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Mar 8, 2010

Razer: The Monthly's Louis Nowra needs a good vajazzling

Forget what Louis Nowra and The Monthly say, writes Helen Razor: Germaine Greer is a bright and occasionally charming old ratbag who should be revered.

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Generally, International Women’s Day is an occasion to which I pay little mind. In 1979, Brown Owl flashed my non-regulation underwear as a caution to all assembled Guides. I have since reasoned that it is better to wrap one’s self in solitude than risk being multiply stung by the hive mind.

As I am terrified that the Sisters’ Army might want to examine my underwear, I tend to avoid IWD. The past week, however, has upchucked surprises sufficiently nasty to rev my angry parts. And these all, by chance, involve the feminine form.

I learned recently of the aesthetic practice: vajazzling. This, it seems, is an elective for those who have passed Advanced Brazilian. The female sex organ, bereft of its hair, is encrusted with crystals; Swarovski, of course. Apparently, demand outstripped supply when Jennifer Love Hewitt, a woman unencumbered by talent or charm, told press that she needed to paste jewels on her v-gina in order to feel good about it.

Here, there are two salient conclusions to which one might be led. These are (a) the desire for visual perfection has become unmanageable and (b) any bitch who dislikes her own c-nt so much as JLH needs to go to hospital.

As tempting as it is to disburse all time and thought on Love’s poonanny-loathing, it’s the broader implications of this twat-ritual that concern us today. Vajazzling has been greeted by many “liberated” women with the sort of You Go Girl finger snapping normally reserved for daytime television. Blogger Bryce Gruber is among the women who casually confuse sparkly flaps for “empowerment”.

I shan’t go on. Except to say, it makes Carrie Bradshaw read like Solanus. SCUM and the city.

Then, I learned of My New Pink Button.  This vaginal pigment has already exploded online and unchained a tsunami of disgust. So, I shan’t go on about that much longer either except to say: is there no feminine crevice immune to pimping?

Which brings me to the third, and final, thing that prompted me to thought on IWD. Forty years ago almost to the day, the scholar Germaine Greer showed us a new site for insurgency. It was on the female body. “You might consider tasting your menstrual blood,” she dared her readers with The Female Eunuch. If in performing this test the revolutionary wannabe felt ill, she had “a long way to go, baby”.

A confidence that baby would go a long way informed this scorching, funny polemic. When Greer wrote about the yoke of grooming or the fear of menses, she did so with a purpose in mind: to move the body and, by extension, identity to the hub of discourse. The refusal to relegate the self and its associated flesh to absence was, and remains, a central project of feminism; or of gender studies, as the specialty is now more broadly known.

To sound less like my failed undergraduate self, Greer said: I’m a woman. Here’s my tits and bits. Now that you’ve seen them, can we please get on with the business of living outside of “man” and “woman” as we have known these categories? This fixation on the body was, in my reading, a project intended to remake woman as more than the sum of her looks; to free us from the fairytale idea that the true moral register of a woman is her appearance.

Last Friday, Australian magazine The Monthly published an essay on The Female Eunuch to “commemorate” the book’s 40th anniversary. Here was an opportunity to contextualise what is arguably the most popular work ever written by an Australian public intellectual. Instead, they decided to talk about how ugly Greer is. Which she isn’t. I hope I’m that hot at her age.

But THIS is not, at all, the point. This piece was written by a guy called Louis Nowra. And it was commissioned by Ben Naperstak, a 12-year-old whose stewardship of the august periodical might be kindly called uneven.

Basically, Nowra says: Greer bangs on about the body too much. Also, she is ugly and looks quite old. Besides which, my mother never read her book. And neither did a lot of other people’s mothers. Because, look, women are still obsessed by their own appearance. Did I mention that Germaine Greer was ugly?

If you don’t believe me, look here, here or here . But don’t, whatever you do, buy this effing magazine. I want Naperstak sent back to nursery school for not only defecating on his intellectual heritage but saying crap such as “political correctness is the enemy of intelligent debate” in Nowra’s defence. No, you’re the enemy.

And your mate, Louis Nowra, who goes on and interminably on about Greer, who looks like a “demented grandmother”, being too optimistic. How could she possibly think women would change their attitudes viz. “young women today love shopping more than ever”.

Seriously. Nowra is saying: the world didn’t change, so she shouldn’t have bothered. Should we apply this logic to Kapital and bitch that Marx ever wrote it because, clearly, expansionist capitalism was just going to get more and more complex? Should we fling a big old poop on the Gettysburg address while we’re at it and say: well, Abe, things are still pretty fucked for African-Americans, you should never have said any of that?

As for going on about Greer’s appearance? Wait until I have vajazzled in order that you may choke on the Swarovski crystals of my feminist unease. How dare you not accord this writer and thinker her due without resorting to cheap jibes.

In this forum, by the way, I can be cheap. You, however, were paid, at the rate of $1 a word, to write for a periodical that purports to be the voice of leftist erudition. And what did you do? You did what all your blokey mates have been doing with a little more elegance for years. To wit: you have reduced Greer to a desiccated caricature while claiming the detonation of “political correctness” to justify your out-and-out misogyny.

Greer attracts violent spittle of the type not because she is a polemicist, but because she has a cunt. Her every utterance or teeny, tiny op-ed column is the subject of scrutiny and fuel to the flame of what is, let it be said, pure hatred of feminism. I mean, Bob Ellis can vomit ad infinitum anything his cut-price shiraz provokes. And everyone says: Dear Old Bob. As much as I adore him, Clive James can write an entire work while pulling his pud and his sanctity and his oeuvre remain intact.

Greer DARES to say what we’d all be thinking several months later on the occasion of Steve Irwin’s death and she is called a hag. She DARES to write an informed history on the young male as visual object and she is called a dried-out old cougar.

Fuck off. She’s a bright and occasionally charming old ratbag who is far more erudite than most of what passes for an Australian “public intellectual” and should be revered. Greer may have done her utmost to change the world. Sadly, she was unable to undo the boring sexism that drives so many Australian female thinkers into silence.

Or vajazzling.

Fuck off. I’m going to paint my vagina.  We love doing that, we ladies. And shopping, too.

Happy fucking International fucking Women’s Day.

*This piece first appeared on Helen Razer’s blog Bad Hostess.

Helen Razer — Writer and Broadcaster

Helen Razer

Writer and Broadcaster

Helen Razer is a writer and broadcaster whose work has appeared in The Saturday Paper, SBS Online, The Big Issue, and Frankie. She has previously worked as a columnist for The Age and The Australian.

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130 thoughts on “Razer: The Monthly‘s Louis Nowra needs a good vajazzling

  1. Frank Campbell

    Yesterday I posted the following 11 brief quotes from the comments here, plus one from Razer. Each quote reflected a certain diffidence about free speech.

    Then I added a general comment about the sociological context in which this censoriousness survives.

    Crikey removed the post. Why?

    here it is again:

    “But don’t, whatever you do, buy this effing magazine.”
    “She doesn’t demand Nowra be silenced…”
    “Now I can save my pennies.”
    “I guess he deserves the Monthly, and vice versa.”
    “I was going to buy the Monthly to read this because it looked interesting, so thankyou to Crikey and Razer for saving me the irritation!”
    “The editor commissioned it. The publisher appointed the editor and has done nothing to modify his errors of judgment. The board clearly approves of this, or otherwise they would resign. They are all culpable.”
    “Close it Morry….real estate is your forte…”
    “So – should Naperstak stay? or go?”
    “I haven’t read it, but Nowra’s piece comes off as mean-spirited and I would love to know why The Monthly published it. I can’t see the point.”
    “While I haven’t yet read my copy of The Monthly…I won’t be renewing my subscription to The Monthly if things continue.”
    “I’d never heard of Lois Nowra (!) and hope I never hear of him again.”
    “Germaine Greer still is worth barracking for”

    1. Hardly any of you have read Nowra’s article
    2. You’ve been told not to (but you’ll probably read it in the library, furtively)
    3. This sociological pleasure trove of comments is so…censorious and illiberal. Pure FitzGlebe.

    Today in Crikey Ben Eltham criticises the cliqueyness of The Monthly, as if the minuscule Australian litcrit/political pundit scene were not entirely composed of incestuous cliques. Relationship is everything, and every relationship is a conflict of interest. Loyalty rules, spiced with inevitable betrayals, betrayals cherished for decades. Australia, the Balkans of the mind (minus God, thank Christ).

  2. Sammy

    I held off commenting on this until I had read the Monthy article in question. After doing so Razer’s response to it seems little more than a chance to grandstand on something guaranteed to get the crowd in behind her and inelegantly (in the writing sense) throw a few cuss words around.

    The response has the reek of burnt sacred cow around it and doesn’t address a number of the legitimate criticisms Nowra makes of Greer. Instead a few convenient strands of the piece are taken out, woven into a straw man of mysogyny and then vitriolicly attacked. Greer is not being criticised because she has female genitalia- she is being attacked for her sometimes colossal arrogance, her inconsistent writing post Female Eunuch, and, most interestingly, the nasty, cruel derison of other prominent women that she has dished out. Is this behaviour we should “revere”?

    The valid point is also raised that maybe her work was a wee bit middle class, and that maybe it didn’t have the influence that it is puported to have had. Is to ask such questions mysogyny? Or are we men banished from the discussion just because we don’t have the right bodily organs? Furthermore, is it appropriate for anyone engaged in public intellectual life (and for better or worse you are such a person) to so viciously attack others for their opinions? To deride them as a ’12 year old’, to tell them to ‘fuck off’? I imagine if you were on the recieving end of such a public assualt from a male writer you might think it a tad bullying.

    You do yourself a disservice with your nasty personal attacks, but what could we expect from someone who handily ignores similar behaviour from her singed sacred cow- Germaine Greer?

  3. Frank Campbell

    Robert de Builder: you’re right. But like many Crikey commenters you seem unable to distinguish between satirising or rubbishing someone’s ideas (which Crikey should encourage if it doesn’t want to end up stifled by the weed of decorum) and personal insult directed at other posters.

    As for vile Murdoch, he’s a public figure and fair game, restricted only by fear of defamation (relax, he’ll be dead soon). I’m sure Crikey isn’t bothered if Murdoch or Abbott or Lord Planckton of Krill are ridiculed- there have been no inhibitions on Crikey about people treating Planckton’s thyroid disease as a stick to beat him, for instance (me included).

    And learn to distinguish between Murdoch and his poxy commentariat and the large majority of Australian journalists etc who work for him. They’ve got no choice, have they? Murdoch is a near-monopoly. Most journos who don’t work for Murdoch have in the past and will do so in future.

    As for contributors like Razer- she is both relentlessly rude (which I like) and insults Nappiestak personally (“12-year old”). That’s fine by me. But contributors should be fair game too. They dish it out…

    Personally, I’d prefer if commenters were allowed to insult each other freely, as they have done thus far. I don’t do it, though that doesn’t inhibit the local trolls. But there is a strong argument in favour of banning personal insult: many people are discouraged from commenting. I’ve been called delusional, demented, bitter, old, juvenile, twisted, drunk, hung-over etc etc. Doesn’t bother me, but inevitably most people just avoid commenting. The 20 or 30 regular abusers (who often have nothing else to say) deter participation. Not good for crikey stats, is it?

    Ultimately, personal insults show how sterile Australian critique is- any argument which contradicts political correctitude (Left or Right) invites abuse- I’ve had it from Bolt, Jonathon Holmes and a truckload of Crikerions… because everything in the Oz scene is both tribal and personal.

  4. scottyp

    Lysistrata- Your response was quite amusing. From an earlier post of yours- “Thanks Helen for putting it so clearly as to why Louis Nowra ‘s views should be dismissed.”. This is a laughable assertation, and surely you know it. Razer hardly shows at all why Nowra’s article should be dimissed, instead she has a swear and really doesn’t go any deeper than the first or second page (which you might know if you had read the piece)
    It’s oh-so predictable of you to try turn any criticism of either Greer or Greer’s self apointed champion (razer) into an example of how us horrible malefolk are just out to oppress women. I actually don’t solely associate hysterical behaviour with women- do you? Furthermore, weak writing is common to both sexes, and you clearly feel free to attack Mens’ writing so hey, is there some sort of double standard happening here?

    I would love to read a decent comeback to Nowra’s piece- if it came from a woman, great. Good writing and good arguments aren’t the sole domain of one sex are they?
    Your allusion to woman trouble is rather lame (and I can happily inform you, innacurate), and considering your insistence in framing this whole discussion as a Men vs Woman thing probably reflects more disfunction in your relations with the opposite sex than in mine.
    In a display of irony that Razer could learn from you’ve no doubt had to wipe a tiny bit of your own angry sputum off your keyboard after writing your post.
    Of course you haven’t really bothered to engage with any of Nowra’s article either- it’s so much easier and more theraputic to rage against the misogyny and sling around a few angry posts isn’t it? Where is the considered engagement? Razer hasn’t provided it, and after your post and several others it still has yet to make an appearance.

  5. Elan

    Well THAT took some time! I have read through every post.

    I picked this topic up while linking to ‘comments’; one of them interested me, and here I is!

    Nowra has critiqued Greer’s book-40 year anniversary. Helen Razer is not happy about what he wrote.

    (I have TFE, I got it when it came out. It did not change my life).

    I don’t know who Nowra is. I have heard the name that’s all. I care little about what he or anyone else writes, if I simply am not interested in reading same.

    I don’t know who Helen Razer is. She is entitled to her view, AND how she puts it.

    So is Nowra.

    I DO know of GG. I do not particularly like her, she is arrogant and elitist, and has written little about women who really DO need a little ‘liberation’.

    Bob Ellis came up. What an arrogant prat! He has done very well out of his friendship with the SA Premier after making a documentary about same-which nobody I know has ever seen, let alone purchased. Ellis then took a lucrative ‘consultancy’ role with the SA Government..

    I care little that JLH put sparklers on her bits,-if she wants to do that, that’s her business. (I once saw a pic of a fellow with various bits of ironmongery hanging off his salami. That’s also his business).

    FORCED mutilation of female genitalia is foul. That is different and is rightly strongly condemned.

    Of all these posts I can most closely relate to the one put up by SAMMY 10/3-10.56am.

    I’m inclined to agree with him.

    The irony of feminism is that it has been spruiked by women who least need it, to women who were simply unable….unable!! to achieve it. With one exception the Pankhurst’s did much the same thing.

    I’m NOT being patronising, but I’m buggered if I’m going to get worked up about the opinions of Nowra/Greer/Ellis.

    I have no interest in any of them, and thus I won’t waste my energy giving a Wombat’s scrotum for what they say.


  6. Bob the builder

    The point that Greer made about female circumcision in Sex and Destiny was what right do western middle-class women have to tell other women (from poor countries) what they should do with their bodies? From memory she questioned whether they were actually mere victims of male dominance and compared the practice with other body modification practices, such as tattooing, piercing, etc., etc. that are prevalent and accepted in western countries. And made the point that there is no outcry about male circumcision in western countries – a few decades later she made a similar point about attitudes to breast cancer screening vs. testicular screening; i.e. that if anyone suggested to men that someone else had a right to tell them what to do with their bodies they would tell them where to go; men wouldn’t be corralled into a painful, reasonably pointless regime of physical examination and would reject the notion that anyone else had the right to coerce them into such a humiliating experience on a regular basis; likewise, if there was a move to ban male circumcision it would be rejected as an unreasonable invasion. I think the broader point she was making was that western women’s bodies are still valid sites of interference, whether by western women (and men) judging third-world women’s cultural practices or the medical profession regimenting first-world women through mass screening programs or the medicalisation of pregnancy.
    She also made the point that there are a huge range of practices within female circumcision, and the most invasive are quite rare, much more so than the slightly racist hysteria would suggest. The least invasive are almost ritualistic and less invasive than, say, foreskin removal.
    In short, Greer has never been a stock-standard feminist, and she has also never been only relevant to middle-class women (and men). The criticisms about not reading Nowra’s piece seem particularly hollow when compared with those critics complete ignorance of Greer; she always talked about all classes of people and was well aware of the situation of working-class women – I don’t for the life of me know how anyone could say she was only relevant to middle-class people, it’s just nonsensical. Not only that, but she talked about women in other cultures (and did the hard yards to meet people on their own turf) and their status not just as women, but as people who were subjected to western domination (by men and women), as her discussion of female circumcision showed.
    Anyway, I could go on, but she’s a complex, intelligent, incredibly well-read and well-lived person who challenges us to think. I agree with Frank Campbell’s criticisms of some of the groupthink on this page (although note the curious absence of criticism of those whose views align more closely with his), but that’s hardly Greer’s fault, and anyway doesn’t compare in the slightest to the groupthink on evidence amongst, ummm, economists, the WMD crowd, the Lib/Labs, every major Australian newspaper, etc., etc.

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