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.


  1. I should read Germaine Greer, just never got around to it. Attended all girl high school and college did I miss this feminist? Probably submerged in Balzac, Hugo and Stendhal. I read on Wiki that : "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. Now, I used to watch W.F Buckley on TV,,,,and he is not an easy man to beat during a debate! That says so much about this great female academic!

    1. Wouldn't you love to see that interview? I wonder if it's on youtube somewhere...

      I really admire Greer for her humanity--she criticizes men across the board but you don't get the feeling she hates them--it's more like she feels that male strengths have been taken to the extreme and held up as the ideal, and female strengths have been seen simply as negative reflections of the male "ideal."

  2. This is a fascinating book, and ought to be read, though I found her thoughts on trans women morally reprehensible I'm afraid - for that I cannot forgive her.

    1. I do feel that she doesn't address the emotional pain that trans people suffer.
      But I also understand (I think) her frustration with the whole woman-as-incomplete male trope that seems to underlie so many different phenomena in our society.