Tuesday, November 5, 2013

the greer woman

I have not read The Female Eunuch. I don’t know that much about Germaine Greer except that she did her best work in the 1960s and 70s and more recently has been known for criticising a former female prime minister’s choice of outfits because they made said PM’s bum look big.
I have watched Greer on ABC’s Q & A and enjoyed her witty retorts at right-wing nutcases, and last night’s program was no exception, featuring possibly the biggest right-wing nutcase I’ve ever seen, one UK author Peter Hitchens. The rest of the panel, writer Hanna Rosin and writer/activist Dan Savage, did their level best not to jump over Tony Jones and punch Hitchens in the face when he suggested the world was hurtling towards certain doom led by same-sex couples and their evil, selfish, drug-taking, alcohol-chugging ways.
It was a lively affair, despite the more eloquent surroundings of the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall. But then it was part of the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, so we had fair warning.
But then a woman, probably in her 40s, dared stand and pose a question to the panel. Specifically to Greer, she asked was it possible the women’s movement had gone too far? Had women moved away from their roles as nurturers by outsourcing the raising of their own children to paid strangers? Were we raising ever more narcissistic children as a result, and missing out on time with them, more tired and depressed than ever?
From my position on the lounge, I gave this woman a standing ovation. Because for the past several months I’ve been asking myself the very same thing. I am at home with my three-year-old daughter every day, for lots of reasons: because I was made redundant last year, because I did not have formal childcare arranged for her, because I do not have a job and therefore cannot afford childcare but also because I cannot get a job without first having childcare arranged. Turn left at the rock and you’ll find me just in front of the hard place. But I am also at home because I choose to be. I want to be. I know from experience, having had two other three-year-old daughters in my life at various times in the past decade, that this time does not last. One day you’re sitting on a very small chair opposite your sweet child, sharing Vegemite toast and discussing the various shades of green, and the next you’re driving home from school in tears because they are not in the back seat any more and you won’t see them again until 3.30.
This is not to say it’s all peachy. I have had many days in the past year where I’ve felt like I almost ceased to exist. I am the unpaid washerwoman, cook, cleaner and scullery maid, and on the lowest of low days I question my sanity and my ability to be a good mother. Actually, I question that last bit almost on a daily basis.
There are working women who do all these things too, I know. I did them all and worked part-time up until last year, but even that small window when I was at work was enough for me to come up for air. It gave me some balance. And sometimes I struggle to find any silver linings, but the struggle always passes and I am so grateful for the time I get to share with my littlest little girl.
Now back to the studio. What will Greer say? How will she respond to this woman who is asking, almost pleading, why is it not okay to just be with our children? I’m afraid the answer made me feel sick, and it still does make me so angry and frustrated and disappointed that I’m not sure what to do with it. This woman, who stood before a huge audience inside the Opera House and thousands more watching from home, was laughed at. Openly. By everyone on the panel except the right-wing nutcase. Savage gave a flippant “Well we should just enslave women again ..” and Rosin was similarly dismissive. When she finally got her turn, Greer was equally condescending and even concluded that what we need is more nursery schools (daycare centres) and preschools. Now Germaine Greer may be many things, but maternal is not one that instantly springs to mind. I think she might benefit from giving women the right to decide what is best for their own children.
I can’t believe that such a lively, informed and educated debate on subjects as diverse as hook-up apps and the decline of Christianity descended so rapidly. I was so disappointed I just wanted to slink into bed and forget it ever happened. But I couldn’t. The questioner (one Kimberley Adler, and I wish I could thank her and say how sorry I am for the way she was treated) even had to clarify her point because it was taken and shredded like a lump of raw meat in the lions’ enclosure. But it was to no avail. They weren’t listening.
I just want to know, if Germaine Greer’s whole life has been dedicated to making women’s lives better, and fighting the good fight for equality in the workforce and in society as a whole, why is there still this one category of women who are worthy of nothing more than denigration, humiliation and contempt? I thought it was about a woman’s right to choose. I thought we were all in this together. I thought we could decide to just be women, and for once stop trying to be men.