Germaine Greer

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Germaine Greer (born 1939) is a prominent Australian feminist and academic writer, one of the most influential names in 20th-century "second-wave" feminism.

Early life

Greer was born in Melbourne, Australia, and went to a convent school, Star of the Sea Convent, Gardenvale. After getting a BA at Melbourne University in 1959 and a Masters degree with first class honors at Sydney University in 1962, she won a Commonwealth Scholarship to Newnham College, Cambridge University, England, where she obtained a Ph.D in in 1967 writing her thesis on Shakespeare's early comedies. Between 1967 and 1972 she lectured in English literature at the University of Warwick. In 1968 she married Paul du Feu, from whom she was soon afterwards divorced.

The Female Eunuch

In 1970 she published The Female Eunuch which attracted attention because Greer was mainly concerned with sexuality and defined "liberation" as promiscuity and the abolition of marriage and monogamy. Drawing many of her ideas from the already prevalent wave of permissiveness in the Western world, and also from such predecessors as Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan and Helen Gurley Brown she enthusiastically advocated a life of casual sexual encounters and dismissed marriage as "slavery". She wrote scornfully of romance. Greer boldly claimed that "Children don't need to be brought up. They grow up anyway". She thought housework could be abolished if people lived in communes where the chores were done by a "local family" i.e. someone else, conveniently happy to play a servant role. The book ended with a euphoric vision of women smoking marijuana and "demanding abortions". Greer's ideas had little in common with the grass roots feminist movement in the UK at the time, which was more concerned with issues such as obtaining equal pay for women working at the Ford factory in Dagenham, London.[1]

Many feminists were not convinced that sleeping with more different male partners would make women any freer, but the book was a press sensation and ensured that Greer became a celebrity for the rest of her life, frequently asked to speak in public or on television, and commanding high fees for doing so.

By 1972, the global success of The Female Eunuch had made her rich enough to resign her academic post, and buy a villa in Italy. She became a free-lance lecturer and journalist.

Anti-censorship Campaigning

In the years that followed, Greer widened the gap between herself and the admittedly very fragmented and miscellaneous feminist movement. She was an indefatigable self-publicist, and while leading American feminists (such as Kate Millett) were critical of pornography and prostitution, Greer became a champion of permissiveness. She appeared at porn festivals where films of group sex, bestiality etc. were displayed, and allowed an Amsterdam magazine to print a photograph of her nude, grinning between her raised legs over the top of her bare groin. She was active in struggles against censorship, contributing to the Australian magazine OZ and in 1972 appearing for the defense in two obscenity trials in Australia. [2]

Return to Academia

In 1979 Greer became a professor in the Graduate Faculty of Modern Letters at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma, and she later became director of that university's Center for the Study of Women's Literature, positions she relinquished to return to full-time writing and broadcasting.[3]

The Obstacle Race, her second book, published in 1979, examined the work of several distinguished women painters of the past, in the light of the difficulties they had faced working in a man's profession. Though the topic is a very worthy one, and the book coincided with the arrival of Women's Studies as an academic subject, it was hampered by the fact that Greer was not an art historian by academic training.

Greer's third book Sex and Destiny: The Politics of Human Fertility (1984), bewildered readers by appearing to go back on everything she had said in The Female Eunuch. Whereas she had denounced the Western "nuclear family" as oppressive, she now decided to idealize and defend the Asiatic extended family, in which women are sent into early, arranged marriages, are expected to do all the housework, and have up to fifteen children, while facing disgrace and shame if they are divorced. She herself had never lived in an extended family (unless we count her affair with the married author Martin Amis),[4] but she decided that they were underrated. Having touted for a permissive lifestyle premised on the availability of contraception and abortion for relatively rich women, she now deplored government programs offering birth control to populations so poor that most of their children were dying of starvation. She offered some surprising arguments for artificial birth control being unnecessary (even suggesting some alternatives rather too indecent to mention here). The same author who had belittled tradition in the West now argued that we must not destroy traditional cultures and ways of life. In the intervals of idealizing Third World poverty and deploring Western materialism, she could always go back to spend a few months at her villa in Tuscany. In 1989 Greer became a special lecturer and unofficial fellow of Newnham College, Cambridge University.

Autobiographical Writing

In the same year, she brought out what is possibly her best book, "Daddy, we hardly knew you" [5] In this book she describes her childhood, in which her mother who had Asperger's Syndrome was cold, rejecting and cruel while her father was almost entirely absent. He left to serve in World War II when she was aged four, and even when he returned he was a cold and vacant man, withdrawn, with many secrets. Greer tracked down her father and inadvertently revealed in the book that she was a person who had lacked, in her childhood, any model of a close or warm marital relationship between a mother and father. She came from a broken family. This leaves room to speculate that her disdain for marriage and love was derived from her own emotional limitation. What she called liberation and revolution may simply have been a personal inadequacy.

In 1995, Greer revealed that she had been raped at the age of nineteen when in Australia. Her attacker, who beat her and left her unconscious, was never identified. These personal experiences seem to have been extrapolated into her conviction that women in the late 20th-century Western world were still oppressed by men and had a huge collective grievance. [6]

Later Books

In 2003 Greer published her most embarrassing book The Boy [7] a picture album of beautiful boys, with her commentary. It is impossible to quote anything from this that would be to her credit. Critics tried loyally to uphold the idea that it was liberating for women of 64 to drool over young lads who could be their grandchildren.

In 2007 Greer published Shakespeare's Wife,[8] a study of Anne Hathaway that seeks to persuade us that it was the Bard's wife who paid for the publication of the First Folio thus doing an invaluable service to the world. Though the theory is a kind one, and Greer did a lot of archival research into the lives and activities of women in 16th-century Stratford, she never really brings any convincing arguments for this conclusion and does not offer any new discoveries.

Clashes with LGBT Movement

In recent years, Greer has come under attack from the LGBT movement for her opposition to transgender ideology. In 2009 she wrote a column saying that men passing as women "seem to us ghastly parodies" and that they were suffering from "a delusion". She refused to recant and since them has been regularly denounced by transgender rights groups. In 2012 she was glitter-bombed in New Zealand by some of these activists.[9] In England in 2015 an LGBT group tried to ban her from speaking at Cardiff University because of her views on this issue. Greer first said she would not speak, then after much furore, she changed her mind and decided to give the talk. It is curious that a woman who was once so popular for her non-traditional views is now unpopular because of her traditional views and is banned because of her views on the only subject on which she has ever been undoubtedly, completely correct.[10]

References