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The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer (1970)


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Reading The Female Eunuch now feels to a certain extent like reading a pamphlet from the Suffragist movement; the arguments are clear, but the backdrop is somehow distant and faded. How much that changed backdrop is a result of the efforts of people like Germaine Greer is for the historians to say, but this book clearly earns its place on the bookshelf as one of the most important works in the women's liberation movement.

Despite being written in 1970, there is nothing stale about this book. Greer's writing can be very punchy, at times witty, and the threads of her argument are clearly and logically set out. For a book that has sold over a million copies, she is extremely eloquent, at times even a touch grandiloquent, and her choice of words sometimes had me reaching for a dictionary. That aside, the book is fairly easy to read for its subject matter.

Nevertheless, it is not Greer's arguments or her choice of phrasing that are difficult to understand, but the context in which they were written. It is difficult for anyone born after that time to comprehend how much society has changed in the intervening period, at the most fundamental, interpersonal level. In this light, Greer's arguments can seem overdramatised, perhaps even alien to someone reading them today, but there is plenty which bears relevance to understanding how we got where we are, and perhaps knowing where we have yet to go.

Greer covers the whole gamut of the female experience, from birth and childhood, through sex and marriage, to the workplace and public sphere. In covering this massive range of subjects, from the most tangible in terms of jobs, wages and taxation, through to more esoteric notions of imagery in language and psychology, one gets a clear notion of Greer's ideal vision. Although there are far more criticisms of the status quo than overt recommendations for change, in questioning some of the core elements of society, it leads all of us to critically appraise our modes and ways of life.

Many people who haven't read this book, and men in particular, assume it must be written by a man-hater, an irrational and fiery-hearted misandrist nailing her theses to the church of patriarchy. In truth, the book is a deep and basic criticism of that day and age's society, pointed as much at women as at men for perpetuating a system which essentially encouraged contempt for half of the population, in many ways treating them as second-class citizens. There is an important distinction here between sexual equality and women's liberation, for Greer argues for fundamental changes as a way to improve the lives of everyone. This is not a call to gender war in a Marxian vein; in fact, although Greer has a clear leftist bent, it seems she did not put faith in the class revolution to put society on the correct footing.

There are just a couple of criticisms I have about this edition. The first is that there is no index, which I feel would have been a useful addition. Although Greer divided the book into well arranged and clearly labelled chapters, it is still difficult to find references without having to guess under which subheading you might find them. Secondly, as part of Flamingo's Seventies Classics Series, this really should have come with an introduction. Printed over thirty years after its initial publication, with so much having changed in the intervening period, a simple outline of the society in which this book was written, and an overview of its reception and responses, would have been an extremely welcome addition. ( )
  Fips | Oct 30, 2016 |
I adore men, I love my cigarettes and scotch, take pleasure in my womanly curves; simultaneously I greatly want women to obtain their freedom of rights.

Feminism may be an archaic phenomenon in the urban world yet it is still in the nascent form in numerous authoritarian patriarchal configurations and societies plagued with female foeticide. This manuscript does justice to such dwellings where women irrespective to their economical standing bear subjugation to various norms of religion and cultural obligations.

Alas! I cannot go through anymore feminism prose. My audacious teenage years and traumatic squabbles with my mother altered me as Simone de Beauvoir of the house. And now I am extremely fascinated with Lady Gaga simply for kicks. ( )
  Praj05 | Apr 5, 2013 |
I read this book at 14, and it was possibly the best thing to read for a vaguely angry but not entirely sure why girl who grew up in a strict religious environment with a serious problem with women being their own person. I still remember suddenly realizing just how screwed up my idea of my gender was, how out-dated the opinions of those around me even compared to a 70s book. I've not yet read it again, mostly because I expect it to let me down. Though it's been years, I still remember some very negative things about transgender people that I felt uncomfortable with even at the ( very uninformed) time. Still, I remember it very fondly. I think I wanted to be a bit like Greer after reading this book. I don't anymore, but I'm still very grateful for her giving teen me another idea of who I wanted to be - when the only idea of the "ideal woman" proposed by my family and their religion was that of an obedient, sexless, voiceless little wife. I don't expect it to have the same effect on many other people my age because most girl I know simply didn't grow up with such ridiculous elders. ( )
  Merinde | Mar 31, 2013 |
International bestseller and milestone in the re-thinking of the very basic facts which continue to hag-ride our behavior -- gender differences and similarities in the body, the soul, and what we love and hate. Greer chapters each of those topics, concluding with a call to revolution. With Notes.

Greer presents a direct description of sexuality--not content with mere anatomy or indirection. Looking at how they are treated, she concludes that "men hate women", even though they do not realize it, and men end up hating themselves.

No actual eunuchs were injured in the analysis, but Greer invokes literary and consumerist evidence that "Women have been separated from their libido", and cut off from their capacity for action: castrati, sacrificed for fattening docilities. My reading is that Greer is all about elevating humans to a greater capacity for love, compounded by the joy of really being together. I think this book changed the lives of people in the 1970's, and not just in the English-reading world.

Curiously, the "supergroupie" demystifying academic author published a kind of sequel to this work, in 1999, entitled The Whole Woman. ( )
2 vote keylawk | Feb 17, 2012 |
The Female Eunuch was written in the 1970's and parts of it have not dated well. Greer's hostile writing makes the text less-than accessible in places, as she attacks both the nuclear family and other feminists who want mere "equality." What Greer does want is not exactly clear, and perhaps because of the time when it was written her work contains elements of homophobia, transphobia and racism.

For a reader who did not grow up in the repressive 1950's there are many passages which will be relevant only in terms of history. After all, Freud and his ilk no longer hold the sway over popular opinion that they once did. However, reading the excerpts of Freud and other psychoanalysts' work of the period do serve to explain much of Greer's anger - who wouldn't be outraged by the thesis that women are intrinsically ethically inferior to men, and are really only incomplete men, who spend their whole lives longing for a penis? I think it is important to learn the historic struggles that feminists in this time period had to overcome.

Some parts of Greer's text do continue to ring disturbingly true. For example, Greer's writing on women in advertisements is as true today as it was in 1970:

"Every survey ever held has shown that the image of an attractive woman is the most effective advertising gimmick. She may sit astride the mudguard of a new car ... or dance through woodland glades in slow motion in all the glory of a new shampoo; whatever she does, her image sells. ... Her dominion must not be thought to entail the rule of women, for she is not a woman. Her glossy lips and matt complexion, her unfocused eyes and flawless fingers, her extraordinary hair all floating and shining, curling and gleaming, reveal the inhuman triumph of cosmetics, lighting, focussing and printing, cropping and composition. ... If ever she should appear tousled and troubled, her features are miraculously smoothed to their proper veneer by a new washing powder or a bouillon cube. For she is a doll: weeping, pouting or smiling, running or reclining, she is a doll." (p. 60)

And, while women are no longer restricted to the jobs of secretary, nurse or teacher, I think a lot of what Greer writes on the brainwashing of young women with romance novels is still in effect (one need only look at the current Twilight franchise...) and her chapter titled The Object of Male Fantasy is still relevant. "For boys broaching manhood the dominant fantasy of adventure simply expands to include women as exploit ... and seem to fall into two patterns, the Great Bitch and the Poison Maiden." (p. 190) Although I do think that at present we have more (better) books and movies and not all of them fall into these patterns and stereotypes, there are still plenty that do.

Greer's opposition to the nuclear family, which at first seems shocking, contains several good arguments - although some of them may be less relevant these days when mothers often lead careers and do hang out with their husband's friends, etc. Although when she makes the point about children emotionally blackmailing their parents to buy them things, or how infant girls are taught to be coy and sweet, in essence flirting with their fathers in order to get their way, I fear that some of what she says is still too true.

The Female Eunuch is a feminist classic, and a very important one. It is well worth reading for anyone interested in the history of women and feminism, as long as one is prepared for Greer's aggressive and sometimes offensive style. ( )
1 vote catfantastic | Apr 25, 2011 |
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Greer’s books may have self-contradictory elements, and I must admit that as a 21st-century reader, I’ve found that they can be choppy and manifesto-like, with off-putting wild generalizations and quasi-magical terminology... But then I turned to her chapter called “Family”... Bingo.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0586080554, Paperback)

A new cover re-issue of the ground-breaking, worldwide bestselling feminist tract. Re-issued to coincide with Doubleday's publication of The Whole Woman, the sequel to The Female Eunuch. Probably the most famous, most widely read book on feminism ever. First published in 1970, The Female Eunuch is a landmark in the history of the women's movement. A searing examination of women's oppression. A worldwide bestseller, translated into over 12 languages.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:00 -0400)

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A new cover re-issue of the ground-breaking, worldwide bestselling feminist tract. A worldwide bestseller, translated into over twelve languages, THE FEMALE EUNUCH is a landmark in the history of the women's movement. Drawing liberally from history, literature and popular culture, past and present, Germaine Greer's searing examination of women's oppression is at once an important social commentary and a passionately argued masterpiece of polemic. Probably the most famous, most widely read book on feminism ever.… (more)

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