Un-Germaine Thoughts on Greer

Article excerpt

There is a type of woman in the world whose attitude has always been a puzzle to me. This woman feels herself, by virtue of her "womanliness," both superior to other women and powerful among men. Her sexual conquests afford her bragging rights; her refusal to define herself as traditionally feminine is her triumph. When such a person is a feminist icon, there can be dangerous results. Germaine Greer's "femme fatale" style, which worked beautifully at the height of the '70s second wave feminism, is 30 years after her splash onto the scene, unnecessary.

Let's face it. Greer is no longer in the minority of women who choose career, creativity and independence over marriage and motherhood. And she is definitely not one of only a few who defy female socialization in all ways--including entertaining a variety of men in her boudoir. To take a page out of her new book, The Whole Woman, what looked like breaking ground in the '70s looks, in the '90s, a little like failure to live a self-realized life in the real world.

Does this sound mean-spirited? No more than just about every page of The Whole Woman, a book that Greer claims she didn't want to write, but one which she "got tired of waiting for someone else" to write. "It's time to get angry again," she asserts, which effectively means berating men, and slapping women (including feminists) on the wrists for allowing themselves to be led down the garden path of pseudo equality. Women's liberation is still not a reality, and far from the coveted acceptance of our glorious differences as women, we have become, according to Greer, even more trapped by institutionalized misogyny. In short, we are much worse off, a point Ms. Greer spends 330 pages attempting to shock into our brains.

As a daughter of the second wave, I tended to accept the second wave's icons without question. After all, they led the modern fight for liberation, they dared to topple the status quo, they marched in the streets for the freedoms that I now enjoy. It's only recently that I have begun to research my ancestral feminists. Greer first made a name for herself with the 1970 publication of The Female Eunuch--a polemical appreciation of the power and beauty of female sexuality. It appeared at the height of "consciousness raising" and was accompanied by a publicity campaign which capitalized fully on Greer's "exuberantly heterosexual" image. "I refuse to be a female impersonator," she wrote. "I am a woman, not a castrate." Sporting a fox boa over a risque outfit, she'd take to the podium and then cut her opponents down to size. The more sexual she appeared, the more provocative her message was perceived. Interesting, when you consider that her own mother's 'flirtatiousness' was a source of embarrassment to her--a fact blatantly and perhaps cruelly revealed in her 1989 memoir of her distant father. She's intelligent, well read, well travelled. But I'm suspicious of her need to stir up controversy for its own sake--which is what most of The Whole Woman is about.

"Why think when you can rage?" asks Margaret Talbot in The New Republic in a recent critique of The Whole Woman. Feminists and critics are divided on just exactly how relevant Greer's great leaps of imagination are to the current feminist dialogue. Elm Street's executive editor, Elizabeth Renzetti, a frequent commentator on women's issues, finds it "invigorating that Greer is still considered a force that can galvanize women and the argument." An argument that Renzetti believes has been kidnapped by the "lifestyle feminists" that Greer so disdains, that the issues have been dumbed down to a mere battle of the sexes.

Penni Mitchell, editor of Herizons says she loves reading Greer's book. "Greer doesn't give a damn that she might offend anyone. She has a point to make and that is that women are getting screwed over. There's no nicey-nicey, tip toeing around it." Mitchell adds, "Life is interesting precisely because many seemingly contradictory things can be true at the same time. …