“When people ask me where I come from, I always answer planet Earth. I am an Earthling. I am related to all other Earthlings.”
Germaine Greer, Perth Writer’s Festival, 23 February 2012
A frisson of expectation rippled through the capacity crowd (gender ratio: 30 to 1) at the University of Western Australia’s Winthrop Hall. Someone behind me recalled her journey of liberation. It began in the bathroom at the age of eight, when she saw the naked female torso on the cover of a parental copy of The Female Eunuch (1970). She never looked back, except to observe years later that “burning bras didn’t do much for global warming.”
“I keep thinking I’m the Holy Ghost,” confessed Greer, before delivering the Festival opening address on eco-feminism. (Equality feminism apparently is now passé). Tonight’s advertised theme: Women and the natural world have both been subjected to a long history of domination (by men), but the stark reality of the environmental challenges we face has brought a new relevance and urgency to eco-feminism’s call to restructure the power balance that still dominates our culture. Cometh the hour, cometh the eco-warrior.
Ironically, according to Greer, “the most rapacious miner in Western Australia is a woman”. “Ask yourself what will be left when the mining boom is gone – a hole in the ground. Where was Rover Thomas’s Mount Whaleback today? You, as West Australians, should not be content with this (applause). I trust women to do something about it.” Australia needed to re-think its system, she said.
Back on Planet Reality, would there be anything in the Federal treasury without revenue from resource exports – such as iron ore, coal, LNG – except cobwebs, kangaroo carcasses, class-war how-to manuals and broken promises? If Gina Rinehart et al were not in the business of their development, would the nation be speaking Mandarin, or Hindi, by 2020 or 2030? (As for environmental impacts, consider the case of WA. It has an area of about one million square miles. A typical mine site occupies less than 1/200,000th of this figure.)
“Why is safeguarding life on Earth women’s business? Is it women’s business?” Yes. Women had to rediscover the mantra of early 1980s anti-nuclear weapons protesters at Greenham Common: “Women for life on Earth.”
“If the Earth is destroyed, will Earthlings survive?” One form of life probably would – slime mould. “What an extraordinary thing it is; we’ve only just begun to understand this stuff.” We want biodiversity, and we want it now!
Ground Control to Earthling Greer: What about eco-feminism here and now? Is, for example, its concept of “reproductive justice” reconcilable with the threat of overpopulation, without compromising women’s rights? Is eco-feminism too preoccupied with notions of a mystical – or pagan – connection with Nature? Is it ignoring the plight of women in the developing world? How much of their “spiritual connection to Nature” would be lost if they had less children?
Greer meditated instead on our “planetary patina”, slime mould, a frog in her bathroom, and on what the Duchess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne said to Descartes about hares, hounds and men a long time ago.
Sarah L’Estrange, ABC RN’s Books & Arts Daily producer, was also in the audience.
Michael Cathcart: “Hi, Sarah, what did Germaine talk about at her big gig?”
Sarah L’Estrange: “Well, she came on stage punching the air and the crowd went wild. There were cheers. She was talking about ‘eco-feminism – then and now.’ I’ll just share with you what an audience member twitted was her take-home message: “Stop squashing bugs, don’t clean the house and google spray douche.” “
“I think it probably should have been called: A Night with Germaine Greer; because there wasn’t a well-developed clear argument about eco-feminism. It is clear she is very passionate about the environment and particularly about biodiversity. She’s bought a block of land in Queensland that she’s regenerating, which is very admirable. It was a, a…. wide-ranging talk. She spoke about slime mould. It’s very impressive that someone who’s a historian of women’s literature actually has got a handle on the finer points of science and slime mould.”
MC (puzzled): “What’s slime mould?”
SL: “You would have had to be at the talk to know about it, Michael. Slime mould is not very intelligent life, but it’s very critical to life on Earth. Germaine Greer particularly does not want to go and colonise other planets because we wouldn’t have slime mould there. We would be in a very sterile environment.”
MC: “You make it sound like she won’t go personally to other planets, as if there was a plan to send Germaine Greer out into the cosmos. What a wonderful idea!”
SL: “She was responding to a comment by Steven Hawking who apparently said maybe it was time to start looking elsewhere, because we only have another thousand years left on Earth.”
MC: “Actually, it’s a great premise for a movie: Germaine Greer in space.”
Arthur Schopenhauer divided writers into three categories: meteors, planets and fixed stars. “The first produce a momentary effect: you gaze up, and cry: ‘Look!’ – and then they vanish forever. The second endure for much longer. They shine more brightly than the fixed stars, which the ignorant mistake them for. But they shine only with borrowed light, and their sphere of influence is limited to their own fellow travellers (their contemporaries).”
As the audience filed out, perhaps a few – those who came seeking more inspiration and less radicalisation, more gravitas and less panache – were doing their own private Schopenhauerean recalibration? Where should they place Earthling Greer – antipodean iconoclast, agent provocateur in the gender wars, recast now as an anti-mining, anti-fracking eco-warrior, aficionado of slime mould, spray douche, and born-again eco-restorer at her UK charity’s Friends of Gondwana Rainforest Queensland patch (“like all virtues, it is its own reward”) – in the intellectual cosmos? Was she a meteor, planet, blue giant, red dwarf, supernova, or a terrestrial manifestation of dark matter? Whether her eco-space shenanigans could be reconciled with life on Planet Reality remains a mystery. Greer did not take questions.