MAT­TER

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

Anne Sum­mers first met Ger­maine Greer at a birth­day party for Mao Ze­dong, a leg­endary yearly bash hosted in high irony on the Bal­main water­front by an out­landish Syd­ney banker. “I had had too many glasses of Jim Beam, a drink I had never tried be­fore (or since), and, em­bar­rass­ingly, had thrown up in front of her,” Sum­mers re­calls sheep­ishly in her mem­oir Un­fet­tered and Alive.

“De­spite our both be­ing cham­pi­ons of fem­i­nism, we have never re­ally con­nected; it was prob­a­bly our first meet­ing that saw to that.”

Sum­mers blames the bour­bon, but read­ing Un­fet­tered and Alive along­side El­iz­a­beth Klein­henz’s Ger­maine: The Life of Ger­maine Greer, it is not hard to imag­ine how these two sharp- Un­fet­tered and Alive: A Mem­oir By Anne Sum­mers Allen & Un­win, 496pp, $39.99 Ger­maine: The Life of Ger­maine Greer By El­iz­a­beth Klein­henz Knopf Aus­tralia, 432pp, $39.99 (HB) minds might rub each other the wrong way. There is Sum­mers, the lauded es­tab­lish­ment jour­nal­ist and pe­ri­odic “femo­crat”, who has spent much of her ca­reer fight­ing for poli­cies that ad­vance women’s equal­ity.

And there is Greer, the un­de­ni­ably bril­liant yet in­creas­ingly di­vi­sive aca­demic — “Aus­tralia’s fore­most fe­male rat­bag” — who be­lieves equal­ity fem­i­nism to be a wrong­headed, “pro- foundly con­ser­va­tive” goal. The prag­ma­tist v the provo­ca­teur.

But it is easy — too easy — to frame the story of Sum­mers and Greer as adversarial. For too long, the tale that has been told about sec­ond­wave fem­i­nism has been an­chored in its di­vi­sions. What emerges, read­ing these twin ac­counts of post­war Aus­tralian women, is a shared sense of the ne­ces­sity of in­ven­tion.

“You and your close friends talked about lives that would be dif­fer­ent from those that had been laid out for you … but you knew no one who had done it,” Sum­mers be­gins, in a let­ter to her 30-year-old self.

“There were few women you could see to model your­selves on. Ex­cept in books.”

Both Sum­mers and Greer took to the page to write them­selves new fu­tures.

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