Writers and Readers 2012
Where Were You in 72? Germaine Greer, Sandra Coney and Marilyn Waring
Reviewed by Sarah Lang
It’s no exaggeration to say this panel session on women’s issues was one of those-once-in-a-lifetime moments. It was uproariously funny, incredibly interesting, electrifyingly educational, terrifically thought-provoking – and it ended with a standing ovation from a full house (and the Embassy isn’t a small theatre).
First, I have to admit I wasn’t anywhere in 1972. I didn’t arrive until 1980. So I didn’t know it was a year of landmark steps forward for women – or a year that saw Germaine Greer arrested in Auckland for saying the words “bullshit” and “fuck”. That sparked street demonstrations and social debate, with Greer sacking her assigned lawyer and leading her own defence during her obscenity trial. “She was acquitted on bullshit and convicted on fuck,” deadpanned chair Judy McGregor, whose amusing quips and inspired questions saw her do much more than “stir things up and keep the peace”.
The two New Zealand panellists joining Greer, who needs no introduction, were Sandra Coney and Marilyn Waring, who should also need no introduction. Sandra Coney is an Auckland City councillor, co-founder of the feminist magazine Broadsheet, and a health campaigner who exposed the scandal that National Women’s Hospital had experimented on women without their consent. At 23, Waring was the youngest-ever NZ MP, and is now an academic, an author, a human-rights and environmental activist, and a political economist. All three are, of course, feminists – and rightly proud of it.
These three leading thinkers and intellectual provocateurs discussed feminism and where women are at today. The consensus? We’re still far from equal (Greer thinks equality is an illusory aim, Waring doesn’t) .They spoke about environmentalism (they’re all right into it), the portrayal of women on TV ads (“you see women not realising they can wash [clothes] in cold water”), criminal bankers, the recession bringing people together, motherhood, ageing, human survival on Earth, what issue concerns them most (violence), whether feminism is viewed as a dirty word (often it is), and whether men are cost-effective (Coney once wrote an article arguing ‘no’).
Greer didn’t seem particularly hopeful about prospects for our young girls. “We have a generation of girls who don’t want to grow up, won’t eat anything, ask for prostheses [boob jobs], and are possessed with anxiety. What have we done for them?” One 28-year-old woman in the audience shared these sentiments, asking how to bring up a potential daughter in a world where girls want to wear pink and play with Barbie (Greer said something about letting girls fight their own battles and come to their own conclusions). The woman also asked how to prevent children from getting in the way of your career (Coney said something about life not being all about your career but a wonderful medley of experiences).
Phenomenal stuff. As for the men who came – all 10 or so of them – bravo.