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
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
Lysistrata: The Sex Strike, pr. 1999 (adaptation of Aristophanes’ play)
Kissing the Rod: An Anthology of Seventeenth Century Women’s Verse, 1988
One Hundred and One Poems by One Hundred and One Women, 2001
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.
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.