Men and Women at the Galle Literary Festival

Ten years ago, I shared a lift with her. This weekend, I managed to speak with Germaine Greer and get my copy of The Female Eunuch autographed.

As I stood in line for autographs, Friday, after her panel discussion with Tarun Tejpal, an angry Australian pushed past me to rail against her sex-based interpretation of the motivation for the stolen generations. After a heated argument of about ten minutes, she came down off the stage and was promptly met by Thomas Keneally, author of Schindler’s Ark – the book Schindler’s List was based on, who said to her, “I know what you meant when you mentioned rage. I feel it too.”

Then he started bawling his eyes out. I don’t mean one or two tears. I mean face crunched up sobbing. I was standing right by the two authors and I was like WTF. (I still don’t know why he started crying – if his book proves anything, it’s probably that the man has, to borrow Tejpal’s phrase, a highly “exaggerated social conscience”. Maybe some people just feel things a lot more). Anyway, next, Germaine Greer hugs him and starts consoling him. Then she starts tearing up too. She walks out to the book signing area and I follow her with my book, but not before I pat Thomas Keneally comfortingly on the shoulder. What an unusually sensitive man, I think, maybe he’s having a breakdown.

So, then I meet Germaine Greer outside who wipes a couple of tears away before she starts signing my book. I tell her about sharing a lift with her once. She smiles. She signs the book to me and draws a little heart with wings on it. That’s probably what she does for everyone. So, then, I ask her a question.

“Should men open doors for women?”


“No? But…”

“The stronger should help the weaker.”

“Okay… but what about in environments or cultures where not opening doors would be looked on as rude, or impolite or even caddish?”

“See, when I’m in Buckingham Palace, I courtesy to the queen, even thoughI find courtesying a ridiculous act and I find it funny.”

Enough said. Good point, I thought. Romance would be pretty dead in the water without all this. Or would it? The girls appear displeased at Greer’s answer, probably balking at an image of a lifetime of baggage handling and doormanship.

Germaine Greer (1995) by Paula Rego

Germaine Greer (1995) by Paula Rego

So, a few days’ later it was Sunday, and Greer’s one on one with the audience. The topic: “who put the post in post-modernism?” She was very entertaining, putting her points across deftly with humour, biting sarcasm and penetrating insight.  She mentioned something on which she had touched on earlier, which was the difference between men and women when it comes to group behaviour. She accepts, and even purports the view that men seem to have more fun in groups, and that women need to learn to appreciate eachother’s company and trust eachother more. Of course she attempted to poke fun at men in groups and mentioned golfclubs and Lions and Freemasonry, but there was definitely a note of admiration, even envy for what she seemed to realise: men like hanging out with men, men like hanging out with women, women like hanging out with men, but women and women? Nope. She also railed against our violent society (I mean the world, and not Sri Lanka) and blamed it on men, and our tendency to sort things out through fighting and not talking.

But then, I asked her if that wasn’t a part of the same thing? The reason that men feel more comfortable in groups and like each other’s company is because historically they know that if another man has a problem with him or does not like him, he will proabably resort to violence and punch his face in. As long as he’s not fighting, he feels safe. Men’s animosity is far more open, than women’s.

The same goes for their mating behaviour.  Traditionally, the man is the pursuer; the woman, the pursued. The act of pursuit of a mate is one that is far more visible than is the subtle passivity of trying to attract a mate. If a man is therefore interested in a woman, people know about it. They can see him trying to get in her pants, whether it’s caveman days, or Victorian England or modern day Sri Lanka. Everyone knows which man is interested in which woman. Not so with women. No one knows who the women are interested in, save maybe 20% of other women with sharp intuition. So, there is distrust.

Simplistic? Perhaps. But this is a blog post, not a thesis, and I have Maduka Wijesinghe’s book launch to attend. Get over it. But before I go:

She responded to my question saying (jokingly) that she thinks the reason men have more fun in groups is because we have more time, and then (m0re seriously) that fathers are harder to impress than mothers, so both boys and girls grow up trying to impress men, because that’s what they learn when they are very young.

Anyway, either way, I still think I do have some semblance of a point. It follows that I think that women are only going to feel start feeling comfortable around other women, when it becomes as acceptable for them to hit on men, and hit eachother, as vice versa.


3 thoughts on “Men and Women at the Galle Literary Festival

  1. Should people open doors for others? So say if you are in a crowd of people moving towards a door and you are the first, it’s OK to at least hold door open for a satisfactory amount to go through and another person usually part of a group smiles and takes over.
    Have I missed the point?
    If I am the first to it, car or otherwise I usually hold open the door for anybody, regardless of gender. So do most of my friends.

  2. “She also railed against our violent society (I mean the world, and not Sri Lanka) and blamed it on men, and our tendency to sort things out through fighting and not talking.”

    Perhaps this has to do with ‘natural selection’? The male of the species is usually the aggressor, unlike the female. And this has to do with maintaining a superior gene pool. It will take time for the evolutionary process of the human species to get to that point where ‘fighting’ will be superseded by a less aggressive means of sorting out whatever it is that needs sorting out.

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