You can now have my Style Notes column delivered direct to your inbox every Saturday morning, by subscribing to my new blog Maggie Alderson Style Notes.

Click on the rather faint grey link above.

Follow me on marvellous Twitter @MaggieA

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer

Although I haven't just re-read it, I have to come to the defence of this book – and its author - which have both been trashed on the 40th anniversary of its publication by an Australian playwright called Louis Nowra.

Because if I were to write a list of the most important books I’ve ever read, The Female Eunuch would be at the top. It made me.

Aussie readers will be familiar with the hoo hah, but to put everyone else in the picture: Nowra was commissioned to write a contemporary critique of the book by the male editor of a magazine called – hilariously in the context – The Monthly.

I haven’t been able to read the article in full – it’s oddly unaccessible online - but the extracts I’ve seen from it are very disappointing in a publication which styles itself as ‘Australia’s leading cultural, political, and social magazine.’

A large part of his argument that the book is worthless seems to be that Germaine Greer looks like a mad old lady, similar to his late granma. But as I haven’t read it, I will leave it to people who have to comment directly on it. See links below.

My reaction is entirely personal – and points up exactly why the editor of the magazine should have commissioned this article from a woman. Whatever Louis Nowra thinks of this book now, I read it in 1973, when I was 13 and it shaped my whole life.

I can remember very clearly the lightbulb moment, while reading it, when I realised that if I didn’t make my own money, I would always have to ask my husband for the cash if I wanted to buy a new dress.

And that I might have to be nice to him and agree with things he said, that I didn’t believe in, and have sex with him even if I didn’t feel like it, and make what he wanted for dinner even if I didn’t want it, to get that money. Ping!

I know that’s a pathetically trivial reduction of Greer’s theses, but it was what brought the bigger issue home to my 13 year-old head: that economic independence is the foundation for freedom.

I worked hard at school, uni and beyond, driven by that understanding. I haven’t been supported by anyone else since I left education. There was a lot of other stuff in the book that made a deep impression too, but that was the revelation that made me the person I am today.

I’m not going to re-read it now to see whether it’s stood the test of time, because it’s doesn't matter. It wasn’t written for 2010, it was written for 1970. And nobody puts that better than Greer herself:

‘It was the best book I could write at the time; I have written better since. If I feel any disappointment at all it is that The Female Eunuch is still in print. A tide of better books should have knocked it off its perch within a few months of its first appearance.'

And even if parts of it are no longer relevant because there have been some – not nearly enough, but some – advances in male/female equality, or other social structures have changed, it doesn’t make the book any less of an achievement. Because the key thing is it was so very important in its time.

Germaine Greer, you are one of my all-time heroines and always will be.

You can read a great piece from my alma mater, the Sydney Morning Herald  here.

A hilarious potty-mouthed polemic by Helen Razer here.
And Ms Greer’s typically elegant comment here, although I’m not clear if this was written in response to Nowra’s piece, or is just where she stands generally on feminism now, here.

13 comments:

  1. I read The Female Eunuch when I was 30. I knew about Germaine though because my mother is a feminist. At the time I read it the idea of brazillians and teenage girls in Playboy t-shirts was just starting to get busy - and I felt grim horror at the modern world, and I remember being struck by how powerful Greer's words were. They are still powerful now. It is not Germaine Greer who's failed, it's men. It's men who don't want to share the world or accept women as human beings. It's hard to write about this and not sound like a ranter. Three years ago I wrote a novel called Notes from the Teenage Underground, the protagonist was named after Germaine Greer and holds her up as an icon. I don't know how many teenage girls read my book then looked up Germaine but it was then and still is now my fervent hope that they will, and that if they do they find the wild, tough, smart, inspiring woman that I did.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for your comment, Simmone. One good thing that has come out of this outrage is to find that so many women - of all ages - and some men still understand that feminism matters.

    Observing the burlesque revival - and intelligent women telling me to get over my horror about it - I was begining to give up hope.

    xxx

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm ashamed to say I have never read The Female Eunuch. Having said that, the way you've explained her tenet is exactly how I've lived my life. Financial independence has always been a priority and I'm incredibly proud of having achieved that. Feminism to me is about being proud to be a woman and the ability to choose to have relationships with men (or not) on an equal footing.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I bought the book for my mum when I was a teenager. She never read it.
    Germaine Greer is one of my heroines too.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Snap maggie - I was 13 too and man, it ruined my father's whole life. When I finally announced I was leaving home at 18 after five long years of arguing over every single point in that book, he actually said,"no girl of mine is leaving this house unless it's on the arm of a man."

    Happily, he's over it now that I've become almost as good as a son to brag about to his mates at the RSL. The Female Eunich didn't stop me eventually getting married, but it did stop me putting up with sexist crap and gave me the courage to walk out of that abusive relationship and demonstrate to my son that they just don't make fifties housewives anymore.

    It was the making of me, too.

    I just don't get it. Why is Greer bashing a bloodsport in this country?

    Germain Greer is one of the most forthright, intelligent, charming women I have ever met. My hair is recently turned grey, I've never stopped looking whistfully at the beauty of young men, and, when push comes to shove, I have a fairly harsh tongue.

    So what, now I am supposed to shut up and keep my opinions to myself because I'm apparenlty supposed to be invisible? Nowra's shonky little diatribe is just plain insulting to all women - not just Greer - writing us all off as demented grandmothers because we look like his!

    Prick.

    Oh, and I'm with you - the burlesque thing is sick and, like a bra, no doubt invented by men.

    ReplyDelete
  6. thanks for posting that maggie - the female eunuch changed my life too when i read it a few years ago (i'm only 26) & even just last weekend i was defending it to my friends.

    ReplyDelete
  7. this woman is a dangerous, fucked-up dyke that seems to think her comments represent a part of society - sorry you femanist cunt ... your comments are listened to a bunch of power-hungry, fat, ugly lesbian idiots who only have their views cos there isn't a man on the planet that would fuck any of you ... do us all a favour and go and set up your own JamesTown .... hey, i'll even supply the Arsnic ...

    Pathetric fucking dykes who think they can change societies thinking ...

    Hey Germaine, if you love this country so much why have you been living in the UK all these years -- probably because you know you'd be fucking lynched if you showed your face back in Aus.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I've left the (mispelled barely literate...) comment above on here deliberately.

    It's a very useful reminder just how much we still need feminism.

    So thank you, Anonymous, for sharing your views. Even if you weren't man enough to put your name on them.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I read that last comment by that odd little man, and it is always so startling to come across that sort of thing. Most men would never own to thinking such things and would cringe to be associated with it.

    Germanine Greer is a legend. I liked your succinct way of putting down what was in that book via your reaction to it. I have another of her books "The Whole Woman" and it is an easier read, written much more recently but on similar topics. I am so proud she is Australian, and that she is still out there annoying the likes of Louis Nowra.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I love Germaine Greer, warmly and unconditionally. It's lovely to see the cyber community who feel likewise. I agree, I think burlesque today is not "empowering women", it's mainly kitsch and passive sexism dolled up together. I also think the same of pole dancing, that it's tacky sexist shit, althought it can be otherwise (it can be gymnastics, confrontational, whatever). However, have you guys seen lesbian burlesque ? You probably don't want to (I found it confronting), but it's about taking the mystery and sacredness out of female genitalia, and making it as casual and everyday and normal as a man's.

    ReplyDelete
  11. "I know that’s a pathetically trivial reduction of Greer’s theses"

    That IS indeed a trivial reduction of Greer's book, because I have read it myself and found myself horrified by the badly-constructed arguments, the poor logic, the hypocrisy, the double-standards, and the blatant bigotry. To argue that men are inferior because they are susceptible to certain sex-linked diseases is to argue that black people are inferior just because they are more susceptible to diabetes! The fact that this book, and it's ignoramus of an author, have both been taken seriously, is nothing short of frightening.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Eleven years ago I woke up to the brainwashed culture I call Great Britain where women think they have to accept adult sites and the Sun page 3 because men just love to degrade and humiliate women. But even worse than that they do not care if adult sites open the doors to dark sites that hurt women and children. The Old English Government stole my Nan and her brothers fathers army pension and made them eat and sleep in a shed which they called a children's home. The Waterhouse report is heart destroying and cries for women to put a stop to men destroying lives. I have come across far too many men bullies in my life. Until we start talking and fighting back verbally we will never create change for our poor children. Take a look at my poor little girl who suffers from asthma and the house she lives in because men have been allowed to trash my on line business and name with their selfish trash that has no family values whatsoever. I have a file full of problems sent my way by men bullies. Maybe one day I will meet other women that are willing to fight verbally for justice so our children have a better life than we did! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ljg4slXxnDM

    ReplyDelete
  13. P.S. I wish I had read the book you are talking about, but instead I have listened to her interviews and this one made me really giggle. She is asked what is wrong with women changing their body with plastic surgery. Her reply is nothing, why not go the full hog and get breast enlargements all over your body. I think I shall dig out an old photo of myself trying to be pretty and add a bra to my face and say "well at least he looks at my face now!" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CITBPjJCU9o

    ReplyDelete