The publication of Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch in 1970 was a landmark event, raising eyebrows and ire while creating a shock wave of recognition in women around the world with its steadfast assertion that sexual liberation is the key to women's liberation. Today, Greer's searing examination of the oppression of women in contemporary society is both an important historical record of where we've been and a shockingly relevant treatise on what still remains to be achieved.
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Greer presents a direct description of sexuality--not content with mere anatomy or indirection. Looking at how they are treated, she concludes that "men hate women", even though they do not realize it, and men end up hating themselves.
No actual eunuchs were injured in the analysis, but Greer invokes literary and consumerist evidence that "Women have been separated from their libido", and cut off from their capacity for action: castrati, sacrificed for fattening docilities. My reading is that Greer is all about elevating humans to a greater capacity for love, compounded by the joy of really being together. I think this book changed the lives of people in the 1970's, and not just in the English-reading world.
Curiously, the "supergroupie" demystifying academic author published a kind of sequel to this work, in 1999, entitled The Whole Woman.
Despite being written in 1970, there is nothing stale about this book. Greer's writing can be very punchy, at times witty, and the threads of her argument are clearly and logically set out. For a book that has sold over a million copies, she is extremely eloquent, at times even a touch grandiloquent, and her choice of words sometimes had me reaching for a dictionary. That aside, the book is fairly easy to read for its subject matter.
Nevertheless, it is not Greer's arguments or her choice of phrasing that are difficult to understand, but the context in which they were written. It is difficult for anyone born after that time to comprehend how much society has changed in the intervening period, at the most fundamental, interpersonal level. In this light, Greer's arguments can seem overdramatised, perhaps even alien to someone reading them today, but there is plenty which bears relevance to understanding how we got where we are, and perhaps knowing where we have yet to go.
Greer covers the whole gamut of the female experience, from birth and childhood, through sex and marriage, to the workplace and public sphere. In covering this massive range of subjects, from the most tangible in terms of jobs, wages and taxation, through to more esoteric notions of imagery in language and psychology, one gets a clear notion of Greer's ideal vision. Although there are far more criticisms of the status quo than overt recommendations for change, in questioning some of the core elements of society, it leads all of us to critically appraise our modes and ways of life.
Many people who haven't read this book, and men in particular, assume it must be written by a man-hater, an irrational and fiery-hearted misandrist nailing her theses to the church of patriarchy. In truth, the book is a deep and basic criticism of that day and age's society, pointed as much at women as at men for perpetuating a system which essentially encouraged contempt for half of the population, in many ways treating them as second-class citizens. There is an important distinction here between sexual equality and women's liberation, for Greer argues for fundamental changes as a way to improve the lives of everyone. This is not a call to gender war in a Marxian vein; in fact, although Greer has a clear leftist bent, it seems she did not put faith in the class revolution to put society on the correct footing.
There are just a couple of criticisms I have about this edition. The first is that there is no index, which I feel would have been a useful addition. Although Greer divided the book into well arranged and clearly labelled chapters, it is still difficult to find references without having to guess under which subheading you might find them. Secondly, as part of Flamingo's Seventies Classics Series, this really should have come with an introduction. Printed over thirty years after its initial publication, with so much having changed in the intervening period, a simple outline of the society in which this book was written, and an overview of its reception and responses, would have been an extremely welcome addition.
Feminism may be an archaic phenomenon in the urban world yet it is still in the nascent form in numerous authoritarian patriarchal configurations
Alas! I cannot go through anymore feminism prose. My audacious teenage years and traumatic squabbles with my mother altered me as Simone de Beauvoir of the house. And now I am extremely fascinated with Lady Gaga simply for kicks.
Much of its insight into women's conditioning still holds true: recent social media
The cringe-worthiness of dated references to African-Americans or members of the LGBTQ community are on full display here. The publications and studies are now mostly obscure, though she does pull out good historical quotes by and about women.
But. The contempt with which Greer writes about and to housewives, her denigrations about their abilities, including her own mother, are revealing. By the end of the book I had to wonder: What was she trying to achieve? Her paternalism, her lack of compassion, and her general "snark" meant that. I. Just. Couldn't. Praise her more than as an ardent second wave feminist whose work did not stand the test of time.