Oh Germaine (sigh!)

I’ve just finished Germaine by Dr. Elisabeth Kleinhenz, a biography (unauthorised apparently) of Germaine Greer and I want to review it.

I’ve always been a Germaine Greer fan, an admirer of her brazen speech, her huge presence and her writing.

I felt I had met God – in female form (now’s that a weird thing to say, I know) when I met her at Ely Cathedral, Cambridgeshire many years ago, where she was launching her book Shakespeare’s Wife. She signed the book for me, made some comment about us women sticking together and moved on to the next fan waiting for her signature.

I read the book, got very confused by it, then gave it away, as a way of making room in my library for more books – (it was a thick hardback!).

Enter Germaine written by Elizabeth Kleinhenz, which I have just finished.

For starters, it’s given me a new understanding (and a new loathing) of my former idol, but to be fair, as much as the book made me angry, I now have settled into another type of love for Germaine Greer, which goes something like this.

Oh Germaine, would you really have been as successful as you have been if you had been a millennial writing now? I don’t fucking think so. No one would have listened to you. You would have written a blog, done your Phd, got trampled on by academia, would have had to survive on a zero-hours contract delivering crap food for Deliveroo, or working as a care-worker for £9. If you had made it up the ranks and had taught at a university, in 2018, you would have been on a very rickety contract or a zero-hours contract too, and would have had to do another job just to survive. You would have been living in a flat in a city with a partner or a flat-mate, living in one room, with no sight of anything else much on the career horizon.

Oh Germaine, don’t you see that the very stifling existence you raged against in the 1950s/60s/70s is precisely the environment that was needed to propel you to fame and fortune? That what you proposed and got paid millions for, in liberating women, is precisely what is caging them now, the expectation to ‘do everything’ and ‘have it all’ when really we have nothing.

Oh Germaine, if you were 20 now, or 25 or 30 or even 55, and you were writing now, as you, who would give a shit? (See my first point). No one, that’s who.

Oh Germaine, I love you and hate you at the same time. I love you because your energy leaves me feeling inspired. I hate you because you energy makes me feel so useless.

Oh Germaine, we agree on almost everything, my desire for women to be free, to be able to reinvent themselves, carve out their own destiny, be free of the strangulating pressure to confirm to society’s norms and expectations, but now in 2018 the world is so different, so dangerous, so bad for women, and men, and youngsters, no one has time to consider anything anymore beyond survival.

Oh Germaine, you got married for three weeks and then walked away! How brilliantly brave of you. Oh Germaine, you’re an Aussie but you’re a honorary Brit and you care for neither of these tiles, you fly like a bird across the skies, and you’ll never be tied down, ever. I love this about you. I am like this, trying to be free, never wanting to settle down.

Oh Germaine, I think I know now what makes you tick. While Kleinhenz’s biography is that, a biography and you didn’t write it, and it isn’t an autobiography, Kleinhenz based her book on three years of intense research at the University of Melbourne Germaine Greer archive that includes all her letters, memos, writings, notebooks, transcripts, photos – everything, so it must be based on some sort of truth.

Oh Germaine, you were a Millennial Woman long before the 21st Century. You fitted not in the years of the 50s/60s/70s. You studied so hard, read so many books, that your intelligence became the diamante variety, positively shining. How did you do that? Is that possible now, what with soaring rents and food prices and the difficulty surviving. How do students survive? Can anyone afford be be academically brilliant anymore, concentrating on nothing else. Who has that type of privilege?

Oh Germaine, your tall stature, hippy dress and promiscuity made you the talk of the town, long before your celebrity. Your academic brilliance allowed you to move in the elite of Australian’s tiny literary and creative circles, and from there you flew – to the other side of the world – and push yourself into the limelight with your height, your Phd, your fucking and swearing. No one could ignore you.

And then came The Female Eunuch – and that was it: Multi-million pound/dollar fame and contacts gravitated towards you like moths to light, ants to honey, the homeless to begging rugs outside banks and supermarket doorways.

Oh Germaine, Dr Kleinhenz’s biography is full of adoration and name-dropping in that very Australian way of talking, and sometimes it is cringy and awful.

Oh Germaine, how have you packed so much into your life, when other women’s lives are hollowed out by depression and violence.

Oh Germaine…….thank you. You’ve reminded me just how imprisoned I am, and how little I can do about it.


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