Discuss Germaine Greer’s views towards feminism from the 1970’s to the 1990’s. To What extent does she reflect the ideas of other contemporary feminist writers? Germaine Greer was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1939. She had a strict catholic upbringing and appeared not to be supported very well by her parents. Because of this her childhood experiences could be seen as instrumental and this may have caused to question her role in life.
From an early age Greer began to question many things, for example at home her mother favoured her brother over her and she began to notice that boys were treated better than girls. Also whilst attending the Star of the Sea convent she was once dismissed from class for disagreeing with a nun who said that communism was the devil’s work. Upon leaving school Greer soon dropped her catholic faith although it is still viewed by many today that she still holds many of their beliefs. After her education at the convent Greer enrolled at Melbourne University in 1956 and graduated with a BA honours in 1958.
From here Greer moved to Sydney in 1959 where she went on to study and graduate with a 1st class honours MA in 1963. Upon arriving in Sydney Greer joined a group known as ‘the Push’ and became a very active member. They provided Greer with a Philosophy to emphasize the attitudes and lifestyle she had already acquired in Melbourne. Instead of being like the group she had joined in Melbourne known as ‘the Drift’ who mainly referred to art, truth and beauty as their main ideology, the push ‘talked about the truth and only truth, insisting that most of what we were exposed to during the day was ideology, which was a synonym for – or bullshit, as they called it.’ (Wallace:1997:p87).
Greer believed this group helped her realise what she wanted to achieve in life, she believed she was already an anarchist although she didn’t know why. The push gave her the backbone of what she needed to realise how she felt and thought about life. In the late 1960’s Greer emigrated to England where she gained an PHD from Cambridge in 1968. She also started writing for the London magazine, ‘Oz’ a magazine that became quite controversial for the time it was written. Oz featured Germaine’s explicit views about her care-free and heavily sexed lifestyle. The magazine even featured her hand-knitted fashions such as the cock sock, ‘a snug corner for a chilly prick’.
In 1970 Greer went on to publish The Female Eunuch, it was known as the feminist book of the seventies, a worldwide best seller and was translated into more than twelve languages. It became so popular because many found her feminism ideology less hostile and more attractive than Kate Millet’s openly lesbian and antagonistic variety. Men were also more amenable towards Greer’s views in that women were incomplete and stunted and needed to do something to change this (hence the title).
The Female Eunuch argued that ‘a women has the right to express her own sexuality’ and that ‘the rejection of the concept of female libido as merely responsive is essential to female liberation’ was very much likely to attract a large audience of ‘enlightened men’. It also attracted women into thinking that they too could become sexually assertive, although upon reading the book she supplies little evidence of this and whether it is actually possible at all.
Greer’s most famous quote comes from the Female Eunuch, she quotes ‘Women have very little idea of how much men hate them’. The book itself gives many references to women being ‘forced to’ to do all kinds of things such as accepting false accounts of themselves from people such as psychologists, religious leaders, women’s magazines and in particular men. She claims that women are a sexual object for the use and appreciation of men.
Although Greer added very little gist to already existing feminist thoughts, she was more populist and easier to read than other’s before her. Feminists in the past had been known as very harsh and often seen as masculine where as Greer became known as sexy and ‘the saucy feminist that even men like’. Greer believed the first wave of feminism was now practically dead and she had brought about the second wave of feminism which, called for sexual liberation which went down well with those who had just lived through the swinging sixties and she also appealed to housewives asking them to take a stance as they were not liberated in their lives. However, this view had already been upheld by Betty Friedan and Greer just simply agreed with it.
The problem with the book as Greer found was that many people failed to read between the lines of it. Her main understanding of the root cause of the sexually castrated women was masculinity. She believed the essence of masculinity was a large split of thought and feeling and gave a predisposition towards violence and the degradation of women. In later life she want on to describe her book as an analysis of sex oppression and it is clear to see in the eunuch who the sexual oppressors and who the sexually oppressed are.
In Greer’s book The Change, published in 1993, she argued that female sexuality is misrepresented and denied because it is identified with submissiveness. She believed women had been castrated in terms of masculine-feminine polarity, ‘in which men commandeered all the energy and streamlined it into an aggressive conquisatorial power, reducing heterosexual contact to a sadomasochistic pattern’ (Greer:1993:p18).
Greer has also adopted Marxist ideology (set out earlier by Kate Millet) and argues that women are the true proletariats in society, and that a revolution can only occur if women withdraw their support for the capitalist system. In 1984 after her great success of the female eunuch which challenged women to change the way they thought about themselves, sex, love and society Greer published ‘Sex and Destiny’ in which she questions many aspects of women’s lives which follows on from the Eunuch with the concepts of the family, child-rearing, contraception, sexual activity, the ethics of family, the idea of over-population and where it all may be leading us.
Greer holds very strong views throughout this book particularly on the section on abortion and infanticide where she excessively gives an account research in one of the first main forms of contraception which she calls the ‘biggest hazard’ in order for pregnancy to occur which was known as the Intrauterine Device (the IUD). During the chapter she heavily criticises it’s use and the problem’s it has caused around the world because it does not stop women becoming pregnant which means from that a human life has already started growing (from Greer’s point of view anyway) and what the IUD does is once the egg has become fertilised and tries to implant itself into the womb the IUD stops this from occurring. ‘People who might be exasperated by the humbug of disguising the real nature of IUD’s, suspicious of the blurring of logic in such arguments, more respectful of their own bodies than to bury abortionist’s tools in them, are also unreasonable and to be ridden over, smooth-shod.’ (Greer:1984:p172).
Greer also holds radical views on nature, the differences between the sexes, and science. She refers to the ‘dogmatism of science’ a theory adopted by feminists during the eighties, which specifies that modern science, maths, philosophy and logic were developed by males, and that they were oppressive and so they need to be re-placed by feminist forms of science. They also believed that nature, the human body and society are infinitely plastic, in that they can be easily changed. In her arguments regarding the differences between the sexes, Greer implies that if women only exercised as much as men do then they would develop equally big muscles! Although during this research Greer only looked upon Ann Oakley who claims than in societies where the labour is more physical and intensive and where women do the heavy work and men do not, she exclaimed that there is almost no difference between the physique of men and women.
From this Greer extended her views of the physical (as infinitely plastic) to behaviour and the workings the mind, ignoring well-known evidence (which she actually referred to) Greer argued that fifty years of complete and thorough testing had failed ‘to discover any pattern of differentiation in male and female intellectual powers’. In conjunction with the release of Greer’s latest book, The Whole woman (1999), she explained in an interview that it’s time again for women to stop being so grateful and to start getting angry again. In the interview she identifies herself as an anarchist, ‘I’m an anarchist basically, I don’t think the future lies in constraining people into doing stuff they are not good at and don’t want to do.’ (The Observer:March:1999)