Germaine Greer, perhaps feminism’s most recognisable face, is getting old. It has been 41 years now since The Female Eunuch was first published, the book that shook conventional notions of propriety by its roots in its advocacy of greater sexual freedom for women. But here in Thiruvananthapuram on the last day of the Hay, Greer is just settling down at an open-air dinner party and isn’t talking about the woes of womanhood.
“I need to sit down, my ankles are swelling up,” she says, before going on to describe her trip to the local Botanical Gardens, and the variety of trees she saw there.
She points upwards: “Coconut trees are diseased across the world, but here they are so healthy.” A more ‘ankles and coconut trees’ Greer then, than a ‘vagina and pubic hair’ one? Her wit is quick and irreverent as ever though. “A groupie and gopi, they are not really that different,” she says, discussing the women consorts — or ‘cheerleaders’ as she prefers to call them — of Krishna while delivering her lecture on the anomalous boy-girl lover figure in Shakespeare’s works.
Feminism, for Greer, is not a cause that has exhausted itself. “It has hardly begun. In fact it is yet to begin. What western feminism achieved was a kind of equality feminism, something that was profoundly conservative.” Maybe women have earned their right to equal pay for equal work, but work itself is not classified as being of equal value, she points out. “If you are a hairdresser, you will still have to survive on shitty wages.”
The Islamic world is where feminism still has a lot of work left to do, feels Greer. Forty per cent of the turn-out in Cairo’s Tahrir Square earlier this year was women, many of them in hijab. Many English women are adopting the hijab too. “Unlike the West, Islam does not turn women into objects of consumption; in fact, it offers more life choices.”
Hays in the stack
The tranquil ambience of the Kanakakannu palace may be what gives a distinct flavour to the Kerala Hay festival, but that is not enough to guarantee a return of the festival here next year. The lack of local sponsorship has become a challenge, compounding the already existing problem of a lack of easy connectivity from the rest of the country. A festival needs to break even, and that consideration might force the organisers to launch multiple Hay festivals in several cities across India, with a big ‘mothership Hay festival’ in a city other than Thiruvananthapuram. Watch those spaces.
Alchemist Hay Festival, Thiruvananthapuram, Nov 17-19