Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Whole Woman by Germaine Greer

The Whole Woman, published in 2000, is Germaine Greer's follow-up to her 1970 feminist classic The Female Eunuch.  I had to read The Female Eunuch in college during the 1980s and remember feeling both put off and impressed.  Put off by frankly explicit language and by the bleak, bleak picture Greer painted of men and women.  Impressed by her motif of women unable in a male-dominated society to be real women, forced to make ourselves over as "eunuchs," hairless, hipless, and rail-thin.  I was struck by the truth of that image.

The Whole Woman is a book Greer said she would never write, wanting her original manifesto to stand for her own generation and later generations to speak for themselves, but:
In the last thirty years women have come a long, long way;  our lives are nobler and richer than they were, but they are also fiendishly difficult... when The Female Eunuch was written our daughters were not cutting or starving themselves... it's time to get angry again.
The Whole Woman's governing idea is that women are not understood to be a complete, valid, fully-realized sex on our own;  we are viewed more like lesser or incomplete versions of men.  Our physical, biochemical, emotional, and cognitive differences from men are viewed not as valuable qualities but as problems, as lacks.  The book consists of 32 self-contained chapters, each examining this governing idea and how it plays out in the world today from a different angle. 

Greer's fierce articulateness made every chapter a pleasure for me--even the ones that are painful to read, even the ones I don't agree with.  (I did agree with almost all of them, though.)  Some samples:

On making men into "women" by surgically removing the outward signs of maleness:
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.
On housework:
Women are still held responsible and hold themselves responsible for what the family eats.  In the matter of nutrition, as in so much else, they are confronted with the typical female dilemma of lack of control combined with total responsibility.
On male abdication of responsibility for all the consequences of sex:
If we ask ourselves whether we would have any hope of imposing upon men the duty to protect women's fertility and their health, and avoid the abortions that occur in their uncounted millions every day, we will see in a blinding light how unfree women are.  
On contempt for mothers and mothering:
"Mother" is not a career option;  the woman who gave her all to mothering has to get in shape, find a job, and keep young and beautiful if she wants to be loved... There are some societies where this (honoring mothers) is understood and women are treated with special respect because of it, but not one of them is Anglo-Saxon.

The Collected Short Stories of Saki

Saki is the pen name of Hector Hugh Munro, an English writer I first heard of when my daughter was assigned one of his stories for her high school English class.  She insisted that I'd like this one.  I do like him;  his stories tend to punish the pompous and favor children and other underdogs.  Highly ironic and often humorous, they are very short and generally end with a punchline of sorts.

I haven't (yet) read this entire collection.  It contains around 100 stories, and I'm not inclined to read them all at once.  They're kind of like little snacks--it's nice to read one or two when the mood strikes.  I'm keeping it in the kitchen.