Saturday, February 12, 2011

Cartagena Hay Festival 2011: Germaine Greer and Luis Pescetti: Tough and Tender

Sunday, 30 January

Coming Full Circle
Germaine Greer

When I was about 11 and starting to read voraciously, anything I could get my hands on, I remember being fascinated by the cover of Germaine Greer's book The Female Eunuch, and I asked my mother what it was about. I don't remember what kind of answer I got, but shortly thereafter it went missing from the bookshelf, along with Erica Jong's Fear of Flying. Maybe not appropriate reading material for an 11-year-old, but considering the sort of stuff I had free reign to peruse a few years later while babysitting, maybe I should have been allowed to read those earlier works as a counterbalance!

Germaine Greer has pretty much come full circle from her original radical feminist stance.

She began her presentation with the observation that after publishing The Female Eunuch in 1970 she realized that she didn't know about other kinds of women, only about the kind of woman she was supposed to be. She refers to her own family in Australia as being "small and claustrophobic," with her father controlling the television remote and the dinner table conversation.

A New World View
In an attempt to seek a broader world view, she went to India, even though she was afraid of its "poverty, filth, and degradation." What she found, however, was life, love, and vitality. Greer talked about what she calls the "Great Story of Love in India": since marriages are arranged, the husband must woo his wife within the marriage. Greer paints a picture of gentle, caring husbands, and vigilant mothers-in-law who welcome the new daughter-in-law into the family, watching over her and protecting her. She notes that the birthrate out of wedlock is very low in India, and not only because of very young arranged marriages, but because Indian sexual practices include a lot of activity that is considered very satisfying sex, but that does not result in conception.

Questioning the Notion of Family Planning
Referring back to the early 1970s, Greer commented on how at that time the world was obsessed with the population explosion. While she acknowledges that over-population is a legitimate concern in a world with limited resources, she says that measures to control birth rates are only valid so long as these do not infringe on human rights. Her reasoning is that for the poor, their children are their wealth, because they help their families by working. The idea that it is wrong for a child to labor is a middle-class, Western value, and the middle-class upholds this concept because it has certain economic expectations for its children: their own bedroom, a university education, a professional career, in short, a higher standard of living. She explains her logic: if you don't purport to want these things, then the notion of limiting the number of children that you have does not make sense; and for outsiders to come in and tell people that they should limit the number of children on their family is the imposition of an external value that is not relevant to them. Pursuant to this logic, Greer maintains that to offer a person who is living in absolute poverty an economic incentive to undergo sterilization is tantamount to coercion by force, because the person would have no choice.

In the Sudan
She talked about visiting Sudan to do research for a TV series about how families are built. In her first encounters with the Sudanese woman, they completely shut down. "We don't want to talk about female circumcision," they said. Greer wasn't there to discuss that issue, but the women were wary because this had been their experience in dealing with Western women. And besides, they said, it really wasn't much of a problem for sex, although it could sometimes complicate births. Greer shared a revelation with these women: "In occidental cultures," she said, "women mutilate themselves for men: they have their breasts enlarged." The Sudanese women were horrified; these Western women allow men to play with their breasts? "But breasts are for babies; how disgusting!" She notes that in countries like Sudan, families tend to be strong when government is weak.

She talked about the 1974 UN World Population Conference held in Bucharest, noting that no women's organizations were invited. She talked about the inappropriateness of the notion that all women should use the same kind of birth control. She questioned "Why is it that white people are interested in brown people's children?" She declared that the developing world is using up precious resources and not the underdeveloped world. It was a potpourri of issues mixed together, without much rhyme or reason, and not distinguishing between past and present.

Anti-child/Child-friendly Cultures
She argued that Britain is an anti-child society, replete with sexual predators, corporal punishment, dangerous "anti-child eye-level furniture," upholding the notion that children should be seen and not heard, and where people put off getting pregnant because having children is seen as "the end of the good times." As such she gives approval to what she perceives as more child-welcoming cultures, that sit on the mud floors of their huts, with no furniture on which to bang their little heads before being sent out to work so that the family will not go to bed hungry.

On Abortion
She discussed abortion as the consequence of "a situation in which a woman failed to control, or was unable to control," the situation that led to conception. Under the current legislation, abortion is a privilege that the state grants. She doesn't mince words: abortion is a decision about whose life will be sacrificed. She notes that the term "pro-abortion" is a misnomer because no woman ever hopes to have an abortion. That only the woman in question knows if she can cope with having a child and parenthood, and that this capacity, and the individual circumstances from woman to woman, vary enormously. As such, she says that it is hugely ironic that the pro-life sector has not been more active in terms of making it possible for women who find themselves facing unexpected pregnancies to have children, when their partners, their families, and society do not support them. In that sense both sides should be working together: to ensure that women have the support to carry a pregnancy to term and raise a child if they choose, or else, if the circumstances are not conducive, to make the decision to safely terminate the pregnancy. "Countries in which there are unwanted children indicate that women are not in control of their sexuality."

On Latin Women
Greer congratulates proud Latina women for their fame of being "difficult." "You should be difficult," she exults, "Women should value themselves and not give themselves up cheaply; that is degrading." Latin women, she considers, while they can be manipulative, actually do very well in terms of managing their own sexuality.

Germaine Greer made some valid points about the need for cultural sensitivity and adapting to context. Every person, every culture, has something that we can learn.

I also suspect that she was playing devil's advocate to a certain extent, because it is hard to believe that Germaine Greer truly embraces the values of cultures in which women have no property rights or social status; fathers own their daughters' virginity which is cut and sewn shut before being sold to the man who will own it; having more children than you can afford to care for is perfectly valid so long as you eschew the pretension to achieve a higher standard of living; sexual predators do exist and when women do not have a voice and they lack a man to speak for them and protect them they are especially vulnerable; and child abuse and domestic abuse are rampant when a culture considers these practices acceptable.

My overall conclusion: Having a family to protect and nurture you is good; having enshrined rights is better. Germaine Greer may have come full circle but she remains, as ever, an agent provocateur.

Childhood Revisited
Luis Pescetti, interviewed by Daniel Samper

Pescetti and interviewer Daniel Samper had obviously prepared the interview in advance: in response to Samper's questions, Pescetti would inevitably say: "Well, I just so happen to have a song about that!"

Luis Pescetti's gift is that he looks at the world through the child's eyes, acknowledges it, celebrates it, and presents it back to children and adults with humor and affection.

He is a consummate observer: watching what goes on in children's lives, their reactions to the world, and their interactions with the adult world. That is the key to his humor: the disparity between what one is supposed to experience/feel and what one really feels, which is why "Voy a tener un hermanito" (I'm going to have a little brother) is a funeral dirge. Hoorah.

He recognizes the emotion blackmail of the parental bond: "Mamá, no quiero que hoy vayas al trabajo." (Mama, I don't want you to go to work today).

The monosyllabic "Bien-Nada" attempt at dialogue with a recalcitrant teenager, who is not intentionally being difficult.

He vindicates the joy of Harry Potter, and so what if critic Harold Bloom doesn't give his blessing.

He talks about the child as an immigrant, traveling toward the world of adulthood, and wanting to be accepted in that world, but at the same time resisting this world, because the young person misses the world of childhood; but there is no going back there.

But Pescetti's songs do let us go back and revisit that world, with the children, as the child, if only for a few minutes.

Luis Pescetti is expecting a baby, and this dreamy, echoey song about the world of the baby in womb is one of his loveliest and most tender.

Canción del bebé que le cuenta a su mama
Copy the link to your browser to hear the song:

El mun… mun… mun… mun… mundo es como un eco …co …co …co …co
en la pan… pan… pan.. pan.. panza
de mamá …má …má …má …má.
Burbujas traen reflejos
de la voz
de mi papá.

Soy un pez vivo en tus aguas,
soy un pato en el cielo,
un elefante en la sabana,
un león.

Soy la copia de su cara,
soy la huella de tus pies,
soy la mezcla de abuelos
que me ven.

Los ruidos flotan lejos,
y rebotan
en coral.

Y duendes y princesas
todo se oye
en claridad.

Soy un barco que sueña,
soy un poco de tu leña,
soy un cuento que aprendiste
en tu niñez.

Soy un pez, soy un pato,
soy un poco un garabato,
un abrazo de tu imaginación
Tengo dedos, tengo cara,
tengo plumas
y escamas.
Veo luces y ventanas,
un desierto,
y caravanas.

Tengo tiempo, tengo un rato
tengo humo en el zapato,
tengo que estirarme un poco
y dormir.

Soy dibujo en tu hoja canson,
soy futuro en vaso puro,
sin un nombre,
y voy a ser un hombre. (o, cantar: mujer)
Me estoy preparando para jugar
me estoy preparando para salir
me estoy preparando para correr
por ahí.

Parental dialogue with an adolescent: Bien-Nada
Copy the link to your borwser to hear the song:

Hola, mi amor, contame tu día: BIEN
Decime qué hiciste, qué hubo de especial. NADA
¿Cómo te fue en matemáticas? BIEN
¿Atendiste el teléfono? ¿Alguna novedad? NADA.

Apagá la tele y decime en qué andás. BIEN
¿Qué arreglaste con los chicos para el fin de semana? NADA
¿Qué les pareció el trabajo que llevaste? BIEN
¿Qué hicieron en tu cuarto encerrados por tres horas? NADA.

Hace mucho no charlamos, ¿Qué tal fue la excursión? BIEN.
¿Qué pasó que hablabas tanto y no soltabas el teléfono? NADA.
¿Qué tal la fiesta? ¿Bailaste o te aburriste? BIEN.
Bajá la música y contame… y contame qué pasó. NADA.

Basta de chatear y decime cómo estás. BIEN.
¿Qué pasa que hay alguien que llama a cada rato? NADA.
¿Cómo te llevás con tus amigos? BIEN.
¿En qué gastaste el dinero que te dimos? NADA

Sí Ahá Bueno Órale Listo Sí Ahá Mm… Ya entendí ok bueno ahá

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