WORD SEARCH with Adair Jones

From a lost notebook: encounters with dangerous men

Posted in From a lost notebook by Adair Jones on March 4, 2013

hartos

  He:           This isn’t going to turn into one of your rants, is it?
She:           The need to rant comes from the feeling of not being heard.

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 Rhapsodists/deriders

In 2007, Germaine Greer published the spirited Shakespeare’s Wife, a book about Ann Hathaway and the life she might have led.  The word ‘might’ is important in this context, because next to nothing is known about her.  There are a few documents that offer a detail or two about her family.  There are Mr Shakespeare’s poems and plays, of course, which must not be read as being too heavily autobiographical.  And there are the successive, generally negative views of scholars and historians.  That’s all.

Greer wades though everything.  Everything.  At the heart of her investigation is the simplest question: Why, when so little is known, should nearly every reference to this woman be negative?

220px-Anne-hathawayFor example, for four centuries Ann Hathaway has been considered an illiterate, unattractive older woman who slyly set about to lead astray and then entrap the naïve, teenage Will, future Bard of England.  And yet, only a badly preserved pencil sketch remains to hint at whether she was lovely or plain or downright ugly, hardly enough to inspire such vitriol.

The only thing known for certain is that Ann Hathaway was 26 to his 18 years.  That’s it.  Nothing about their courtship is known, though Greer draws context from songs and ballads of the time as well as some of Shakespeare’s early poems, which are surprisingly positive about relationships between slightly older women and younger men. Greer makes a case for the Hathaways being better established in the world than the Shakespeares, who were heavily in debt.  Indeed, it might even be surmised that Ann was a good catch for the talented young man without an income, whose skills as a poet and playwright remained largely untested.  No one could possibly have imagined at the time they were married that Will Shakespeare would go on to be the most celebrated writer in the English language.

What, then, have these scholars to gain by being unceasingly unkind to someone they know nothing about?  Greer invokes the long line of so-called “rhapsodists of bardolatry”, of whom Thomas De Quincey was first of many. Shakespeare had become a national treasure and, as such, the facts of his life as the basis of an ‘image’ were considered public property.

Greer intends to set the record straight, questioning each document, every reference, and each individual assumption at a breakneck pace, exposing in the process a long tradition of scholarly chauvinism and misogyny.  “The Shakespeare wallahs,” she writes, “have succeeded in creating a Bard in their own likeness, that is to say, incapable of relating to women.” Ann Hathaway has existed too long as another silenced woman: Greer seeks to restore her reputation, the barest facts of her life, her face, her voice.

Reading Germaine Greer has always had the effect of opening the floodgates of suppressed indignation in me.  I’ve traveled the world and know for certain that sexism may be encountered— overtly, covertly, or otherwise—on every street corner. But to have it documented so thoroughly and by one so unblinking has got me thinking.

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Institutional bullies

lacigelbworkingincanada1950sSoon after I arrived in Australia, I needed to get an Australian drivers license. With opposite-side drive, roundabouts, and unfamiliar road rules, it was a prospect that filled me with anxiety.  On he appointed day, however, I never had the chance to get behind the wheel. The examiner determined that the car—less than a year old—was “unroadworthy”. Without another word, he failed me.

“Hold on,” I confronted him. “Please explain how the car could  be unroadworthy today when it was perfectly roadworthy only two days ago during my husband’s driving test?”

The man answered my question by turning his back and returning to the building. I was effectively silenced and dismissed.

Later that day, I expressed my indignation about this to one of my first Australian friends, an intelligent, well-educated woman.

“That’d be right.”  She shrugged. No protest, no outrage, no need to rant. She discouraged me from writing a letter of complaint. “They’ll just laugh at the letter over a pint at the pub.”

Apparently, I had a few things against me: I was an American and a woman; I scored 100% on the written exam and all my documents were in order, which made me a ‘tall poppy‘ (another new concept).  In the end, I did write a letter, not to his boss but to the head of Queensland Transport.  They eventually investigated the matter and added my complaint to thirty others in the file of this particular examiner. Twenty-nine women and one gay man had already spoken up.

Anticipating justice would be served, I asked the investigator what they were going to do.

“There isn’t much we can do,” she replied.  “We aren’t allowed to fire him or demote him.”

“But he shouldn’t be allowed to get away with this!” I cried. “It’s egregious! It’s unconscionable! It’s obviously sexist!  With so many complaints on record, that man shouldn’t be allowed to deal with the public.”

“I’m sorry.  The only way we can get him out of his position is to promote him.”

“In what kind or world is that okay?” I asked pointedly.

The investigator shrugged. This was my first encounter with sexism as it is manifested in some Australian institutions.

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Culturally determined ‘mates’

This was also my first look at the idea of ‘mateship’ and the stoicism with which Australian women respond to it. Mateship is a concept of friendship endemic to Australian identity, so powerful that, in 1999, Prime Minister John Howard pushed to have the term enshrined in the Australian constitution.  There have also been attempts to have it part of the Australian citizenship test.

The only problem is that it can and often does exclude half the population, something even more apparent lately as the shadow of Tony Abbott and his cocky opinions loom ever larger in the political sphere.

In fact, it’s been my observation that women are frequently accused of coming between ‘mates’, something I believe has conditioned their silence about it.

As the Australian poet Judith Wright observed in 1965:

The ‘mateship’ ingredient of the Australian tradition … left out of account the whole relationship with women.

There are many good things to be said about strong bonds between men. However, while such bonds are crucial perhaps in establishing a colony, on the battlefield, and even on the playing field, there is a shadow side to mateship. It can be both predatory and bullying, a state of being in which women are excluded, not respected and, in essence, stripped of humanity.

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Men behaving badly on the town…

westsidestory04

On my daughter’s 18th birthday, we celebrated with a small dinner party, after which she planned to go out ‘clubbing’, something that has become a rite of passage among young Australians.

That day there was a news item about Dianne Brimble, the Brisbane woman who had died aboard a P&O cruise ship. I remember thinking with some alarm, “Hasn’t that been resolved yet?  It was so many years ago already.”

For anyone who doesn’t know, Dianne Brimble embarked on a nine-day cruise in 2002. On the second day, her lifeless body was found naked on the floor of a cabin occupied by four unknown men. The coroner’s investigation, which shockingly began only four years after the event, uncovered a number of dreadful circumstances surrounding her death. She died of an overdose of the date-rape drug GHB. She had been sexually abused. Awful, disrespectful photographs surfaced. At least four and possibly as many as eight men were involved. 

Sadly, in all these years, there has been no justice for Brimble. Despite the inquest and the investigation of eight men considered to be implicated in her death, the criminal trial that followed almost eight years after the 42-year-old’s death resulted in a hung jury.  The plea deal entered into with Mark Wilhelm, the man who supplied the GHB, was subsequently dropped. None of the men involved has been punished or expressed remorse for what happened to this woman. They seem to believe they were entitled to behave the way they did that tragic night and the way they’ve behaved since. In fact, as recently as September 2010, investigators caught them on tape discussing how the case could make them millionaires.

With this story fresh in my mind, I kissed my daughter goodbye as she left with her friends, Eddo, the designated driver and self-appointed body guard, and Julie, an exchange student from France. They met up with others they knew, danced, shouted to each other over the noise, shared jokes. Then something happened.

As my daughter related to me when she returned home, Julie had gone out to the courtyard for a cigarette. She was joined by a group of four young men who flirted with her and offered to buy her a drink. She demurred. One of the men handed her a bottle of water, and she took a sip. That’s the last thing she remembers.

Luckily, at that moment my daughter and Eddo were looking for her and happened to see her fall.  They rushed toward her, shouted for security. Julie was limp, in some kind of twilight state, speaking nonsense, eyes opened but not really ‘there’. Eddo left with security to look for the men she’d been speaking with, but they had already fled the club.

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…and at home

It’s after dinner with the dishes cleared away and the last glass of wine poured.  As frequently happens, one of my husband’s friends is over, a man I consider to be my dear friend too.

We’re on the patio, surrounded by the lime trees, the palms and the lillypillys I’ve lovingly planted.  There’s a cool breeze, the buzz of cicadas, a rising moon.  If there is any place and any moment I should feel safe, this is it.

I mention my daughter’s experience at the nightclub.  At first, we’re in agreement that it’s complicated, terrifying, harrowing, full of peril to raise a daughter nowadays.  Before I’m aware of it happening, the conversation shifts.  We’re now discussing all the ways women have hurt men – abandonment, deceit, betrayal.

“Wait a minute,” I protest.  “It’s not at all the same.  We’re talking about two different things here.  Men do those same things to women, but there’s the risk of this other crime too.”

face in fogThey don’t listen, insist the playing field is level, declare men and women are equal in the world, in Australia, in their minds. They assert that women have the same opportunities that men do and, in many cases, are even given preferential treatment, suggest that it’s men who are discriminated against.

Whatever I say remains unheard. The vapour of mateship has rolled down the hill and over the garden wall, enveloping these two men in an atmosphere from which I’m not only excluded but erased.

My only options: to ‘rant’ or to leave.

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Germaine Greer v the rhapsodists of bardolatry

Posted in Rediscovered, review, Strangled Words by Adair Jones on January 15, 2011


In 2007, Germaine Greer published the spirited Shakespeare’s Wife, a book about Ann Hathaway and the life she might have led.  The word ‘might’ is important in this context, because next to nothing is known about her.  There are a few documents that offer a detail or two about her family.  There are Mr Shakespeare’s poems and plays, of course, which must not be read as being too heavily autobiographical.  And there are the successive, generally negative views of scholars and historians.  That’s all.

Greer wades though everything.  Everything.  At the heart of her investigation is the simplest question: Why, when so little is known, should nearly every reference to this woman be negative?

For example, for four centuries Ann Hathaway has been considered an illiterate, unattractive older woman who slyly set about to lead astray and then entrap the naïve, teenage Will, future bard of England.  And yet no image exists as to whether she was lovely or plain or downright ugly. The only thing known for certain is that Ann Hathaway was 26 to his 18 years.  That’s it.

Nothing about their courtship is known, though Greer draws context from songs and ballads of the time as well as some of Shakespeare’s early poems, which are surprisingly positive about relationships between slightly older women and younger men. She makes a case for the Hathaways being better established in the world than the Shakespeares, who were heavily in debt.  Indeed, it might be surmised that Ann was, in fact, a good catch for the talented young man without an income, whose skills as a poet and playwright remained, at the age of 18, largely untested.  No one could have imagined at the time they were married that Will Shakespeare would go on to be the most celebrated writer in the English language.

What, then, have these scholars to gain by being unceasingly unkind to someone they know nothing about?  Greer invokes the long line of so-called ‘rhapsodists of bardolatry’, of whom Thomas De Quincey was first of many.  Others include: Samuel Johnson, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Keats, William Hazlitt, and Thomas Carlyle. Historians and scholars weighed in: Shakespeare’s genius is unsurpassed.  By the early 19th Century, he had become a national treasure and, as such, the facts of his life as the basis of an ‘image’ were considered public property.  Idols, however, have their opposing demons.  And it appears that Shakespeare’s wife has been cast in such a role.

Greer intends to set the record straight, questioning each document, every reference, and each individual assumption at a breakneck pace, exposing in the process a long tradition of scholarly chauvinism and misogyny.

Ann Hathaway has existed too long as another silenced woman:  Greer seeks to restore her reputation, the barest facts of her life, her face, her voice.  Since facts about her life are so scarce, Shakespeare’s Wife is a an odd kind of biography.  Greer paints an exhaustive picture of Elizabethan life and, in the accumulation of detail and the intrepid questioning she is famous for, she gives an alternate view of a woman who has perhaps been unfairly maligned for centuries.

This is intoxicating reading.  Bravo, Greer.     

 

 

In search of ‘the defective male’ in literature

Posted in Musings..., Rediscovered, The ridiculous by Adair Jones on February 7, 2010

‘the defective male’

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In the countless examples of sexism in literature, there is a category in which the female is depicted as missing something that the male has.  The male is first and pre-eminent, the female derivative.  In other words, she is—at best—a defective male.

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Genesis 2, Bible (1450-1410 BC)

The Bible’s position is that women were created to be the helpers of men, subordinate and submissive to male leadership.  The Fall of Man is both cause and effect of the natural antagonism between male and female.  Eve, made of Adam’s rib, is naturally inferior, and therefore guiltier.  The result of sin was to worsen the condition of women from submissiveness to servitude.

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Aristotle’s Biology (384-322BC)

Just a few of Aristotle’s statements:

The male is separated from the female, since it is something better and more divine in that it is the principle of movement for generated things, while the female serves as their matter.

A woman is as it were an infertile male.

The female is as it were a deformed male.

The male is by nature superior, and the female inferior; and the one rules, and the other is ruled.

Aristotle’s definition of a female as a mutilated male was transmitted into biological, obstetrical, and theological tracts with far-reaching cultural effects.

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Commentary, Cor. 11.3, St. Thomas Aquinas (mid 13th century)

“As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from a defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence . . .  This, therefore, is the reason why the woman was produced from the man, because he is more perfect than the woman, which the Apostle proves from the fact that the end is more perfect than that which is for the end; but man is the woman’s end.  And this is what he says: For man was not created for woman, but woman for the sake of man, as a helper, namely, in reproduction, as the patient is for the sake of the agent and matter for the sake of form. Man is the image and glory of God, but woman the glory of man, necessary for the propagation of the species, but impaired at conception so as to lack the physical and mental excellence of the male.”

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A Doll’s House, Henrik Ibsen (1879)

By the 19th century, centuries of sexism had been internalized.  Even when women knew they were behaving in a superior way, it was denied by all.  In Ibsen’s play, poor Nora plays the part of the frivolous, scatter-brained child-wife for the benefit of her husband.  In a moment of crisis, she contemplates suicide to save her husband from the shame of the revelation of her crime—something she undertook to save him.  The crisis passes.  Torvald grandiosely explains to Nora that her mistake makes her all the more precious to him because it reveals an adorable helplessness, and that when a man has forgiven his wife it makes him love her all the more since she is the recipient of his generosity.

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“The Psychical Consequences of the Anatomic Distinction Between the Sexes”,

Sigmund Freud (1925)

“The little girl notices the strikingly visible and well-proportioned penis of a brother or playmate, immediately recognizing it as the superior counterpart of her own small and hidden little organ and from then on she is subject to penis envy. She has seen it, knows that she does not have it, and wants it.”

Clinging to this idea throughout his career, Freud stated in 1933, “Girls hold their mother responsible for their lack of a penis and do not forgive her for their being thus put at a disadvantage”.

In 1949, in response to Karen Horney criticism of his ideas, Freud wrote, “We shall not be very greatly surprised if a woman analyst who has not been sufficiently convinced of the intensity of her own wish for a penis also fails to attach proper importance to that factor in her patients”.  According to Freud, Horney’s concept of womb envy emerged as a result of her own supposed penis envy.

(Enough said.)

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The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan, (1963)

Friedan identifies the problem that has no name: The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning [that is, a longing] that women suffered in the middle of the 20th century in the United States. Each suburban wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries … she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question — ‘Is this all?’

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The Female Eunuch, Germaine Greer (1970)

“The title is an indication of the problem,” Greer told The New York Times in a 1971 interview about her book. “Women have somehow been separated from their libido, from their faculty of desire, from their sexuality. They’ve become suspicious about it. Like beasts, for example, who are castrated in farming in order to serve their master’s ulterior motives—to be fattened or made docile—women have been cut off from their capacity for action. It’s a process that sacrifices vigor for delicacy and succulence, and one that’s got to be changed.”

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“Dick and Jane as Victims: Sex Stereotyping in Children’s Readers”,

Women on Words and Images (1973)

According to this study, sexism infects thousands of textbooks for primary students from readers to math books.  The 57-page study analyzes 2,760 stories in 134 schoolbooks and concludes that boy-centered stories outnumber girl-centered stories 5 to 2, that positive traits are monopolized by male characters, and that the books show 147 different career possibilities for boys but only 26 for girls.

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Chinese one-child policy (1979)

Not only are females missing something— they are missing altogether.  With boys being viewed as culturally preferable, the practice of female infanticide — which had been common before 1949 but was largely eradicated by the 1950s — was resumed in some areas shortly after the one-child policy went into effect.  The resulting gender imbalance widened after 1986, when ultrasound tests and abortions became easier to come by.  China banned prenatal sex screening in 1994.  Nonetheless, an April 2009 study published in the British Medical Journal found China still has 32 million more boys than girls under the age of 20.

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Twilight Series, Stephanie Meyer (2005-2008)

As women make strides toward equality (or at least an acknowledgement of inequality), as they become strong heroines of their own stories, there seems to be a deep cultural need to reinstate the status quo.  If human females are the equals of human males, it’s necessary to raise the males to another level of superiority, so that the idea of the ‘more perfect male’ may be retained.

The male heroes of the Twilight Series—a vampire and a werewolf—are not monsters.  Rather, they are supernatural beings possessing great powers, wisdom and self-control among them.  The very human Bella is depicted as the temptress-child, needing guidance, protection, constant watching over. Bella is chastised for being irresistible and warned that if something bad happens because the super-males around her cannot control themselves, it will be her own fault.

Where have we heard all this before?