Yes, it’s everyone’s favourite feisty Aussie (after the lovely Margaret, of course) Germaine Greer. What better way to mark International Women’s Day than with Nova Magazine, and Greer. From October 1970.
This is Germaine Greer, author of The Female Eunuch, talking. She has a plan for joy, generosity, eroticism and spontaneity that will invalidate dependence on marriage
She is taller than most men and more beautiful than most women. Her mind is a steel flame flicking behind wide grey eyes and verbalising endlessly, eloquently in a plangent voice. She is passionate, outrageous, witty, dogmatic, spontaneous and fearless. She says things other women daren’t think, thinks things men can’t imagine and does things no one else would admit to, even if they could do them which, most of the time, is doubtful. She reeks of sexuality, rejects femininity — the dirtiest word in the language for her — talks obsessively about sex and believes desperately in love, yet is ironically aware that in the sum total of human contacts she probably draws down more of hate than of love upon herself. She is brilliant, original and free, cast in an uncopiable mould and living a life that is a constant affront and confrontation. She is unique and, in the sense of being an abnormally developed specimen, a freak.
Germaine Greer, born Australian and a Roman Catholic, aged 31, is a Sydney Libertarian, an actress, a groupie, a PhD, a senior lecturer in English at Warwick University and thinks she’s ‘probably an anarchist’. The recent student raid on political files disclosed, to her amusement, that one of her referees recommended her as ‘good for informal entertaining’. She once gave an unforgettable performance in a Cambridge Footlights revue as a nun executing a striptease which ended in her swimming off-stage attached to a pair of flippers. She hitchhikes to her lectures and is committed about her teaching but wonders sometimes whether she shouldn’t be back in the high school where `all the trouble starts’. Old friends say she was always outstanding physically and mentally, but `it was like being flamboyant in the British Museum’ until she discovered and joined the underground pop scene about live years ago. Never a quiet dresser, she converted immediately to the Jimmy Hendrix hair frizz and hippy fashions. She’s very serious about the Women’s Liberation Movement and is convinced that the world can`t survive unless there is a female revolution, soon. She’s just written a book called The Female Eunuch (MacGibbon & Kee, 35s).
The title sums up her basic anti-Freudian premise that it’s not penis envy women suffer from but a castration of their essential female personality. How and why this has come about — the psychological and behavioural reaction of women reduced, however connivingly, to passivity and servility — and the solution, which no other feminist has yet advanced, are the subject of a challenging, deeply researched book.
Her philosophical springboard is a theory that energy, the driving power within us all, call it what you will. libido, élan vital, rhythm, eros (her choice) is inseparable from sexuality and belongs equally to men and women. But, at some unnoticed moment in our social development. men commandeered energy as their sole prerogative and, harnessing it to their superior physical power and un-doubted liking for violence, ‘stream- lined it into an aggressive conquistadorial power, reducing all hetero- sexual contact to a sado-masochistic pattern.’ Ruthlessly, thoroughly, she examines what being a woman means under every aspect and, just as mercilessly, draws the conclusions of capitulation by the way women love and hate. Certainly no man can complain that she is biased in favour of her own sex and neither can any woman, who is honest, fail to recognise something of herself somewhere in Germaine Greer’s analysis. It’s never pleasant to have one’s weaknesses and failures declared, particularly when they are used as a weapon to enforce submission, and one doesn’t have to think hard to recall a few men indulging in this activity in the name of Christianity. Unfortunately, women have been deficient at defending themselves. mainly because men have succeeded in convincing them of their inferiority.
Now a woman does retaliate forcefully by taking a cool, clear look at her own sex; all the way from cells to psyche she searchlights the facts and the faults and yet concern and commitment shine through even her most devastating attacks, such as her brilliant definition of the stereotype woman: the painted, hairless, deodorised, de-sexed doll; the walking, talking phenomenon of men’s fantasies, evolved over centuries and culminating in our own society as a triumphant tribute to sophisticated marketing and advertising techniques. She even adapts her style, for the length of the chapter, to the copywriter’s sickening hyperboles, and she delivers the savage reductio ud absurdum in her interpretation of April Ashley’s dilemma. She maintains that, although biologically a man, Ashley loved the feminine stereotype so well that, more than embrace it, he wanted to be it. Eventually, with the aid of surgical ingenuity and massive doses of female hormone, he became perfectly qualified to do so because he was ‘elegant, voluptuous, beautifully groomed and in love with his own image’. Only when he was brought to actual sexual encounter in marriage did the mask finally slip disastrously.
Her psychological probings are even more painful. Nothing is spared. All the petty vindication, spites and revenges which women wreak on men in return for being reduced to impotence and dependency are minutely detailed. They are not even allowed the virtues of altruism and unselfishness, commonly conveyed in the concept of the madonna wife and mother. ‘They sacrifice what they never had, a self . . . the altruism of women is merely the inauthenticity of feminine person carried over into behaviour.
She enlists weighty modern thinkers (not a woman among them) to support her view that it’s only love and its concomitants of eroticism, joy, generosity and spontaneity which can make the world whole again and stop the headlong rush to self-destruction, now being accelerated by our present life style which exalts egotism, exploitation, deception, obsession and addiction. But genuine love can only be between equals and women can only expect to be valued by men when they value themselves, so the first thing they must do is to rehabilitate themselves by `rehabilitating the flesh and uniting it with spirituality’. The false masculine-feminine polarity must be swept away and ‘all the baggage of paternalist society thrown overboard’ by women who have become self-confident, self-determining, self-respecting, autonomous individuals. By liberating themselves and replacing compulsion and compulsiveness by the pleasure principle, women will also liberate their masculine oppressors.
She is convinced that men are weary of what she terms their `exclusive phallic responsibility`. Emancipation, as far as it has gone today, shows at least a token willingness to invite women into the male-dominated areas of life and, if the invitation has not been fully taken up, it is as much the fault of women for allowing themselves to be tricked into feelings of guilt and inadequacy by their enemies, among whom she lists marriage guidance counsellors, health visitors, psychiatrists, the media etc. It’s at this point that she also parts company with feminists old and new, including the Women’s Liberation Movement, because she thinks the greatest mistake women make is to want to enter the man’s world or adopt a masculine role. Nor does offering alternatives to motherhood help because women have already set up ‘patterns of perversity’ which means that anything else they choose to do is likely to be done in a ‘feminine’ way, that is to say, ‘servilely, dishonestly, inefficiently and inconsistently’. They should not be seeking equality of opportunity within the status quo which is asking for ‘free admission to the world of the ulcer and the coronary’. Instead, they should be setting up new conditions of opportunity and turning themselves into new women who will seize those opportunities gladly rather than shrink from the responsibility of being responsible for themselves. Obviously, freedom to work at the factory bench instead of slaving at a hot stove and minding the kids is no freedom, but since reform is retrogressive and rebellion is bitter, the only solution is revolution.
All stirring heady stuff, but this is where the whole argument begins to get hypothetical and utopian. She admits herself that she can only offer vague alternatives and, in the present climate, at the most hope to inspire women to throw off their shackles by working out new values on the basis of a sexual confrontation which will take the emphasis off male genitality and restore it to human sexuality. How? Single women must never marry and learn instead to think of spontaneous association as an ideal. As for married women, she recognises the movement would never get off the ground if they were excluded, but these unfortunate creatures must reconsider themselves and stop trying to make an impossible situation work. She is adamant that the modern nuclear family must be scrapped because, “economically wasteful, it encapsulates units which are politically malleable and socially useless and, whenever it does work, you may be sure it’s at tremendous cost to the individual members.”
Children should be brought up in an organic society surrounded by their peers and plenty of loving adults but not one demanding self-extension, in an atmosphere something like a kibbutz but with the additional advantage of sexual freedom. And if a relationship is dead, it’s better to walk out on it than sleep with the corpse, all the while making policy statements that everything is just line. As for the so-called permissive society, where it affects women it is only a new version of the old repression. `Sexual enlightenment happened under government subsidy, so that its discoveries were released in bad prose and clinical jargon upon the world’ and women allow the results to be worked out joylessly upon them. Even in the underground movement she sees sadly that girls can’t resist the old habits of servility. ‘They are the ones who roll the joints and keep the pads clean.’ She preaches a counsel of perfection which she agrees is near impossible to achieve and admits that she, too, can be guilty of thoroughly regressive behaviour. Like getting married and in three weeks allowing herself to be turned from a happy, independent woman into a complete character cripple, cringing and creeping for signs of love. There came a moment in Shepherds Bush when ‘every landscape that did not contain my husband was beautiful’ and she fled, but even now she feels a burden of guilt and anger that she could so hurt and confuse someone else, and be wantonly destructive, degrading everything she believes in. She is aware that she will be accused of preaching a doctrine of irresponsibility but argues that it is more irresponsible to submit, within a false system, to a series of false contingencies and dignify them with the name of destiny.
There is a fallacy here. There never was and never can be a golden age when men and women can stand free, alone and strong, each abiding by their own pleasure principle and expecting no more than a complementary joyous response from their companions. Nor, unless human beings become gods, will it ever be possible for each individual to become master (or should it be mistress?) of his own fate. Quite apart from human interaction and reaction, people are vulnerable at a more primitive level to the circumstances of their environment. No one remains immune from the accidents of nature and, be they good or bad, the basic human instinct towards tribalism is still the surest means of protection and exploitation. And must dependence, the need one person feels for another, always be condemned as parasitical and an indication of emotional weakness? Few would claim that marriage today is a perfect state and Germaine Greer’s chapter on the aetiology of the middle-class myth of love and marriage is one of the most interesting in the book. But she is certainly not alone in condemning the dual morality of our society which enjoins strict monogamy on the woman while recognising and catering for man’s natural polygamy. Once it was the price exacted for being kept and a sure way of safeguarding the patrilinear succession of property: today, supported by the sexologists, women are turning the myth into an anachronism. As the view gains ground, and we might be surprised if we knew the extent to which it already has, marriage will become due for a drastic reappraisal. A recent series of articles in The Guardian debated the possibility of a fundamental alteration in the husband-wife relationship, leading eventually to a new flexibility. A couple in New York have already decided that ‘only a fool would sign a contract for life’ and, after a civil marriage, made an agreement to review the situation every tive years. Maybe the time is not far off when our lawmakers will have to concen- trate their attention upon the condi- tions of marriage rather than upon those of divorce.
A more serious failure in her argument is her evasion of the child-bearing issue. Nowhere does she discuss in depth the implications of motherhood, but all the evidence is against her when she states that ‘children are more disturbed by changes of place than by changes in personnel around them, and more distressed by friction and ill-feeling between the adults in their environment than by unfamiliarity.’ The despised umbilical link may have been exaggerated or distorted, but it exists, and it matters, and it can’t be left out of any realistic reconstruction programme.
Germaine Greer’s book will be fairly reprehensible to people with lace-curtained minds, but for those who enjoy “raiding the unknown’ – her definition of acquiring knowledge — this book is a copiously plundered assault. She writes memorably and she is extraordinarily erudite, able to quote a source for every point and select discriminatingly from the classics and the ephemera of all ages. Anyone who feels even obscurely or intermittently dissatisfied with things as they are should read it.