Until recently, The Female Eunuch wasn’t even lurking, War and Peace style, in my reading pipeline. Nobody had ever suggested that I read it, Amazon included, and it just never seemed to home into view, so to speak, though I’ve always been a fan of Germaine Greer. It was actually a Guardian article, The Female Eunuch 40 Years On, that made my little grey cells prick up thoughtfully and, on a whim, I finished said article and instantly bought a second hand copy of the 1970 edition online. And once I started to cart the book around with me, I realised that it was no wonder it had never been recommended. Not because it is unrecommendable (far from it!), but rather because of the peculiar reactions it produced in people. I got sneers, raised eyebrows; ultimately looks of disgust with… what was that flickering… was that… it couldn’t be… could it? Yes, it could. It was fear! People were afraid of this book. What made it all the more bizarre is that I couldn’t find a single person who’d actually read it and when I asked any of the fearful what they thought it was about, they just said something along the lines of “man hating, feminist nonsense,” and the sentiment was almost certainly followed by “I can’t stand Germaine Greer.”
What I discovered in the first few pages of this book was life changing. Not in the sense that it opened my eyes to a new way of thinking, but that it corresponded, almost exactly, with what I’d spent my life being told was a weird perspective on life. I was wrapt. For once, someone other than my mother was in agreement and it felt like a homecoming. I was a feminist by default, not design, it would seem.
I haven’t felt this way about a book since Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook. Erudite, witty, insightful and delightful, this book should be every woman’s bible. The anger and force of a strong writer pervades throughout, but this is not merely about slating the male. In fact, Greer’s points are often as sympathetic to the man as to the woman, which is particularly pronounced in her denunciation of the way we are brought up to believe women the fairer sex; feeble creatures who should be treated like glass dolls to be looked after like possessions. As Greer rightly questions: what man wouldn’t be grateful to have the burden of being the protector lifted from his shoulders? In addition, when the question of female superiority is raised, Greer highly criticises women’s lib’ groups who attempt to elevate themselves above men, deeming them childish. These groups are, in her eyes, one of the reasons feminists have a bad reputation amongst the male population.
From burning witches to burning bras, The Female Eunuch is a history lesson on the lives of women, female liberation, the suffragette movement and the shortfall of western society. The inefficiency of our social order is Greer’s main bugbear, as it is mine. But, like anything that threatens to drastically change our way of life, it brings about a fear. Fear of disruption, fear of revolution, fear of change and the uprooting of the comfortable morals we lazily live by.
Of course, every person is different and not every point rang true for me. The unforeseen pooh-poohing of female ejaculation made me positively cross, since, without going into too much detail, I know for a fact that it is not a myth*. And, what with it being written some forty years ago, some sections are slightly outdated or irrelevant. It all added to the charm as I found myself comparing the life of the ‘70s woman to the woman in patriarchal society today and I put the book down and instantly wanted to know how Greer felt these days. Luckily for me, she has written another book: The Whole Woman.
Fiercely interesting from beginning to end, this book hit no lulls. Germaine Greer concisely presents the problem as she sees it, the history, the facts and the solution; a rational and shrewd theory of how society ought to be broken down and rebuilt on an equal footing.
* If you e-mail me nicely, I might explain
The Women’s Room ~ Marilyn French
The Golden Notebook ~ Doris Lessing