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She's Baaaack! 

Germaine Greer on Hillary, male aggression, foreplay in the '50s and more

Wednesday, Jun 23 1999
Photo by Carolyn Djanogly
THERE ARE TWO KINDS OF AMERICAN FEMINISTS: those who thought Germaine Greer was loony in 1970, when she first burst on the scene as a 6-foot, drop-dead-gorgeous young (Australian-born) Brit urging us, in The Female Eunuch, to taste our menstrual blood and get in touch with the aggressively contractile powers of the vagina. Then there are those who decided she was loony a few years later, with her book Sex and Destiny, in which she turned against sex, feminism, contraception and abortion, and held up as a role model the involuntarily multiparous Third World woman with a flock of grandkids in tow. I belong to the latter category -- doting on the firebrand of the '70s and dismayed by the puritanical sourpuss she turned into in the '80s. To me, Greer seemed to be a clear case of what Katha Pollitt recently called "solipsisterhood" -- the tendency of some women writers to generalize from their own small store of personal experience into universal pronouncements on womanhood. The young and beautiful Greer was a pro-sex feminist; the childless, menopausal one was an apparently embittered self-described "crone."

But the point is, everyone, pretty much, agreed she was loony. So when word of her latest book, immodestly entitled The Whole Woman, leaked across the Atlantic, the literate feminist community was gripped with anticipatory shudders of horror. What -- post-feminism, post-sex -- could she possibly do next, announce her membership in the Christian Coalition? And how would we explain her to our daughters?

So what a delight to read The Whole Woman and find that she's back -- the old kick-ass, motor-mouthed radical who some of us, anyway, knew and loved. She's a feminist again, not to mention an out socialist and, at the same time, outrageously, unpredictably un-P.C. -- sort of Camille Paglia with principles. True, she's not exactly a sex fiend anymore, but just when you think she's sounding a little like Andrea Dworkin, she whips around and surprises you with a decisively un-Dworkian insight, such as that feminists have made too much of a deal over the penis: "Of all the parts of a man that can hurt, a penis is the least." There's still the loose-cannon factor to contend with, as when she denounces male transsexuals or argues that female genital mutilation isn't all that bad, at least compared to silicone implants. But overall, The Whole Woman is imbued with a maturity and sweep that supersedes all of Greer's earlier incarnations. It's brave and smart and funny and also deeply hopeful, as when she tells us at the end, "The second wave of feminism, rather than having crashed on to the shore, is still far out to sea, slowly and inexorably gathering momentum."

Greer spoke with the Weekly by phone.

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L.A. WEEKLY: I have a sort of gossipy question about why you wrote The Whole Woman. You say in the foreword there were women of your own generation who started saying feminism had gone too far. Were you thinking of Betty Friedan with her book The Second Stage?

GERMAINE GREER: No, I didn't mean Betty. I always thought she had a very conservative idea of what liberation would be like and always thought of it as getting power within the existing system . . . No, the person I was referring to was someone more important to me, namely Fay Weldon . . . She has a new husband who's somewhat younger than she is, and now we're suddenly hearing [from her] that men are in trouble and that we should stop trying to work out our own liberation and go back to raise the wounded male and rebuild him.


You argue that in some ways women are worse off than they were 30 years ago. I keep wondering if there is anything we -- feminists of our generation, that is -- could have done better.

I don't think so. I think the things working against us were structural in our social system. What actually happened was that capitalism or the bosses or whatever we want to call them just sidestepped organized labor and drew this whole pool of auxiliary labor into the work force, which was women who are working now, in so many cases, under these terrible conditions, without any possibility of amelioration. Most of them would probably rather not be working at all. They're probably trying to take up the slack where the head of the family is unemployed. But now working women get blamed for undermining the working man, trying to bite his balls off.


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