my views at all.”

Seminal work

Touching upon her seminal work,The Female Eunuch, she says that it was the best book she could have written at that time under the circumstances. “I wrote about my own society. About a consumerist society, about the pressure on women to do things that are impossible – like how women should not age, why can't I? Men can! When a woman ages, she becomes a figure of fun, a pitiable creature.”

She feels that that book came out at the right time and what made the book were the people who read it and imbued it with their own experiences. “I am a better writer now than I was then, by miles,” she smiles.

And does she think the world is a better place for women now, with more women in control of their lives?

Giving examples of the Arab Spring in Tunisia, scenes of veiled women's protestors in Tunisia and Egypt, and demands for a new legal system and so on, she ponders aloud on what these protests would ultimately result in and how it would shape the lives of the women – for the better or the worse.

Sharing her apprehension on the rejection of secularism as a positive concept in many developing countries, she says India would have a lot to be concerned about to prevent sectarian feelings from raising their head. She says Kerala, which has had a long history of political and religious tolerance, should take the lead in rejecting hate groups that were hell bent on creating divisions in society.

‘Self-confident women'

And so what would be her message to women in Kerala: “The women here are noisy and self-confident. This is the only state in India where the percentage of women is more than men. That means no [baby] girls are getting killed here. Yes, I know crime against women is rising here. I feel, the truth of the matter is that it is because women are aware and are ready to protest against any injustice towards them. That is a sign of courage. Most importantly, I hope they take care to protect the matrilineal system in the state,” she says, as she signs off to greet the next journalist in line for an interview.

With a smile, she confesses that two days ago, she went online to check on Kerala, she had somehow expected the place to be “dreary.” “But it isn't anything like that. I hope to come back to the State and travel upcountry to spend time in the forests,” she says. Greer is the custodian of a temperate rainforest in Australia and her efforts to save it has led to her founding Friends of the Gondwana Rainforest, a charity that works for the conservation of the rainforests in the world. “As I was travelling through the city, I noticed trees that were common to the ones in my part of the world,” says Greer, the conservationist. As if on cue, a volunteer hands over a book on the birds of Kerala. “That is because I saw a number of birds outside my hotel and I was able to indentify almost all of them but for the blue kingfisher,” she says.