Magazine article The Spectator

From Bras to Briefcases

Magazine article The Spectator

From Bras to Briefcases

Article excerpt

Who's afraid of Germaine Greer? I am, for starters. The Whole Woman makes repeated pre-emptive swipes at younger female journalists half her age in years and rather less in crossness. Her hits are at least as frequent as her misses, and even the latter have a style all their own. The Whole Woman is full to bursting with ideas. You can disagree with the central tenet of Greer's thesis -- which is that transformative liberation rather than a workaday quest for equality is the only sort of feminism worth pursuing, and consequently that nothing much has been achieved in the three decades since The Female Eunuch was published - and still relish her talent for making surreal sense of all sorts of modern madnesses: `The extent to which women have followed the phallocratic script was memorably illustrated when Lorena Bobbitt cut off her husband's penis instead of his head', or the idea that women who make overtures to jailed killers are attracted to them because they are caged rather than because they are killers.

As a feminist call to arms, though, The Whole Woman is problematic. Greer's jeremiad about the modern Western world is too concerned with haves and have-nots - or consumers and conservers - to deal accurately with men and women. In a rousing chapter on housework as an addictive disorder she argues that the millions of brainwashed houseworkers whose delinquent profligacy with bleach-based agents will never be made illegal should be driven across the land like criminals instead of New Age travellers `who live in caravans and huts and tents where chrome and formica are never seen'. All good green radical stuff, but very little to do with feminism: there are more men than women on the gypsy road.

Greer argues that

if you believe . . . that to be feminist is to understand that before you are of any race, nationality, religion, party or family, you are a woman, then the collapse in the economic power of the majority of women in the world as a direct consequence of western hegemony must concern you.

She exhorts us to recognise as our own the struggle of those women who `donned the chador and howled the Americans out of Iran'. But what of the women who had their textbooks burnt and the chador thrust upon them? Sisterhood's a tall enough order among similarly educated women in the West. It is crazy, as well as patronising, to think we can manage any better not falling out when some of us are veiled.

Greer is more convincing when more parochial. Her denunciation of the screening of women for breast and cervical cancers - `Women are driven through the health system like sheep through a dip. The disease that they are being treated for is womanhood' -- makes unsettling reading. Ditto her vitriolic condemnation of fertility doctors who promise babies and deliver years of disappointment and heartache not least because of the breathtaking contempt she exhibits for the alleged victims of the quacks in white coats when she suggests that

hypnosis would be the cheapest and perhaps the most effective way to relieve the suffering of the child-desiring infertile woman.

As for those women who do become mothers -- preferably without recourse to sinisterly motivated medical intervention - Greer believes in throwing serious amounts of money at them. She has no time for panics about the effects of fatherlessness on children, and wants none of the weasel-worded politicians' protestations about the nuclear family being a preferred ideal which at present accompany the meagre state hand-outs available. Indeed her plan is more reminiscent of H. G. Wells's scheme for the endowment of motherhood - a scheme which made of women who would bear children an eccentric race apart, and which was condemned by Fabian feminists at the time as a feckless fornicator's charter - than it is of safety-net postwar welfarism.

On childcare Greer is uncharacteristically trusting of the ameliorative properties of cash. The children of working parents only suffer because of the lack of affordable childcare. …

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