Greer was the more quicksilver of the two, complaining about women "needing a man being nonsense" and then promptly declaring how much she loved this construction worker guy she had found...
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Germaine Greer at the "Humber Mouth" Hull literature festival 2006
|Born||29 January 1939
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
|Education||Melbourne University (B.A.)
Sydney University (M.A.)
Cambridge University (Ph.D.)
|Subjects||Art history, English literature, feminism|
|Notable work(s)||The Female Eunuch|
Greer's ideas have created controversy ever since her book The Female Eunuch became an international best-seller in 1970, turning her into a household name and bringing her both adulation and opposition. She is also the author of many other books including Sex and Destiny: The Politics of Human Fertility (1984); The Change: Women, Ageing and the Menopause (1991); Shakespeare's Wife (2007); and The Whole Woman (1999).
Greer has defined her goal as "women's liberation" as distinct from "equality with men". She asserts that women's liberation meant embracing gender differences in a positive fashion – a struggle for the freedom of women to define their own values, order their own priorities and determine their own fates. In contrast, Greer sees equality as mere assimilation and "settling" to live the lives of "unfree men".
Greer's various views, not just related to feminism, have attracted much controversy throughout her career.
Early life and careerGreer was born in Melbourne in 1939, growing up in the bayside suburb of Mentone. Her father was a newspaper advertising rep' who served in the wartime RAAF. After attending a private convent school, Star of the Sea College, in Gardenvale, she won a teaching scholarship in 1956 and enrolled at the University of Melbourne. After graduating with a degree in English and French language and literature, she moved to Sydney, where she became involved with the Sydney Push social milieu and the anarchist Sydney Libertarians at its centre. Christine Wallace, in her unauthorised biography, describes Greer at this time:
For Germaine, [the Push] provided a philosophy to underpin the attitude and lifestyle she had already acquired in Melbourne. She walked into the Royal George Hotel, into the throng talking themselves hoarse in a room stinking of stale beer and thick with cigarette smoke, and set out to follow the Push way of life – "an intolerably difficult discipline which I forced myself to learn". The Push struck her as completely different from the Melbourne intelligentsia she had engaged with in the Drift, "who always talked about art and truth and beauty and argument ad hominem; instead, these people talked about truth and only truth, insisting that most of what we were exposed to during the day was ideology, which was a synonym for lies – or bullshit, as they called it". Her Damascus turned out to be the Royal George, and the Hume Highway was the road linking it. "I was already an anarchist", she says. "I just didn't know why I was an anarchist. They put me in touch with the basic texts and I found out what the internal logic was about how I felt and thought.By 1972 Greer would identify as an anarchist communist, close to Marxism.
In her first teaching post, Greer lectured at the University of Sydney, where she also earned a first class MA in romantic poetry in 1963 with a thesis entitled The Development of Byron's Satiric Mode. A year later, the thesis won her a Commonwealth Scholarship, which she used to fund her doctorate at the University of Cambridge in England, where she became a member of the all-women's Newnham College.
Professor Lisa Jardine, who was at Newnham at the same time, recalled the first time she met Greer, at a formal dinner in college:
The principal called us to order for the speeches. As a hush descended, one person continued to speak, too engrossed in her conversation to notice, her strong Australian accent reverberating around the room. At the graduates' table, Germaine was explaining that there could be no liberation for women, no matter how highly educated, as long as we were required to cram our breasts into bras constructed like mini-Vesuviuses, two stitched white cantilevered cones which bore no resemblance to the female anatomy. The willingly suffered discomfort of the Sixties bra, she opined vigorously, was a hideous symbol of male oppression.... [We were] astonished at the very idea that a woman could speak so loudly and out of turn and that words such as 'bra' and 'breasts' – or maybe she said 'tits' – could be uttered amid the pseudo-masculine solemnity of a college dinner.Greer joined the student amateur acting company, the Cambridge Footlights, which launched her into the London arts and media scene. Using the pen name Rose Blight, she also wrote a gardening column for the satirical magazine Private Eye, and as Dr. G, became a regular contributor to the underground London magazine Oz, owned by the Australian writer Richard Neville. The 29 July 1970 edition was guest-edited by Greer, and featured an article of hers on the hand-knitted Cock Sock, "a snug corner for a chilly prick". She also posed nude for Oz on the understanding that the male editors would do likewise: they did not. Greer was also editor of the Amsterdam underground magazine Suck, which published a full-page photograph of Greer: "stripped to the buff, looking at the lens through my thighs". Greer has said that "cunt" is one of the few remaining words in the English language with a genuine power to shock."
In 1968 she received her PhD on the topic of Elizabethan drama with a thesis titled The Ethic of Love and Marriage in Shakespeare's Early Comedies, and accepted a lectureship in English at the University of Warwick in Coventry. The same year, in London, she married British carpenter and remodeller Paul du Feu, but the marriage lasted only three weeks, during which, as she later admitted, Greer was unfaithful several times. The marriage ended in divorce in 1973.
Middle careerFollowing the success of The Female Eunuch, Greer resigned her post at the University of Warwick in 1972 after travelling the world to promote her book. She co-presented a Granada Television comedy show called Nice Time with Kenny Everett and Jonathan Routh, bought a house in Italy, wrote a column for The Sunday Times, then spent the next few years travelling through Africa and Asia, which included a visit to Bangladesh to investigate the situation of women who had been raped during the conflict with Pakistan. On the New Zealand leg of her tour in 1972, Greer was arrested for using the words "bullshit" and "fuck" during her speech, which attracted major rallies in her support.
In the mid-1970s, Greer appeared on conservative William F. Buckley's Firing Line. In his memoir, Buckley recalled that Greer had "trounced him" during the debate. He wrote, "Nothing I said, and memory reproaches me for having performed miserably, made any impression or any dent in the argument. She carried the house overwhelmingly." In 1979 Greer was appointed to a post in the University of Tulsa, Oklahoma, as the director for the Center of the Study of Women's Literature. She was also the founding editor of Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature, an academic journal, during 1981–82.
Later career
In 2000 a female student was charged with assault and unlawful imprisonment of Greer in her own house. The student subsequently pleaded guilty to harassment, and the other charges were withdrawn.
Greer appeared alongside Daniel O'Donnell, the popular Irish crooner, on an RTÉ chat show in 2006. While O'Donnell spoke about love, cooking and his mother's pancakes, Greer mocked him by making faces to camera behind his back. The normally unflappable O'Donnell confronted her and some bitter words were exchanged.
Over the years Greer has continued to self-identify as an anarchist or Marxist. In her books she has dealt very little with political labels of this type, but has reaffirmed her position in interviews. She stated on ABC Television in 2008 that "I ought to confess I suppose that I'm a Marxist. I think that reality comes first and ideology comes second," and elaborated later in the program to a question on whether feminism was the only successful revolution of the 20th century saying:
"The difficulty for me is that I believe in permanent revolution. I believe that once you change the power structure and you get an oligarchy that is trying to keep itself in power, you have all the illiberal features of the previous regime. What has to keep on happening is a constant process of criticism, renewal, protest and so forth."Speaking on an interview for 3CR (an Australian community radio station), also in 2008, she described herself as "an old anarchist" and reaffirmed that opposition to "hierarchy and capitalism" were at the centre of her politics.
In January 2012, Greer appeared on the BBC television programme Question Time and affirmed her membership of the British Liberal Democrat party.
The University of Melbourne announced on 28 October 2013 that it will become the global repository for the lifetime archive of Greer's work. The archive includes letters from family, friends, writers, artists, academics, broadcasters, editors, scholars, critics, politicians and neighbours, in addition to numerous other items and will fill over 150 filing cabinet drawers. The transfer of the archive from Greer's British home will commence in July 2014 and the University will raise A$3 million in donations to facilitate the entire process. Greer has stated that the payment she will personally receive will be donated to her charity, The Friends of Gondwana Rainforest.
|This section of a biographical article needs additional citations for verification. (November 2011)|
The Female EunuchGreer argued in her book, The Female Eunuch, that women do not realise how much men hate them, and how much they are taught to hate themselves. Christine Wallace writes that, when The Female Eunuch was first published, one woman had to keep it wrapped in brown paper because her husband wouldn't let her read it; arguments and fights broke out over dinner tables and copies of it were thrown across rooms at unsuspecting husbands (Wallace 1997). It arrived in the shops in London in October 1970. By March 1971, it had nearly sold out its second printing and had been translated into eight languages.
"The title is an indication of the problem", Greer told The New York Times in 1971, "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 vigour for delicacy and succulence, and one that's got to be changed."
Two of the book's themes already pointed the way to Sex and Destiny 14 years later, namely that the nuclear family is a bad environment for women and for the raising of children; and that the manufacture of women's sexuality by Western society was demeaning and confining. Girls are feminised 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 civilised conversation about real issues into personal quarrels. The number of hostesses who wish they did not have to invite wives is legion.Greer argued that women should get to know and come to accept their own bodies, taste their own menstrual blood, and give up celibacy and monogamy. But 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."
Publications in the 1970s and 1980sGreer's second book, The Obstacle Race: The Fortunes of Women Painters and Their Work (1979) covers its subject until the end of the nineteenth century. It also speculates on the existence of women artists whose careers are not recorded by posterity. Greer translated Aristophanes's Lysistrata in 1972.
Sex and Destiny: The Politics of Human Fertility, published in 1984, continued Greer's critique of Western attitudes toward sexuality, fertility, family, and the imposition of those attitudes on the rest of the world. Greer's target again is the nuclear family, government intervention in sexual behaviour, and the commercialisation of sexuality and women's bodies. Greer argued that the Western promotion of birth control in the Third World was in large part driven not by concern for human welfare but by the traditional fear and envy of the rich towards the fertility of the poor. She argued that the birth control movement had been tainted by such attitudes from its beginning, citing Marie Stopes and others. She cautioned against condemning life styles and family values in the developing world.
In 1986, Greer published Shakespeare, a work of literary criticism, and The Madwoman's Underclothes: Essays and Occasional Writings, a collection of newspaper and magazine articles written between 1968 and 1985. In 1989 came Daddy, We Hardly Knew You, a diary and travelogue about her father, whom she described as distant, weak and unaffectionate, which led to claims – which she characterized as inevitable in an interview with The Guardian – that in her writing she was projecting her relationship with him onto all other men.
Publications since 1990hormone replacement therapy. "Frightening females is fun," she wrote in The Age. "Women were frightened into using hormone replacement therapy by dire predictions of crumbling bones, heart disease, loss of libido, depression, despair, disease and death if they let nature take its course." She argues that scaring women is "big business and hugely profitable". It is fear, she wrote, that "makes women comply with schemes and policies that work against their interest".
Slip-Shod Sibyls: Recognition, Rejection and the Woman Poet followed in 1995. This is a selective account of women who wrote poetry in English before 1900; and an examination of why so few female poets have been admitted to the literary canon. Her conclusion is that women were held to different and lower standards than men (hence the "slipshod" sibyls of the title, quoting Alexander Pope) and the poetic tradition discouraged good poetry from women. The book includes a critique of the concept of the woman as Muse, associated with Robert Graves and others, a chapter on the reputation of Sappho and her use as a symbol of female poetry, a chapter on the 17th-century poet Katherine Philips, two chapters on Aphra Behn and one on Anne Wharton, both also of the 17th century; the 17th- and 18th-century poet Anne Finch; and the 19th-century poets Letitia Landon and Christina Rossetti. The book also includes an epilogue on 20th-century female poets, their propensity for suicide. Greer writes: "Too many of the most conspicuous figures in women's poetry of the 20th century not only destroyed themselves in a variety of ways but are valued for poetry that documents that process".
In 1999, the book The Whole Woman, a sequel to The Female Eunuch, was released. In this book she discussed what she saw as the lack of fundamental progress in the feminist movement, and criticized some sections of the women's movement for illusions on that score: "Even if it had been real, equality would have been a poor substitute for liberation; fake equality is leading women into double jeopardy. The rhetoric of equality is being used in the name of political correctness to mask the hammering that women are taking. When The Female Eunuch was written our daughters were not cutting or starving themselves. On every side speechless women endure endless hardship, grief and pain, in a world system that creates billions of losers for every handful of winners. It's time to get angry again." Chapter titles reveal the themes, including: "Food," "Breast," "Pantomime Dames" (about transsexual women), "Shopping," "Estrogen," "Testosterone," "Wives," "Loathing," "Girlpower" and "Mutilation" (including a discussion of female genital mutilation in the Third World and the West). Her comments about female genital mutilation proved especially controversial in some quarters, for example a United Kingdom House of Commons Committee described her viewpoint as "simplistic and offensive."
In fact, Greer was opposed to the practice and said that feminists fighting to eliminate female genital mutilation in their own countries "must be supported", but had explored some of the complexities of the issue, and the double standards of the West, and warned against using the issue to "reinforce our notions of cultural superiority". She had pointed out that the term "female genital mutilation" was itself simplistic being used to describe practices varying from "nicking the prepuce of the clitoris to provoke ritual bleeding", to the extreme mutilation of infibulation. She questioned the view that female genital mutilation was necessarily imposed by men on women rather than by women on women, or even freely chosen, adducing some anecdotal evidence to the contrary and discussed the issue in relation to some of the forms of genital and other bodily mutilations carried out in the West on men and women. She notes for example that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends female genital mutilation of baby girls with "over long" clitorides and that five such procedures are in fact carried out every day in the United States, without being included in "female genital mutilation" statistics In particular, Greer compared female genital mutilation to the practice of male circumcision: "Any suggestion that male genital mutilation should be outlawed would be understood to be a frontal attack on the cultural identity of Jews and Muslims. The same issues are raised by female genital mutilation. As a practical note for activists: As UN workers in East Uganda found, women would not abandon female circumcision until some similarly significant procedure could take its place."
Other controversial points in this book include Greer's opposition to accepting male-to-female transsexuals as women:"Governments that consist of very few women have hurried to recognise as women men who believe that they are women and have had themselves castrated to prove it, because they see women not as another sex but as a non-sex. No so-called sex-change has ever begged for a uterus-and-ovaries transplant; if uterus-and-ovaries transplants were made mandatory for wannabe women they would disappear overnight. The insistence that man-made women be accepted as women is the institutional expression of the mistaken conviction that women are defective males."
In 2003, The Beautiful Boy was published, an art history book about the beauty of teenage boys, which is illustrated with 200 photographs of what The Guardian called "succulent teenage male beauty". Greer described the book as an attempt to address modern women's apparent indifference to the teenage boy as a sexual object and to "advance women's reclamation of their capacity for, and right to, visual pleasure" (Greer 2003). The photograph on the cover was of 15-year old Björn Andrésen in his character of Tadzio in the film Death in Venice (1971). The actor has been quoted by journalists as complaining about the picture's use.
In Whitefella Jump Up: The Shortest Way to Nationhood (2003), Greer argues that Australians should re-imagine Australia as an Aboriginal nation; and discusses some of the consequences of this, and why she regards it as feasible and desirable. "Jump up" in Aboriginal Kriol can, she writes, mean "to be resurrected or reborn"; and the title refers to occasions when Aborigines apparently accepted whites as reincarnated relatives. Greer suggests that whites were mistaken in understanding this literally, and that the Aborigines were in fact offering the whites concerned terms on which they could be accepted into the Aboriginal kinship system. The essay argues that it may not be too late for Australia as a nation to root itself in Aboriginal history and culture in an analogous way.
In 2007, Greer contributed an essay to the book Stella Vine: Paintings which accompanied the major solo exhibition of British painter Stella Vine at Modern Art Oxford museum in England. In May 2007, Greer and Vine took part in a public talk Gender & Culture as part of the Women's International Arts Festival. On 18 September 2007, Greer gave a talk about Vine's art with gallery director Andrew Nairne. Also in 2007, Greer published a biography of Anne Hathaway entitled Shakespeare's Wife, one of the few books to deal with this subject.
In 2008, she wrote the essay On Rage about the widespread rage of indigenous men, published in the series "Little Books on Big Themes" by Melbourne University Publishing, launched by Bob Carr on 15 August 2008. The essay was attacked as "racist" by Aboriginal academic Marcia Langton. The gist of Langton's argument was that Greer was making excuses for the bad behaviour of Aboriginal men.
In 2013, Greer published White Beech: The Rainforest Years about her work of rehabilitating a 60ha former dairy farm near the Springbrook National Park in southern Queensland where she discovered that Agent Orange (2,4,5-T), contaminated with the dioxin 2,3,7,8-TCDD had been sprayed for years.
Other mediaIn 1992 Greer wrote an article in The Guardian claiming that "men hate women" but that "women cannot hate men". Her comments came in for a great deal of criticism in following day's paper. Greer responded to Christine Wallace's biography, Germaine Greer: The Untamed Shrew (1997), by claiming that biographies of living persons are morbid and worthless, as they can only be incomplete. She said: "I don't write about any living women... because I think that's invidious; there is no point in limiting her by the achievements of the past because she's in a completely different situation, and I figure she can break the moulds and start again."
In 1998, Greer wrote the episode Make Love not War for the 1998 television documentary series Cold War. She sat for a nude photograph by the Australian photographer Polly Borland in 1999. The photo was part of an exhibition at Britain's National Portrait Gallery in 2000. It later appeared in a book entitled Polly Borland: Australians. Greer has made frequent appearances on the BBC's satirical television panel show Have I Got News for You, including one in the programme's very first series in 1990.
Greer was one of nine contestants in the 2005 series of Celebrity Big Brother. She had previously said that the show was "as civilised as looking through the keyhole in your teenager's bedroom door". She walked out of the show after five days inside the Big Brother house, citing the psychological cruelty and bullying of the show's producers, the dirt of the house, and the publicity-seeking behaviour of her fellow contestants. However since then she has appeared on spin-off shows Big Brother's Little Brother and Big Brother's Big Mouth. In 2006, Greer appeared twice in an episode of Extras playing herself. The play The Female of the Species (2006) by Joanna Murray-Smith is loosely based on events in Greer's life, the assault and false imprisonment in 2000, and uses Greer as "inspiration for a comic attack on strident feminism"; the main character's name in that play is Margot Mason. Greer regarded the play as an attack and stated that it was "threadbare".
In September 2006, Greer's column in The Guardian about the death of Australian Steve Irwin attracted much criticism and some support. Greer said that "The animal world has finally taken its revenge on Irwin". In an interview with the Nine Network's A Current Affair about her comments, Greer said, "I really found the whole Steve Irwin phenomenon embarrassing and I'm not the only person who did," and that she hoped that "exploitative nature documentaries" would now end. Also in 2006, she presented a BBC Radio 4 documentary on the life of American composer and rock guitarist Frank Zappa. She confirmed that she had been a friend of Zappa's since the early 1970s and that his orchestral work "G-Spot Tornado" would be played at her funeral.
In the 2008 Beeban Kidron film Hippie Hippie Shake, based on Richard Neville's memoir, Greer is depicted by Emma Booth. Greer has expressed her displeasure at being featured in the film.
In 1999 Greer's sequel to The Female Eunuch was published, The Whole Woman, based on her earlier work and reviving the debate with her usual authorial style. Greer argues that in spite of a widespread feeling of complacency, the "woman question" is far from answered.
In January 2011 Greer appeared on BBC mockumentary Come Fly With Me as herself.
On 14 March 2012, Greer was glitter bombed at a book signing at the Embassy Theatre in Wellington, New Zealand. A group known as the Queer Avengers was responsible. They were protesting Greer's views on transsexualism, which the group claims are transphobic.
Aboriginal AustraliansGreer has published three pamphlets on Aboriginal issues. According to her own account, she understood little about Aboriginal issues during her early years in Australia, but in England she saw from the perspective of distance that "what was operating in Australia was apartheid: the separation and alienation South Africa tried desperately and savagely to impose on their black majority, we had achieved, apparently effortlessly, with our black minority." On returning to Australia in late 1971 she made a concerted effort "to see as much as I could of what had been hidden from me" travelling for that purpose through the Northern Territory with activist Bobbi Sykes She wrote in 2003: "Though I can claim no drop of Aboriginal blood, twenty years ago Kulin women from Fitzroy adopted me. There are whitefellas who insist that blackfellas don't practise adoption; all I can say is that when I asked about the possibility of assuming Aboriginality, the Kulin women said at once 'We'll adopt you.' 'How do you do that?' I asked, hoping I wouldn't be required to camp in some bleak spot for a month or two, and be painted or smoked and cut about. 'That's it,' they said. 'It's done. We've adopted you.' Since then I have sat on the ground with black women and been assigned a skin and been taught how to hunt and how to cook shellfish and witchetty grubs, with no worse punishment for getting it wrong than being laughed at."
It has been reported in the press that in early 2000, Greer claimed at a press gathering in London that she never set foot in Australia before receiving the permission of the "traditional owners of the land" at Sydney Airport. New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council spokesman Paul Molloy was reported as claiming that she had never asked permission, despite visiting Sydney several times in recent years, and in any case there was no single group of elders that could give such permission to enter Australia. In assessing the credibility or significance of these press reports it should be noted that Molloy's quoted point was made by Greer herself in her 2003 pamphlet Whitefella Jump Up: "Aboriginal law cannot now be reapplied. In any case no single body of Aboriginal law would ever have applied to the Australian population as a whole."