Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Female Eunuch, by Germaine Greer

This book comes across as a wild, unruly mess. I think that may be part of the intention. There were many sections in the book where I could not make head nor tail of what Germaine Greer was trying to say. Some of it seemed nonsense. Plus Greer employs a hip, aggressive, vigorous polemical style. She says things that probably sounded smart in its day, but make no sense today.

In the 21st anniversary introduction, Greer says that she thought the book would quickly date. And lots of it does have a dated feel. I have barely read any feminism from this period (late 60s early 70s), but it does seem that there is much in the book that is entirely original.
I think that Germaine Greer’s real skill is in unpacking things. The frustrating part about her is, once she’s thoroughly unpacked a subject and made a huge bloody mess, she doesn’t tidy up with some neat answers to the questions she’s proposed. As the last line of the book says, ‘What will you do?’

The Female Eunuch ranges over topics like biology, psychology, sexuality, politics, consumerism, alternative lifestyle, lesbianism, marriage etc. etc. Interspersed throughout are various quotes. Interestingly, she quotes a lot from the poet William Blake. Greer also likes to bring in lots of pop culture and art history to add flavour to her arguments ( she discusses Shakespeare and rock concerts, much like Camille Paglia would do twenty years later). Mixing things up further Greer adds plenty of very personal anecdotes.

Having unpacked so many subjects, Greer basically leaves things up to the reader. Now go and work it out for yourself, she seems to be saying. The book is a call to go out and break all the rules. With femininity broken down and smashed to pieces, you can now go out and be the kind of woman you want to be.

But this is to be no walk in the park. Once you are free, it does not mean you will be secure and protected. Freedom brings danger. I loved the following sombre advice:

‘The world will not change overnight, and liberation will not happen unless individual women agree to be outcasts, eccentrics, perverts, and whatever the powers-that-be choose to call them. There have been women in the past far more daring than we would need to be now, who ventured all and gained a little, but survived after all.’

This is truly inspiring stuff. Greer says security is an illusion. Feminists must (we all must, if we extend the argument to men) be ready to make fools of themselves, to be ridiculed.

Once again:

‘Once women refuse to accept the polarity of masculine-feminine they must accept the existence of risk and possibility of error.’

Hear, Hear!

Angela Carter called Germaine Greer a clever fool. In some ways Germaine Greer is somewhat of a clown with a serious purpose (she almost admits it herself.) Yet people continue to read The Female Eunuch, I suspect, because of the absolute freedom it urges women to take, and in calling on women to define themselves independent of society.

This makes Germaine Greer a romantic, willing to take risks and pay the price of her own freedom (no wonder there are so many quotes from Blake. At heart I feel she is very much an aesthete). For her bravery alone she should be much admired.

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