It would be so easy to launch into a cathartic rage against Louis Nowra’s essay on Germaine Greer (‘The Better Self?’, March). Such a response would be predictable and utterly useless. So let me keep a cool head and analyse why Nowra got Greer so wrong.
Nowra cannot get a photograph image out of his head, which made Greer look like “a befuddled and exhausted old woman”. Even Nowra knows that newspapers always choose the worst photograph of dangerous feminists like Greer. As she says, most photos make her look like “an ageing loon”. We are meant to take one look at the photo and dismiss whatever she has to say.
Greer is now what our youth-obsessed society and Nowra brands “old”. The “old” barrier is the hardest one for women to hurdle. I have seen Greer in public many times and she looks just like any other Australian woman of her age, which is now 71, most of whom do not look exhausted or befuddled. The fact that Greer may have looked strange on the set of Celebrity Big Brother, where the photo that has seared itself into Nowra’s brain was taken, is understandable.
Why would Germaine Greer have anything to do with such a cheap, degrading reality show? His answer is that she would “do anything to gain attention”. But she was quite open about why she agreed to be on it: “I’m striking a blow for the old ladies,” she said.
Women over 65 are meant to be invisible or in their dotage. Greer’s appearance on Big Brother was her way of saying, “just because I am in my mid sixties does not mean I am not prepared to take risks. If I don’t like it, I’ll leave.” (Which she did.) She will not be told what is appropriate behaviour for women of her age, nor does she believe that any of us should limit our choices or behaviour according to society’s views on what so called “old” women should be, or do, or how they should look.
Greer reminds those who wish to dismiss her as barking mad, batty and ridiculous that those same adjectives were used when The Female Eunuch was published in 1970. Over a million copies later, it is still one of the most influential books in the world. And, more importantly, Greer is still talking, still writing, still breaking the accepted moulds.