Marilyn French, author of the seminal The Women's Room, says that Australia is the only culture she's seen that's actually improved over time. The remark testifies to her reactions at two different epochs: in the 1970s when she was out here to promote her book, and in 1994, when she attended the Adelaide Festival. What prompted the change of heart? The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, which is, now, a keystone event for homosexuals around the world.
French is interviewed for the Good Weekend magazine supplement that comes with The Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday. Sharon Verghis visited Manhattan to conduct the interview in French's apartment.
But French has another antipodean outlet this week, with the publication, in the Australian Literary Review, of a piece that presents a message that is far removed from the anodyne modalities of Verghis' feature, where French is ensconced, in a million-dollar apartment, above the Hudson River. Successful and recently recovered from cancer, French is too famous, too other-worldly for Verghis to ask any difficult questions.
In the ALR, French shows that even if she is a nice old lady when polite interviewers come a'calling, she can be very direct when given an outlet for her own words. For example, she says that "women's situation has worsened" in developing countries, in recent years. Since the 1970s? She doesn't specify.
She also asserts that men aim to be seen as gods, even in the developed world. She looks at how women are depicted in popular culture. She also says that "Religious bodies have had the most antagonistic reaction to women's empowerment."
I enjoyed reading this piece very much. I suspect that my enjoyment derives more than anything from its polemical cast. And French is incisive without seeming bitter.