INTERVIEW Icon of the feminist movement, Germaine Greer on books, women power and world issues
A ctivist and writer Germaine Greer was the cynosure of all eyes at the Hay Festival in Thiruvananthapuram. 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 have 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 book “The Female Eunuch”, which went on to become a landmark of the feminist movement, changing the way women looked at their roles in society, themselves and their bodies. Since then, she has written several books, such as “Sex and Destiny: The Politics of Human Fertility”, “The Change: Women, Ageing and the Menopause”, “The Beautiful Boy”, “Shakespeare's Wife” and “The Whole Woman”.
In a brief interview on the sidelines of the festival, Greer talks about her books, women and the world.
Greer describes herself as “boringly consistent.” “It was people and especially the Western media that said I had changed my views on sex and chastity, more so after the publication of my book ‘Sex and Destiny'. The pressure on poor people to limit their numbers was actually counter productive, and causing a lot of suffering to women,” she explains. (If we really mean what we talked about family planning, we would understand that the most important thing we could do for woman in a country like India, who had no children, was to make it possible for her to have a child. Because without a child the quality of a married woman's life suffered and indeed her position in a village society. Power comes from the family, and we had never even thought about it. This realisation came about from my travels in India and elsewhere,” she explains.
Travels, an eye-opener
It was her travels here and in other Third World countries that made her aware of the problems of childlessness, how abstinence may be more effective than methods of contraception in these countries, and how Western methods of understanding and tackling population problems may not always be correct.
Touching upon her seminal work, “The Female Eunuch”, she says 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 impossible things — for example, how women should not age while men can! When a woman ages, she becomes a figure of fun, a pitiable creature.”
She feels that that “The Female Eunuch” came out at the right time and what made the book a success was the people who read it and who 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? “I don't really know what is going on. I think the centre of gravity has shifted. It is no longer in Europe and America. I think it is in Islam. But it is not clear how it is going to progress.”
Giving examples of the Arab Spring in Tunisia, scenes of veiled women's protests in Tunisia and Egypt, and demands for a new legal system and so on, she ponders aloud what these protests would ultimately result in and how it would shape the lives of women — for better or worse.