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Title: The Female Eunuch
Author: Germaine Greer
Year: 1970

When it was first published in 1970, The Female Eunuch became an international bestseller, bringing fame and controversy to its author, Germaine Greer. All this was much to her surprise but she claims in a recent interview that she still agrees with everything she said in it.

I have just finished reading the book and am not sure what to make of it. I certainly bring it up a lot in conversation, not least because you’re apt to spot sexism in every corner after first putting it down. The title refers to the book’s central theme: that women have been separated from their libido, and are unaware of just how much they are hated by men. Women, also, are not particularly keen on men.

These are weighty topics and I’m sure all my readers will have a staunch opinion on them.

The important question I want to answer is, what do I have to say about Germaine Greer?

Born in Australia in 1949, she is considered a major feminist voice of the twentieth century – and beyond. Both loved and reviled, Greer is known for her academic works, journalistic output and her never-ceasing spray of colourful opinions.

Not one to shy away from making outlandish claims, even with fairly minimal evidence, I can see why some people particularly dislike her. Often confusing, always radical, Greer’s character leered up from the pages and never let you forget her. For this reason, I will say The Female Eunuch is not a bad book.

It was stuffed with insights, lurking among a kaleidoscope of radical feminist opinions continually hurled at the reader. Often devolving into a series of rants, the stylistic structure paled in comparison to that of The Beauty Myth, by Naomi Wolf, meaning that it almost tailed off at the end without coming to any particular conclusion. It is, I have found, impossible to separate the book from the woman.

In part caused by my recent reading list, but also inspiring the choices, I am drawn towards the goal of identifying what I think are the most important feminist voices for my generation of women.

There was Mary Wollstonecraft writing in the late eighteenth century, igniting the whole modern movement towards female liberation through the publication of her book The Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792). Every woman with her own bank account, her own vote and her own job is indebted to Wollstonecraft. Since then, there have been many notable advocates of the feminist cause, but there are a few who spring immediately to mind.

Charlotte Bronte was the English female author of an outstanding literary output from roughly 1830-60, including Jane Eyre (1847), when women still found it almost impossible to become published. Emmeline Pankhurst was the leader of the English suffragette movement in the early twentieth century and played a key role in obtaining the right to vote for women – only a hundred years ago.  Simone De Beauvoir is the famous French feminist author of books like The Second Sex (1949) and The Mandarins (1954), also the lover of Jean-Paul Sartre.

The breadth of Greer’s argument covers many bases, ranging from Victorian tracts regarding appropriate and morally-approved behaviour of women, to syrupy Romantic poetry from the eighteenth century, to horrendously trashy romance novels from the 1950’s. Many anecdotal examples supporting her rousing declaration of the patriarchy’s oppression and abuse of women parade through the pages.

I think if I’d read The Female Eunuch at university we’d have studied her as part of the course ‘Images of Women’, perhaps attempting to psychoanalyse her frequently seething anger towards men.

Greer maintains that she is not promoting any particular concrete solution to the problem of female oppression, merely creating discussion of the issues through her provocative and often foul-tongued pages. There were times when I almost wished someone would look over my shoulder on the underground to see me reading a book that recommends all women should taste their own period blood.

At times, Greer claims things like, ‘Joy does not mean riotous glee, but it does mean the purposive employment of energy in a self-chosen enterprise. It does mean pride and confidence. It does mean communication and cooperation with others based on delight in their company and your own…’ In these passages, she truly shines.

Yes, Germaine Greer is indeed a powerful feminist voice of our time – if only for her sheer audacity and lack of respect for any tradition or established norm. Her writing is original, fiercely intelligent and unapologetic. We definitely need more women like her to join the ranks of the literary canon.

It’s interesting to compare her to other feminist authors. As with most feminist texts, I found that she did not satisfactorily explain just why men actually want to oppress women in it for them; what exactly is in it for them, besides money and not having to wash the dishes? Mainly economic gain, Naomi Wolf argues, or pure vanity and egotism the other (Virginia) Woolf asserts.

I liked The Female Eunuch because it never pretended to be anything that it wasn’t. It’s easy to feel disconnected from bra-burning, banner-waving strident feminists if you don’t think about how far we’ve come. And yet, not that far; considering the debates raging around the issues of Page 3 girls, Miley Cyrus’s twerking, and the legal definition of rape.

It’s important to remain connected to this era of bold women and appreciate just how much they achieved. When I compare my life to portrayals of women in film and books of the 1970s era, I count myself extremely lucky that I was only born twenty four years ago.

Sexism is still rife but it’s a lot easier to speak out against, now – on this blog, for example. I don’t agree that feminism is a ‘first world problem,’ and over-debated, because you could say that about most things people concern themselves with. There’s a reason that a topic is on the agenda, and if something has affected you, it’s important. Germaine Greer is never going to be one of my favourite authors, but she said her point – and she said it well.

Greer

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