Illustration of Germaine Greer by Bill Leak in The Australian Review of Books, 1999

 

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The woman who launched a thousand vitriols




Germaine Greer is one of the world's foremost feminists. She became famous with her writing of the book, The Female Eunuch, which was recently rated as the second most important book of non-fiction ever written in Australia.

Here is a critical analysis of Germaine, to scrutinise some influences she has had on modern sexual attitudes. It also gives some insights into the type of woman she is and what the pathological undertones of her pronouncements reveals about herself.

The Female Eunuch is one of the undisputed classics of feminist literature. To put that in perspective, it is a book that many professional women cite as having changed their life. Quite a number of women in politics, bureaucracy, business or the arts claim that this book changed their ambitions and sexual attitudes. It is also a book that changed the lives of many men.

Germaine Greer is however more than just the author of one book and has had a significant career. She studied originally at Sydney University in Australia, but headed to England in the 1960's, to the centre of the cultural life of the British Empire. There she was involved in the bourgeois counterculture with a place alongside prominent activists in the alternative press. It should be mentioned that this counterculture movement was of course part of the hippy movement with its ideas of free love and sexual liberation. This movement was not simply anarchical but had its roots in a variant of libertarian philosophy, which Greer also adhered to. She wrote articles for prominent newspapers in England, some of which can be found in the anthology, The Madwoman's Underclothes. It is worthwhile reading this collection to get an insight into how anarchism was mixed with a latent feminism in her early ideas.

Greer published her book The Female Enuch in 1970. In many respects it compiled an assortment of her ideas on sexual relations and sexual alienation and mixed it in with literary references that she dredged from her previous studies of Shakespearean literature. (She had previously completed a PhD on Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew.) Obviously she had her finger on the feminist pulse, which was becoming an increasingly potent force, because the book made a point of showing contempt for modern men and their attitudes to women.

What strikes most of all about The Female Eunuch is the scattered and random allegations about men, alongside its intellectual flakiness.

"Women have very little idea of how much men hate them... The man regards her as a receptacle into which he has emptied his sperm, a kind of human spitoon" 279, 284.

Greer makes no balanced, deep analysis of sexual relations in her book and no in-depth explanations. She mixes claims about men being sexist, alongside critiques of Coca Cola and with barely understood references to Marxism and black 'struggles'.

One overriding impression of her book is actually that Greer is a perverse sentimentalist for Shakespearean times. When a modern man describes a woman's vagina as a pussy it is sexist. But when shakespeare calls the vagina a moist velvet purse, Greer has paroxysms of appreciation. A purple headed gorgon mapping the folds of her pustulating clam... it is sheer poetry. But ordinary men are bastards.

Anybody who has read the more recent book by Naomi Wolf will find that the book, The Beauty Myth has the closest resemblance to that of Greer, although even Wolf made a greater concession to citing factual data.

Greer now teaches at Cambridge University in Britain. There she is converting a generation of young English men and women to the feminist theoretical system.

The Whole Woman

Recently Greer made a point of saying that she had handed the feminist batton to a younger generation of women and yet she felt compelled to enter the fray again with a new assessment of women's condition. So came the publication of, The Whole Woman in 1999. I have not read her latest offering but interviews suggested she has become more bitter, raucous and vacuous, without getting any more insightful or intelligent. She appears to be trotting out the same tired cliches and stereotypes. She claims for example that, despite 20 years of feminist influence on society, women are worse off than ever!! And of course it's men's fault, though also in part due to Miss Guided aims in feminism.

What is of particular interest is that feminists of Greer's generation are now pervasively in positions of overt political, cultural and institutional power and several of them decided to read Greer's new book. Some of these feminists also provided book reviews which were published in newspapers. A unifying theme in many of these reviews was the fact that these women appear to finally realise how moronicaly Greer really behaves. However, politeness and a need to maintain an ironclad united feminist front, precluded them from putting the boot in publicly. Furthermore I suspect that several of them have begun to question their own feminist ideology. The logic that they must be confronting is: if Greer is a fool and she changed my life 25 years ago then what was I thinking back then? A pertinent question it is, but we won't find it being explored in the press.

However we can't simply leave Greer condemned as a quasi intellectual bimbo. There is a wealth of insights to be gained from figuring out how her ideas and persona gained their prominence. Also, if what she says is essentially exaggerated and silly then what happened to a society that took her ideas so seriously? She is after all rated as one of Australia's top ten most important people, ever.

To explore this issue we need to make another exploration of Greer's "maturation" and personal development in the context of the times. She was part of an elite female portion of society who received convent education in the post war period of Australia. Just to give you a flavour of its sexual repressiveness, this was an era when "good girls" were apparently told not to polish their black school shoes too vigorously because boys could look up their dress in the reflection. It was a culture that many girls and boys were glad to cast off when the sexual revolution reared its ugly purple head.

Greer began to play around in the counterculture during her university days and at the point when she became sexually active. She was a beautiful woman and attractive to a variety of men. This must have made her aware of her social status and she succeeded in entering the bohemian intellectual world of what was known as the "Sydney Push". This was an elite circle of the Australian "intelligentsia" combining bullshit artists, intellectual wankers, slackers, lefties, bourgeois tossers and two-bit philosophers. They readily absorbed the prevailing ideology of libertarianism, which translated into fucking whoever you liked... whenever you liked. The problem for many young women (and no doubt men) was that emotions and possessiveness got in the way of this anarchistic sexual ideal. People got their feelings hurt when lovers moved on to someone new. Greer apparently did her fair share of rejecting.

After several years spent in this environment Greer moved to Britain, a typical move for ambitious Australians in this era. On her move to Britain she began to hang out with the upper class Bohemian circles of British society and found the men there frequently disappointing. These men were charming but lacked basic human skills, such as the ability to wipe their arse. It suggests, and perhaps rightly, that there are far fewer fully rounded men in the world than our culture projects. The ideal man is a figment of our heroic projections.

As a columnist for a prominent daily newspaper as well as Oz magazine, Greer began to expound her philosophies on sexual behaviour and rights. She was a sexual libertarian, believing in free fucking and no inhibition. This philosphy was practically applied and included her posing in an underground magazine nude. It was cool. However her writing increasingly played with the agitationist ideology of feminism then gaining ascendancy and clouding much of her direct perception. It is an interesting irony that she was being philosophically transformed. Yet ironically, feminism was directly contrary to her previous ideology. Feminism was anti-sex, anti-male and even anti-porn.

Left-wing feminism was the movement destined to gain the upper hand and was the basis for making money in publishing. A whole industry has since been developed on the back of feminism, with publishing, lecturing and thinktanks all gaining impetus from this revolutionary period. One has to seriously ask whether Greer got caught up in mental contradictions and was a genuine intellectual bimbo, or whether she was simply a cunning opportunist when feminism became increasingly dominant in the early 1970s.

Over the intervening decades Greer has mainly made a career out of berating men. Though living comfortably in Britain she makes a yearly pilgrimage to Australia to tell men that their cocks are overrated and that women are indeed wonderful creatures. It is a reiteration of her one basic sexist perspective espoused in The Female Eunuch in 1970:

"I'm sick of the powder room. I'm sick of pretending that some fatuous male's self important pronouncements are the objects of my undivided attention."

Twenty years later in 1999, she was still obsessing about how sick of men she was. In fact it looks like she'll never be sick of being sick of us. Yet to give an indication of the tradition she has followed it is worth looking back further. Greer has tapped into a long tradition among a certain type of chauvenist women. Consider for example the uncanny resemblance of her man-hating to the character Scarlet O'Hara in, Gone with the Wind:

"I'm tired of saying , 'How wonderful you are,' to fool men who haven't got half the sense I've got, and I'm tired of pretending I don't know anything, so men can tell me things and feel important while they're doing it." Margaret Mitchell (1940s)

Viewed from this perspective Greer's feminism starts to look quite different. It is an obsession that more than anything suggests a pathological undercurrent. She is subliminally obsessed with the object that her philosophy has required her to renounce: men. Indeed, Greer is widely known to have deeply regretted never having children. But then, how could she lower herself to fraternise with mere men, the unlikely source of sperm?

While the analysis of this one woman doesn't reflect on the sum total of feminist ideology we should consider that the deconstruction of Greer, one of the world's most important feminists, provides insight to a peculiar component.

Postscript

I recently read a biography written by Christine Wallace, Greer, Untamed Shrew. After reading this book I realised that the article above is perhaps unduly harsh and one-sided in its assessment of Greer. The biography helps us to realise that Greer had many exceptional character traits that have made her a unique, exciting and dynamic individual. In her youth she was attractive, vivacious, raunchy and intellectual. She was admirable, not for her writing so much as her outlandish style, ambition and sexual liberty. The book by Wallace does fail to emphasise some of the issues raised here and takes a more sympathetic look at the life of Greer, yet it remains critical.

Wallace argues that:

"The Female Eunuch is both exhilarating and exasperating to read. Greer's rhetoric soars, inspires; many insights are sharp, potent and motivating. Yet the book is so studded with political naiveties and passing shots at other women that it is difficult to reconcile as a whole. Its grand sweep, pacy prose and telling revelations encourage the reader to skate over the jagged edges and ride forward on Germaine's romantically anarchistic vision of assertive women in hot pursuit of pleasure, independence and spontaneity."

Ironically, what the book reveals is that Greer was anything but feminist in her underlying outlook and philosophy and this is probably exactly why she represented a role model that so many other women sought to follow.

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This page created April 1999, not updated since August 2002: ThinkBomb©