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The First Stone: Some Questions of Sex and Power

3.58  ·  Rating details ·  1,486 ratings  ·  107 reviews
In the autumn of 1992, two young women students at Melbourne University went to the police claiming that they had been indecently assaulted at a party. The man they accused was the head of their co-ed residential college. The shock of these charges split the community and painfully focused the debate about sex and power.'This is writing of great boldness and it will wring ...more
Paperback, 216 pages
Published August 14th 1997 by Picador (first published April 1st 1995)
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 ·  1,486 ratings  ·  107 reviews

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Oct 10, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Before now, I had not considered myself particularly feminist. This book and this author have now piqued my interest. I picked this book up at the academic library at which I work. The unit of study of which it is included is entitled From Vindication to Liberation: A Comparative History of Feminism. I want this review to be taken for exactly what it is, my thoughts on a book I read, and enjoyed; and the thoughts provoked. It is not a statement on the topic of feminism in Australia. I like the ...more
May 02, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: aww2014
My first reaction to this book was one of disgust. That was in 1995, but I picked it up again recently and decided to give the book another chance. I read the title, the epigraphs, the first chapter. I was still disgusted. I’ve now finished the book, and the disgust stays with me still.

As a work of feminism, this could have been spun from the ‘naive’ questions of the FAQ on Finally, a Feminism 101 Blog.

As a work of journalism, this is a legal and ethical disaster, an example of what not to do on
Jun 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
In 1992, two female students at Ormond College, a residential college at the University of Melbourne, made complaints of sexual harassment against the college Master, Dr Colin Shepherd. One woman claimed that Shepherd had groped her breasts during a dance at a student party; the other that he had made unwelcome sexual comments to her during a conversation in a private room after he had locked the door. After the university’s internal disciplinary board sided with Shepherd, the women hired a ...more
Nicholas Cavenagh
Oct 02, 2008 rated it liked it
Helen Garner has an out-of-control empathetic ego. She feels she has the right to tell the women's story without having interviewed them because "after all, I am a woman". Ultimately non-one around her is allowed any emotional experience outside of her own. She also naively expects all strangers to trust her and is self-righteously angry when they don't. Apart from this, her subjective approach is honest and refreshing. She raises good points about gradation of crime.
Nov 30, 2015 rated it it was ok
I have talked at lengths with pretty much everyone I have seen over the past few days about how frustrating this book is. Garner's response to modern feminism seems to me to be paradoxical; she bemoans the complainants for not being assertive enough when they are groped by the master of their college, but she's also critical of when they do take action that they are too angry and radical. And there's a lot of 'why were you wearing that if you didn't want men to grope you?' and invocations of ...more
Leanne Clegg
It has been some twenty years since my first reading of Helen Garners' 'The First Stone' and still her excruciating honesty about the interactions that occur between men and women still cause me such mental discomfort.

This second reading, occurring as it does, against a backdrop of continuous and escalating levels of violence against woman at the hands of men, has made this book come to life again - as it did so many years ago in my youth - with its brutal analysis of power, and sex, and
Dec 09, 2010 rated it did not like it
Reading this book made me so angry - despite HG's insistence that she wanted to cover both sides, it comes across as a self-entitled attack of the two women (probably due to the fact that they weren't jumping at the chance to be interviewed). Additionally I was appalled at the casual attitude taken on sexual harassment, the petty stereotyping of feminists and her naive support for the accused.

I don't think anyone will ever truly know what happened that night - what is clear is that the situation
Jul 24, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book made me hate Helen Garner. Written about a terrible act of abuse by a man of power, this book is written by someone who claims to be an old school feminist, but she takes the exact opposite position, instead siding with the abuser and constantly berating the female victims who chose to complain to police about sexual harassment rather than keep quite about it 'like she had to do back in her day'
Pathetic, should never have been published, do not read it. This is the first book I have
Jun 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The First Stone sat unread on my bookshelf for over 20 years. I probably bought it on the recommendation of my Literature teacher in Year 11. That was in 1995 when it was first released, but for some reason it never appealed very much. It was tainted as feminist, and I would never have identified myself as one of them back then, unable as I was to understand the nuances of the feminism movement. It was also non-fiction and a reportage of sorts of an incident and a case that occurred when I was ...more
Cherise Wolas
I find myself entranced by Helen Garner's nonfiction, not solely because of the true story she is telling, but rather because that true story is very complex and I enjoy reading how she makes her way through the myriad tangles, all the voices that either want or don't want to be heard, and how she analyzes - not in some easy way, but really wrestles with the meanings underlying that true story. The First Stone is about what happens when two college girls accuse the Master of their college with ...more
Alice Kimberley
Jun 05, 2018 rated it liked it
I struggled with this one. I love Garner, but found many of her thoughts here confronting. It’s good to be challenged and some passages had me re-evaluating my own ideology, but I couldn’t shake a visceral feeling of shock and betrayal that Garner could hold views so opposite to my own in parts.
Mar 14, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: sociology
I just don't know....The trouble with that early 'feminists' is that they often seem quite sexist later. Mind you. The trouble with the later ones is that they seem quite sexist sooner. I don't know...

But she does now how to tell a good story, even if it isn't necessarily the right one.
Mar 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
saying mixed feelings doesn't cover it, it's a more complicated book than I was expecting
Apr 29, 2017 rated it it was ok
I struggled to rate this book.

When the author said that maybe her happy marriage had weakened her feminism, limiting her capacity to empathise with the complainants in this sexual harassment case, I had to re-read the passage several times. In my mind echoed something a man said to me once, "feminists are just women who need a good shag". I put the book down.

In her pursuit of the complainants and unwillingness to believe that they could honestly refuse an interview I heard, "well she said no at
Jul 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
In my opinion Helen looked down on the girls and came across as anti feminist because a strong empowered woman does not behave like a tart and then complain about the consequences which appear to be minor in this circumstance. This kind of behaviour gives women a bad name. I am many things but i am not a feminist, give me an apron and a family to care for, I find that more fulfilling than a thankless career and no legacy. There is a photo circulating the web with proud, well dressed women in the ...more
Beth The Vampire
I don't like reading about real life, because it makes me think of how crappy the world can be sometimes. Take me to a land of dragons, magic, and fairies any day!

My class this semester for my Masters in Creative Writing is Creative Non Fiction. This was a great example of this genre, and helped me inform my final piece, but it's not what I want to write myself.
Sky Mykyta
Jan 12, 2015 rated it did not like it
Atrocious book. The one where Helen Garner irreparably shredded her feminist credentials.
Sophie Meredith
May 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
That I disagree with half of what Garner has to say isn’t important: I am intellectually wealthier for having heard her say it. It is hard to passively read this book when she is so generous in sharing her own biases (and personal histories that she herself has not yet examined). I ended up feeling like I had to reply to much of what she said as I was reading and dig deep to understand why I thought it. Her writing encourages a flexibility of mind and opens up a dialogue with the reader...the ...more
Feb 09, 2010 rated it really liked it
Well. I've been thinking about this book for days. This is Garner's highly personal account of the sexual harassment case that put Melbourne University's Ormond College in the news in the early 90s. I know Garner's book has provoked all sorts of reactions; for my part I found her views as a 'first-wave' feminist very interesting, particularly as I'm of the generation of the women who brought for the complaint. (Garner isn't actually first wave come to think of it, that would be all those women ...more
Dec 18, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
The First Stone is my first foray into Garner's work, and I have to say it was probably a mistake to start here. The author posits that her feminist views are perhaps outdated at the time of the book's central incident in the early nineties - and reading it over twenty years later, they seem outrageously, painfully so. It's a very uncomfortable read in this sense. It does give an interesting insight into the convergence of two generations of feminism, and the openness with which Garner examines ...more
Jul 28, 2018 rated it it was ok
definitely unsettling. Reeks of 2nd wave feminist sexual libertarianism in places, but at least self-reflexive?

the essential argument that garner puts forward- that instances of sexual harassment should be brushed of with deference, or at most, a little slap on the hand - is pretty repellant to me (but one that as a gay male, negotiating the sexual politics of my community and my interactions with straight women, i know I’ve at times embodied. Take it as a compliment. Laugh it off right?)

Apr 27, 2014 rated it did not like it
Hugely disappointing.
Garner's attitude throughout is naive and narrow-minded. The wider consequences of the case are entirely ignored; Garner gently but constantly suggests that the complainants went too far and expresses disdain for them and "what feminism has morphed into" ... "puritan feminists" with their "belief that men's sexuality is a monstrous, uncontrollable force, while women are trembling creatures innocent of desire..." - these puritans being, as far as I can tell, women who wear
Deborah Ideiosepius
May 02, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
While not a very enjoyable topic I did find this a very good book.

For some years I had been aware of just how far society had tilted in Melbourne from favouring males to favouring females when it came to sexual misconduct accusations. I think it is great that there are places in Australia that are trying hard to empower women by taking rape seriously however, In the time I lived in that city though I was personally acquainted with more than one case of a woman using the laws as a weapon against
Deb Waterhouse-watson
Feb 11, 2011 rated it did not like it
A regrettale apologist work. The premise underlining this book seems to be that (young) women have no right to complain about being sexually harassed, and that it would be perfectly reasonable for a male professor to dance closely with a female student, and possibly even touch her breasts, unless she had specifically asked him not to beforehand. Enough said.
Don’t agree with a lot of it, but the discussion (even though it’s from 20years ago) is relevant and thought-provoking, making me consider things I hadn’t before. I respect Garner’s ability to question herself and her own motives, even if I ultimately disagree with where she lands.
L.E. Truscott
Jan 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Helen Garner could write a book about painting one wall of her living room and it would still be fascinating, that’s how good a writer she is. But having now read three of her books, I’m seeing a theme: she is baffled at why everybody doesn’t think like her and more baffled when people won’t take the time to try to convince her to think otherwise, then give her the opportunity to do the same.

The First Stone is creative non-fiction, meshing tales from Garner’s own personal life, particularly
Alison S
Aug 05, 2018 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Maria-Francisca Abed
Mar 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
From the very first pages of this fascinating saga of university life in colleges, I could not help but feeling as though I had entered a hallucinatory, myopic world which favours privilege, discrimination and archaic practices of human relations which bring to mind the "feudal" systems of old, when females were treated as inferior beings and males enjoyed preferential status. It is ironic that - nowadays - "equality of the sexes" is considered a priority to aspire for in everyday life and ...more
Maha Abed
Jun 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
An engrossing read. Helen Garner's response to a sexual harassment claim made in Ormond college in the early nineties. A balanced and well-considered account of the events surrounding the claim and statements from the people involved and those who were willing to speak with Helen Garner.

The reader unavoidably considers the definition of feminism and the reactions to asserting a woman's rights in all aspects of Australian society. It is an area with so many shades of grey and filled with
Apr 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
I absolutely love Helen Garner. She is so indecisive. On the one hand she thinks this, but on the other hand she feels that. Call her confused, call her bland, but I call her mature. Young people see the world in black and white but as they grow older they see other people's perspectives and experience enables them to put themselves in the other person's shoes and in doing so, they become slower to judge. Slower to cast the first stone, so to speak. Just as in This House of Grief, Ms Garner ...more
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Helen Garner was born in Geelong in 1942. She has published many works of fiction including Monkey Grip, Cosmo Cosmolino and The Children's Bach. Her fiction has won numerous awards. She is also one of Australia's most respected non-fiction writers, and received a Walkley Award for journalism in 1993.

Her most recent books are The First Stone, True Stories, My Hard Heart, The Feel of Stone and Joe
“Post-script: When my tutor got a famous scholarship and went to Oxford, he broke my heart, of course. I sobbed in cafés and hotel bars, bored my friends half to death, and thought myself tragically bereft. I cannot in all honesty claim to have been liberated from anything in particular by my relationship with this man. I hated his subject and was bad at it, failed it twice and did not care. He made me laugh, that's the main thing I remember. I often felt he was privately laughing at me, from the eminence of his twenty-four years. This made me watchful and had never occurred to me to call what happened between me and my tutor 'sexual harassment' or 'abuse of power'.” 0 likes
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