Authors: Germaine Greer

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Australian feminist

Author Works

Nonfiction:

The Female Eunuch, 1970

The Obstacle Race: The Fortunes of Women Painters and Their Work, 1979

Sex and Destiny: The Politics of Human Fertility, 1984

“Woman and Power in Cuba” in Women: A World Report, 1985

Shakespeare, 1986

The Madwoman’s Underclothes: Essays and Occasional Writings, 1968-1985, 1986

Daddy, We Hardly Knew You, 1989

The Change: Women, Aging, and the Menopause, 1991

Slip-Shod Sibyls: Recognition, Rejection, and the Woman Poet, 1995

The Whole Woman, 1999

John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, 2000

Drama:

Lysistrata: The Sex Strike, pr. 1999 (adaptation of Aristophanes’ play)

Edited Text:

Kissing the Rod: An Anthology of Seventeenth Century Women’s Verse, 1988

One Hundred and One Poems by One Hundred and One Women, 2001

Biography

A leading feminist, Germaine Greer has made a career of speaking, writing, and teaching English literature. She is the daughter of an English Royal Air Force officer who suffered “battle shock” in World War II, and her Australian mother seemed unable to deal with the demands of motherhood. Greer earned a B.A. and an M.A. in Australia and a Ph.D. at Cambridge University, England (on a scholarship). She was married once (in 1968, for about three weeks) to Paul du Feu (the first male nude centerfold for the British Cosmopolitan), and in the early 1990’s she lived in Europe and had a number of godchildren. She had no children of her own.{$I[AN]9810001911}{$I[A]Greer, Germaine}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Greer, Germaine}{$I[geo]AUSTRALIA;Greer, Germaine}{$I[tim]1939;Greer, Germaine}

Greer has written for numerous publications, including The Sunday Times, Harper’s, The Guardian, The New Republic, and Esquire. In the 1970’s and 1980’s she appeared on television talk shows frequently, where she was touted as a beautiful, vivacious symbol of the “sexual revolution” and a “feminist even men could like.” In 1971, at the height of the feminist argument that alarmed so many men, Greer joined in a debate with Norman Mailer (a contemporary writer and antifeminist who has been known to recommend violence against women to “keep them in line”). Greer founded the Tulsa Center for the Study of Women’s Literature, one of the first women’s study programs in the United States.

Greer is known for writing The Female Eunuch and the later Sex and Destiny: The Politics of Human Fertility, the first considered a classic in the early feminist movement, flamboyantly advocating sexual freedom while dismissing traditional attitudes toward women’s sexuality, and the latter a renunciation of the same sexual permissiveness in favor of chastity and arranged marriages. Greer uses the concept of the “female eunuch” as a metaphor for the lives of women all over the world; the term is suggestive of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle’s view of women as castrated males (sexless men called eunuchs). Greer employs this image to clarify her point that for too long and too often women have allowed themselves to be mere impotent imitations or shadows of men–with no rights, no legal status, and no voice but an echo of what men think, mean, and feel. She argues that women cannot wait for men to give them rights; rather, women must aggressively carve out their own rightful place in society.

This book was one of the most influential works of the women’s movement and is a good example of “images of women” criticism. Greer engages characteristic images of women to reveal the negative stereotyping of women as a class which effectively silences them and reinforces male supremacy. Greer argues that women have been castrated by the male-female polarity which makes “all heterosexual contact” a pattern of male power contracting female power. She logically calls for women to reject traditional marital relationships to become self-sufficient: A woman’s duty, she says, is to herself alone. She is responsible for her happiness–and for her orgasm as well.

Sex and Destiny, published fourteen years later, seems to contradict Greer’s earlier theories as she examines the apparent organization and control of women’s fertility, contraception, sexuality, chastity, and childbirth by worldwide patriarchal societies to enforce power over females. This is not a phenomenon that affects women in Third World countries alone, she argues, for it is manifested even more vigorously in the Western, “civilized” nations. Greer argues that female chastity has nothing to do with morality but everything to do with controlling women’s sexuality by enforcing prescriptive and proscriptive rules and laws to distort natural responses. She points out that rape and adultery laws, for example, often penalize women while allowing men to escape punishment.

Daddy, We Hardly Knew You chronicles Greer’s quest to discover the truth about her weak-willed biological father. The book is a mystery as well as a memoir and travel piece, but many critics believe the writing is better than the story, capable of filling the reader’s psyche with her “radically romantic, individualistic feminism.” Greer’s search for her father is meant to explain his emotional distance from her. Some critics have taken issue with her demonization of her abusive, narcissistic mother in this work.

Greer’s scholarly work includes Shakespeare, John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, and Kissing the Rod: An Anthology of Seventeenth Century Women’s Verse. The latter is the result of many hours spent poring over original manuscripts and archives. Greer’s The Madwoman’s Underclothes demonstrates her rapier wit and outrageous notions of sexual independence.

Greer returned to the spotlight with the publication of The Change, her detailed examination of the physical effects of the menopause and medical responses to its discomforts. In it, she also explores the treatment of female aging through literature and the lives of prominent women. Greer makes the case for aging gracefully, with or without the support of medical and cosmetic sciences.

The Whole Woman is Greer’s indictment of media and multinational corporations in their oppression of women’s bodies, hearts, and minds. It gathers together sources on such subjects as reproductive technology, cosmetic surgery, sex changes, cancer, housework, shopping, and violence against women. Her statistics and examples come from England, the United States, and other industrialized countries, as well as from the developing world. Greer argues that liberating women means changing society: redistributing the world food supply, providing clean water for all people, promoting motherhood as an acceptable career, and educating women worldwide, which she sees a way to curb population growth.

BibliographyBritain, Ian. Once an Australian: Journeys with Barry Humphries, Clive James, Germaine Greer, and Robert Hughes. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. These four Australians are writers and performers who left their country in the late 1950’s or early 1960’s. Britain examines the reasons for their expatriatism and which aspects of their Australian identity they retained.Castro, Ginette. American Feminism: A Contemporary History. Translated by Elizabeth Loverde-Bagwell. New York: New York University Press, 1990. Provides an eminently accessible introduction to the range and varieties of American feminism. Chapter 5, in which Greer is treated as an advocate of feminist androgyny, is especially relevant.Cohen, Marcia. The Sisterhood: The True Story of the Women Who Changed the World. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988. A biographical and historical record of the major forces in the feminist movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s that reveals the humanity as well as the philosophical differences of these women.Greer, Germaine. Daddy, We Hardly Knew You. New York: Viking Penguin, 1989. An investigation into the life of her father after he dies in 1983. Sheds light on Greer’s skeptical attitude toward the idealized nuclear family.Greer, Germaine. “My Mailer Problem.” In The Madwoman’s Underclothes: Essays and Occasional Writings. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1986. Greer describes her appearance in a televised debate with Norman Mailer.Mailer, Norman. The Prisoner of Sex. Boston: Little, Brown, 1971. An antifeminist book in which Greer and other feminists appear.Plante, David. Difficult Women: A Memoir of Three. New York: Atheneum, 1983. Plante reveals personal and professional details of his friendship with Greer, focusing on her home in Italy and her work in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for the Women’s Center. A colorful portrait of a complicated, forceful, yet believable and compassionate woman.Wallace, Christine. Germaine Greer, Untamed Shrew. New York: Faber & Faber, 1999. This unauthorized biography portrays Greer as talented and daring but also as misogynistic and hypocritical. A review called the book “careful, well-informed …surprisingly fair.”
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