Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Helen Garner's prize win reminds me of The First Stone

Australian writer Helen Garner is in the news again. See, she won a prestigious and lucrative literary prize for her recent book This House of Grief. Oddly, most of today's reports seem primarily focused on the fun fact that the notification she'd won ended up in her junk e-mail folder and she initially thought it was a hoax. Perhaps it's because this approach works better as clickbait than making the book's content and merits the meat of the story?

In any case I'm sure she's a deserving winner. She's an excellent, fearless and very thoughtful writer. I know this from reading The First Stone way back in the nineties. I was living in Melbourne at the time, doing comedy in a scene dominated by lefties.

The book documented a campus scandal in that city in which an old white male prof had his career pretty much destroyed by vengeful feminists because of what appeared to be a coupla episodes of pathetic lechery towards two female students. Garner was intrigued by the overly punitive way in which the transgressions were handled and set out to get to the truth of the matter. But for various reasons she never got to interview the two young women at the centre of the drama.

I remember having some interesting discussions with leftie feminist chicks I knew at the time. Being Melbournians themselves, I suspect they knew the identities of the two mystery women whose experiences were detailed --albeit incompletely -- in the book. Some were very angry with Garner. Because the writer was so even handed as well as compassionate towards the old bloke -- whose identity everyone knew -- they felt she was somehow "letting the side down".

I was shocked at their tribal bloody-mindedness. They had a very neatly divided universe, that's for sure! Old white males were guilty, full stop. If  feminists managed to destroy one's reputation for a minor transgression (or even none at all), well, that was a win for feminism.

I remember thinking how toxic this mentality was even then. There was some resistance to it -- Garner herself being a notable example -- and I hoped that this would finally hold sway. Sadly, it didn't. The victim feminists gained even more territory in ensuing years. And not just in the halls of quackademe! Depressingly, frightbats have been running amok for ages all over the joint.

The two mystery students whose complaints sparked the whole sorry saga off are middle-aged now. It would be fascinating to know who they are and how the book (and of course the events it detailed) affected them... The fact that neither has come forward to set the record straight in all this time seems almost as telling as the controversy The First Stone provoked in the first place.

Then, as now, there was only one interpretation deemed acceptable by the thought police: Man as oppressor; woman as victim. What an ugly, stupid, divisive world-view. And what concentrated poison it is to any and all relationships between men and women.

1 comment:

  1. Garner is a very even-handed writer for a feminist. I bought This House of Grief and stopped after a few chapters, brilliantly written but as the title would suggest full of grief and sadness. Maybe I will give it another go one day. I have not read the First Stone but did enjoy another book of Garner's called Joe Cinque's Consolation. Published around 2004, I think. A tremendous read. We need more thoughtful feminists such as Helen Garner - she has a real heart.