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.