Feminism/Literature/The Female Eunuch

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The Female Eunuch is a 1970 book by Germaine Greer that became an international bestseller and an important text in the feminist movement. Greer became well known in broadcast media of the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and her home of Australia. It has been translated into eleven languages.[1]

Description[edit]

The book is a feminist analysis, written with a mixture of polemic and scholarly research. It was a key text of the feminist movement in the 1970s, broadly discussed and criticized by other feminists and the wider community, particularly through the author's high profile in the broadcast media. In sections titled "Body", "Soul", "Love" and "Hate" Greer examines historical definitions of women's perception of self and uses a premise of imposed limitations to critique modern consumer societies, female "normality", and masculine shaping of stereotypes quoting, "The World has lost its soul, and I my sex."[2] In contrast to earlier feminist works, Greer uses humour, boldness, and coarse language to present a direct and candid description of female sexuality; much of this subject having remained undiscussed in English-speaking societies. The work bridged academia and the contemporary arts in presenting the targets of the final section of the book, Revolution; it is in accord, and often associated with, a creative and revolutionary movement of the period.

Greer argues that men hate women, though the latter do not realize this and are taught to hate themselves (Wallace 1997).

Greer references the loss of women's freedom with the "sudden death of communism" (1989) as catapult for women the world over for a sudden transition into consumer Western society wherein there is little to no protection for mothers and the disabled; here, there is no freedom to speak:

The freedom I pleaded for twenty years ago was freedom to be a person, with dignity, integrity, nobility, passion, pride that constitute personhood. Freedom to run, shout, talk loudly and sit with your knees apart. Freedom to know and love the earth and all that swims, lies, and crawls upon it...most of the women in the world are still afraid, still hungry, still mute and loaded by religion with all kinds of fetters, masked, muzzled, mutilated and beaten.

The Female Eunuch hit the bookstands in London in October 1970. By March 1971, it had nearly sold out its second printing and had been translated into 11 languages.

The main thesis of The Female Eunuch is that the "traditional" suburban, consumerist, nuclear family represses women sexually, and that this devitalizes them, rendering them eunuchs. It is a "fitful, passionate, scattered text, not cohesive enough to qualify as a manifesto," writes Laura Miller. "It's all over the place, impulsive, and fatally naive -- which is to say it is the quintessential product of its time." [3]

"The title is an indication of the problem," Greer told the New York Times. "Women have somehow been separated from their libido, from their faculty of desire, from their sexuality. They've become suspicious about it. Like beasts, for example, who are castrated in farming in order to serve their master's ulterior motives -- to be fattened or made docile -- women have been cut off from their capacity for action. It's a process that sacrifices vigor for delicacy and succulence, and one that's got to be changed." (March 22, 1971). "The essential factor in self-realization is independence, resistance to enculturation; the danger inherent in this is that of excessive independence or downright eccentricity; neverheless, such people are more capable of giving love, if what Rogers said of love is to be believed, that 'we can love a person only to the extent we are not threatened by him'. Our self-realizing person might claim to be capable of loving everybody because he cannot be threatened by anybody.[4]:

His word pronouced 'selfishness' blessed, the wholesome healthy selfishness that wells from a powerful soul - from a powerful soul to which belongs a high body, beautiful, triumphant, refreshing, around which everything becomes a mirror - the supple, persuasive body, the dancer whose parable and epitome is the self-enjoying soul.

Two of the book's themes already point the way to Greer's later book Sex and Destiny, namely that the nuclear family is a bad environment for women and for the raising of children; and that the commoditization of women's sexuality by Western society was demeaning and confining. Girls are feminized from childhood by being taught rules that subjugate them, she argued. Later, when women embrace the stereotypical version of adult femininity, they develop a sense of shame about their own bodies, and lose their natural and political autonomy. The result is powerlessness, isolation, a diminished sexuality, and a lack of joy:

The ignorance and isolation of most women mean that they are incapable of making conversation: most of their communication with their spouses is a continuation of the power struggle. The result is that when wives come along to dinner parties they pervert civilized conversation about real issues into personal quarrels. The number of hostesses who wish they did not have to invite wives is legion.

Greer argues that change had to come about via revolution, not evolution. Women should get to know and come to accept their own bodies, taste their own menstrual blood, and give up celibacy and monogamy. Yet they should not burn their bras. "Bras are a ludicrous invention," she wrote, "but if you make bralessness a rule, you're just subjecting yourself to yet another repression."[5]

While being interviewed about the book in 1971, Greer told The New York Times that she had been a "supergroupie". "Supergroupies don't have to hang around hotel corridors," she said. "When you are one, as I have been, you get invited backstage. I think groupies are important because they demystify sex; they accept it as physical, and they aren't possessive about their conquests." While Greer continued to be renowned as the outspoken author of The Female Eunuch, she mainly published works of academic feminism or studies of historical female artists. In 1999, The Whole Woman was published with the first line, "This sequel to The Female Eunuch is the book I said I would never write."[6]

Notes[edit]

  1. Wilde, W H; Hooton, Joy and Andrews, Barry (1994) [1985]. The Oxford companion to Australian Literature (2nd ed.). Melbourne: Oxford University Press. p. 271. ISBN 0 19 553381 X. "... the book became almost a sacred text for the international women's liberation movement of the 1970s, notwithstanding sporadic criticism of aspects of its ideology from some feminists." 
  2. Greer, Germaine. "The Female Eunuch." UK: Harper Perennial, 2006.
  3. Laura Miller (1999-06-22). "Germaine Greer". Brilliant Careers. Salon. pp. 1 of 2. http://www.salon.com/people/bc/1999/06/22/greer. Retrieved 2007-05-22. "They didn't become megastars, but they became a librarian or something. I've heard women say again and again when the subject of Germaine comes up: 'Well, her book changed my life for the better.' And they'll be modest women living pretty ordinary lives, but better lives." Women entirely unlike Germaine Greer, the feminist who improved the world in spite of herself." 
  4. Greer, Germaine. "The Female Eunuch." UK: Harper Perennial, 2006.
  5. (Foreword to the Paladin 21st Anniversary Edition, 2006).
  6. Greer. The Whole Woman Doubleday, ISBN 0385 60016X

External links[edit]