Intertextuality. “Relating to or deriving meaning from the interdependent ways in which texts stand in relation to each other.” . David Williamson’s Dead White Males and Helen Garner’s The First Stone. Click To Begin. Introduction.
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“Relating to or deriving meaning from the interdependent ways in which texts stand in relation to each other.” 
David Williamson’s Dead White Males and Helen Garner’s The First Stone
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David Williamson sardonically titled his play Dead White Males, referring to the patriarchal giants of literature which were often misrepresented as the cause of all gender inequality within society. In his play, he enslaves sarcasm and ire to privilege his view that this school of thinking, or philosophy, is ill conceived.
Similarly, Helen Garner, in The First Stone, writes scornfully of a Melbourne Court Case concerning sexual harassment which split the feminist groups of Australia down a fault line, between those representing the modern evolutions of the movement, and her own compatriots, the first wave feminists.
Pictured below is Sir William a’Beckett – a man who could be said to be one of Melbourne’s dead white males. He was an integral force in establishing the Victorian Court System . It could easily be said that Sir William is a meeting point of Williamson’s and Garner’s work. He is not responsible for today’s inequalities anymore than the Dead White Males of Elizabethan times, and there is little doubt that he would have supported Garner’s view that the sexual harassment court case was undeserving of court hours.
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Synopsis: Dead White Males
Synopsis: The First Stone
Representations of Academia
Biography: Helen Garner
Biography: David Williamson
The Feminist Movement
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Anyone with the slightest interest in the theoretical issues dominating the faculties of arts and humanities today will find Dead White Males compelling. Williamson has drawn on the academic scene for a number of his dramas, and he set The Department (1974) and the film Petersen on the campus itself. Dead White Males goes far beyond departmental politics, however. It is a play about the value of literature itself and is also a direct intervention in an intellectual debate. The three central characters are Angela Judd, a student of literature, Dr Grant Swain, her lecturer in literary theory, and William Shakespeare, who comes to life via Angela’s imagination.
Williamson’s central theme is the shift that has taken place in the past twenty-five years in the humanities. The play is concerned with the notion that French post-structuralist philosophy and literary theory have toppled the old certainties of Western culture. Moreover, the canon of great works of the Western intellectual and literary tradition is no longer regarded as the expression of universal values but is simply the out-of-date ideology of the dead white males of the Eurocentric capitalist patriarchy. Using Swain as a mouthpiece, Williamson portrays late twentieth-century academic fashions with deadly accuracy. One of the funniest scenes sees a student, Melissa, attempting to pass her literary theory course through a hilarious take-off of Helene Cixous, one that lays bare the pretensions of academic feminism.
As well as a contest between Shakespeare and French theory, Dead White Males also deals with the impact of feminism on a typical suburban middle class family. Angela’s father is one of the thousands of middle-aged males who have been made redundant in an era of recession while her mother is a successful corporate executive. Williamson’s most moving treatment is given to Col Judd, the grandfather, whose authoritarian male chauvinist behaviour is attacked by members of his family. Later, in a speech of great power and eloquence, Col tells the story of his life and defends himself from the charges levelled at him. Most memorable of all is how Williamson weaves some of the great scenes from Shakespeare’s work into Dead White Males, with the Bard’s characters coming on stage to combat the literary theorists.
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The subject of Helen Garner's new book, The First Stone, is ostensibly a sexual harassment case at Melbourne University's Ormond College in 1992. Two young women who alleged sexual harassment by a college master sought redress, initially within the university's own grievance and counselling procedures. Unsatisfied with the result, they eventually went to the police. A much publicised court case resulted, and the accused lost his job.
Garner has manipulated some bare -- in fact minimal -- facts of the case into a cause conflict. Although admitting that very few of the people involved in the case would actually talk to her -- a major exception being the accused college master -- she took it upon herself to set the record straight in 222 pages of vitriol against young women and young feminists.
Her accusations have drawn much acclaim. Four Corners devoted a program to her views. The establishment press has hardly been able to contain its joy. A feminist, a champion of the second wave, is castigating young women and feminism in phrases such as, “Has feminism come to this?”.
What is the book about? Is it really a lone call for sanity from an older, wiser feminist feeling disturbed by the confused and confusing reality of gone-astray feminism today? This is what it claims to be.
Garner says she was appalled by the idea that these women had taken their case to court. In the process they ruined the reputation and career of “an agreeable-looking middle-aged man” with a “soft” face. She deplores the fact that they did not just “sort him out later”, and asks, “What sort of people could these be?”. The day she first read of the case in the Age, she wrote immediately to the man accused, saying “how upset” she was and that “it's heartbreaking for a feminist of nearly fifty like me, to see our ideals of so many years distorted into this ghastly punitive ness”.
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The representations of academia in Dead White Males and The First Stone contrast strongly. Williamson portrays tertiary education as occupied by facetious lecturers not only promoting dogmatic adulation by their students in their theories, but also promoting theories which are extensibly ridiculous and clearly not enlightening at all. In contrast Helen Garner chooses to favourably represent academia such as Colin Shepherd (Master of Ormond College). However she does not favourably represent the institution of Ormond College, revealing its halls as a warren of committees led by overzealous feminists attempting to seize control using sex as a tool.
Firstly, Williamson portrays the matter taught in tertiary education as ridiculous. He does this through short tutorials in which both students and lecturer, Dr Swain, converse. In one such scene, Melissa regurgitates a theory supported by Dr Swain concerning the benefits of the creation of a solely female language:
Melissa: “You big. You ugly. You poor dick. You stupid dick. Why? Why? Why? Why you shout? Zweee. Zweeebub. You think you smart but you dumb. I smarter. Someday. Someday soon. Just wait. Zweee. Zweesome. Zweesee. Zweebub. Zweebub Vorgone. I Smart. Just Wait. Ziggly Zweebub. Ziggly Zukoff. No more Zukoff for you Zweebub. Sickly ickly dickly – Zukoff yourself. And swallow. No more swallow from Ziggly. No more nothing. Never.” 
Obviously such discourse as encouraged by the lecturer is only included by Williamson to ridicule academia as represented within the play. To reinforce this, Steve, the strong male position in the play replies to this spiel with the statement: “Melissa, that’s crap!”. This representation of critical literacy, and its study of discourse as well as its pursuit of intellectual theories as opposed to knowledge applicable in a realistic context is an issue currently reflected in society. The current senior English syllabus has a heavy emphasis on critical literacy which has led to criticism: “Past models of literary theory allowed students to identify with the text and ‘live’ in the text, to see the text as alive rather than as a process of normalising or conflicting with a dominant ideology or discourse.” .
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Secondly, Williamson portrays Dr Swain as a hypocrite, and therefore academia in a poor light. This is most evident in Dr Swains relationships with both Melissa and Angela. He is portrayed as weak as he uses his position to convince his students to dine with him. He himself betrays his own flaws after Melissa reveals that she has used her sex appeal as a tool to attain her grades. In his anger he reveals his attitude towards males which immutably contradicts the theories he earlier preached.
In contrast Helen Garner promotes a different view of academia in Australia. Colin Shepherd, Master of Ormond College, she promotes as totally innocent for she “failed to see in him the marauding beast described” by the press . Though Garner does not deal with the subject matter of the school or of Shepherd’s classes, by foregrounding testimonials which depict him favourably (such as when he is described as someone who looks after the lesser loved students) Helen Garner effectively promotes Tertiary education where Williamson has been directly critical.
Thus two messages are given by these texts. One is that the current state of education is at dire risk of becoming inaccessible due to its over intellectualization and because of its unreliable alumni. The other, promotes Colin Shepherd so single-mindedly that it has often come under criticism on the grounds of bias. Regardless of whether this bias is real or imagined it can be concluded that tertiary, and even secondary education is under risk from the blind pursuit of single ideologies as opposed to a broad education.
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In both texts, Victim Feminism is consistently prevalent and its flaws are continuously foregrounded. Victim Feminism itself is a form of feminism stemming from early waves of feminism. Naomi Wolf, a prominent feminist describes victim feminism as “what all of us do whenever we retreat into appealing for status on the basis of feminine specialness instead of human worth, and fight underhandedly rather than honourably" . Indeed both texts are written in such a way as to result in the shaming of victim feminists. Dead White Males does this through the revealing of ‘truths’ which the victim feminists had no way of knowing whereas The First Stone achieves this by highlighting the victims unwillingness to engage in an interview on the topic.
David Williamson first Victim feminist is Grace. She bemoans the fact that Col always refused to spare her the money to go into business by herself. Little does she know that Col cannot afford to spare the money for he is busy supporting two families, one of which is the family of his previous partner who became disabled in a work related incident. Though Grace is unaware of this ‘truth’ it still results in her portrayal as a petty woman rather than a genuine victim. Similarly Sarah, Martin’s wife, is also a victim of Williamson. As she is from a younger generation she is liberated enough to compete in the workforce, however it is revealed that she actually has no real desire to work and thus she is seen a false feminist, complying out of need rather than desire to be liberated. Thus it can be seen that victim feminists are represented in a negative slant within Williamson’s work.
Similarly, in The First Stone victim feminists are incredibly poorly illustrated. Helen Garner prefaces in her opening chapter that her belief that the incident even occurred may falter when she says “It never occurred to us that a man accused of such an act might be innocent”. Nevertheless she consistently privileges Colin Shepherd and humiliates the appellants until the point where there is serious doubt as to the integrity of the victim feminists. This is achieved by Helen Garner repeatedly, in almost every chapter, returning and bemoaning the victim feminist’s refusal to participate in an interview.
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Thus it is clear that Williamson and Garner agree that Victim Feminism is a petty devolution of the feminist movement. However, this does not necessarily construe that this is true. Helen Garner drew the ire of many for her publishing of The First Stone, and this opposition represents a rift within the separate waves of the feminist movement.
Interesting to note, are the statistics on successful sexual harrassment claims. The data available from the United States Equal Opportunity Commission shows a peak of claims only 5 years ago, however alarmingly only 2% on average in the past year ended with successful conciliation. That is to say that approximately 96% of all sexual harassment claims are never given true closure. Thus it can be said that Victim Feminism is highly prominent in our society (assuming that America provides an accurate reflection to Australia) and is an issue correctly identified by both Garner and Williamson.
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Helen Garner was born in 1942 in Geelong and educated at the University of Melbourne, graduating in 1965. She work as a high school teacher until her first novel Monkey Grip was published in 1977. It was an instant success, winning a National Book Council award in 1978 and being filmed in 1982. Since that time she has written full-time on novels, screenplays, freelance reviewer, feature writer and translator. Her collection of short stories, Postcards from Surfers won a 1986 NSW Premier's Literary award, and her short novel The Children's Bach (considered one of the greatest short novels ever written in Australia) won a SA Premier's Literary Award in 1986. Her novel Cosmo Cosmolino was nominated for a Miles Franklin Award in 1993.
In 1993 she won a Walkley Award for feature journalism for her story in Time magazine about the Daniel Valerio case. Her non-fiction book, The First Stone caused a huge uproar when it was published in 1995. An uproar that was astounding in its vitriolic abuse and probably only equalled in this country in recent times by the Demidenko Affair in 1996.
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David Williamson BE 1965, HonDLitt 1990
David Williamson gained a Bachelor of Engineering at Monash University in 1965 before briefly working as a design engineer at General Motors Holden and in 1966 he began lecturing in thermodynamics and social psychology at Swinburne Technical College.
David began writing and performing plays in 1968 with La Mama Theatre Company.
The Removalists and Don's Party established him as Australia's best-known playwright and established his reputation overseas on the stages of Europe and America.
His success in films is notable, having written the screenplays to Don's Party (1976), The Club (1980) and Phar Lap (1982), as well as collaborating with Peter Weir to make Gallipoli (1980) and The Year of Living Dangerously (1982). David has won four AFI awards and the Australian Writers' Guild AWGIE award 11 times. Over 30 years, his work has encompassed almost 30 plays and numerous films and television productions. He has received honorary doctorates of Literature from the University of Sydney (1988), Monash University, and Swinburne University of Technology (1996).
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It was recently asked if the common wisdom that there were two waves of feminism has ever been challenged. If it hasn't been, it should be. Those of us who started the women's liberation movement in the 1960s thought we were the second wave of female political activism because we knew very little about our own history. We were vaguely aware of the Suffrage Movement and mistakenly thought that was all our foremothers had done. One of our magazines was even named The Second Wave. Now that we know more, it is time to drop it. If anything, what began in the 1960s was the third wave of women's activism in the US, and maybe even the fourth.
The three main waves of conscious female activity have all had their roots in periods of organized agitation for social change --Abolitionism, Progressivism, "the Sixties" -- and each has been shaped by the movements which gave them birth. Even when women's movements grow vastly beyond their origins, forming their own communities with their own values, they are always embedded in and shaped by the larger social movement community from which they sprang. Throughout the Nineteenth Century women whose roots were in abolition and temperance worked to increase the rights of women, particularly the rights of married women to gain some independence from their husbands and the right of all women to gain an education. According to O'Neill (1969, p. x) the term "woman movement appears in the late nineteenth century to describe all the public activities of women, whether directly related to feminist goals or not." The real second wave was the Suffrage Movement, which was stimulated by the good government branch of the Progressive Movement. Although there was a flurry of suffrage activity during the Populist movement of the 1890s, the most active years for the Suffrage Movement were in the second decade of the Twentieth Century. Women such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton had been agitating for woman suffrage for many decades but it didn't strike a popular cord until it was picked up by those who wanted to reform the means of electing public officials and curtail the power of the party machines. Woman suffrage became a possibility when men, whose support was necessary because they could vote, saw it as valuable to attaining their goals of a better, purer, government. The contemporary movement which began in the mid-sixties is better seen as the Third Wave of conscious female activism. This third wave is the only one which can properly be called feminist, because the term wasn't in use until after 1910 (Cott, 1987). Even then, it was the younger generation of suffragists, rather than the older one which actually organized the Suffrage Movement, which found the term attractive. This younger generation included Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, and others who formed the National Woman's Party. They provided the bridge between the Second and Third Waves (Rupp and Taylor, 1987).
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 A Brief Historical Account of the Supreme Court of Victoria
 Dead White Males: Programme Notes
 Helen Garner’s Book: An Attack on Feminism
 D Williamson, Dead White Males
First Published 1995 by Currency Press Pty Ltd, New South Wales
 Brisbane Grammar School, Annual Report 2005
English Report, I Howlett, Page 21
 H Garner, The First Stone
First Published 1995 by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd, New South Wales
 Wolf I: Power Feminist or Victim Feminist
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 Sexual Harassment Claims
 Biography: Helen Garner
 David Williamson, Playwright
 Waves of Feminism
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