I recently had the very great pleasure of compering Germaine Greer at the first of a series of events at the Gate in Roath. 'An Audience With' aims to bring the good people of Cardiff a variety of high-profile personalities, including actors, writers, sports stars, and politicians. Simon Weston was this month's guest, and next month's is Roy Hattersley - but our first kicked off, in a high-kick style, with the nation's most famous feminist.
Like most educated ladies of my age, I read The Female Eunuch at university, and was affected by it greatly. This was to the point of me managing to quote Greer (and my other favourite writer at that time, Helene Cixous) in every English essay paper - even Chaucer! Greer's writing made clear so many things that I was unconsciously aware of but unable to put a name to; I'd already realised that there were about a thousand swears featuring female terms (cow, bitch, tit, etc.) and very few for male, but many of her other assertions made other, more subtle subjects, crystal clear. It became a kind of bible for me, for a while.
So, to meet Greer now, was extremely exciting. I also felt nervous. The septugenarian has a 'rep' for being outspoken and opinionated, and for stirring people up with controversial opinions... I wondered how she would be with me.
I needn't have worried, of course. Germaine was as friendly and personable as you would've hoped, though with strongly-held, and freely-expressed, opinions. I spent about 45 minutes with her backstage while we waited for the show to begin; one minute we'd be talking about the difficulties of parking; the next we had leaped (not because of me!) onto discussing the penis and popular opinion of it. Germaine's conversation casually veered from the mundane to the remarkable, from writing to keeping accounts to her recent, much-enjoyed talks to young girls in schools, to the terrible topic of sexual assault. Once Germaine was on stage, I realised that, like most great performers, she had been practising some of her material on me - little bits and pieces that had seemed so (wonderfully) random then, were now spoken here, and to great effect. Anyone who came along to the evening will be aware that Greer is as funny and engaging as many a stand-up. The fact the house was full (370 people!), with both men and women, spoke volumes.
In all, I would say that I found Germaine to be a person who perhaps enjoys playing devil's advocate. Her 'rep', I feel, comes from her deliberately wanting to poke at people's thoughts, to get them to question their own assumptions. Perhaps this is then portrayed in the popular press as wilfulness. I also found Germaine to be less a 'feminist' than a 'humanist' in what she was saying. She struck me as a fine mind with a good heart - a sage older person who simply thinks everyone should have equal rights. The image of the younger Greer, I think, has forever thrown a fanatical, 'wimmin's rights' sorta shadow over the philosopher she has become.
The happiest moment of the evening came, for me, when an unprompted audience sang 'Happy Birthday' to Germaine - this event co-incidentally marked her 73rd birthday. As compere, I had intended to arrange something like this, but the fact it happened naturally, again, says a lot.
The only other question I'd like to address, of the many I've been asked, is - is Germaine still hot? Well, for a 73-year old, yes, I suppose she is. I guess it really depends on whether you find a brilliant mind sexy in itself. Certainly, many do, as you can see from this guy's blog. I'm not sure what Germaine would think of the question, but since it's a woman who asked it of me, perhaps she wouldn't mind (?).
Anyway... This is the longest post I've ever written! Hope to see you at some of the future events, bye for now!