Greer, Germaine 1939-
GREER, Germaine 1939-
PERSONAL: Born January 29, 1939, near Melbourne, Australia; daughter of Eric Reginald (a newspaper advertising manager) and Margaret May Mary (Lanfrancan) Greer; married Paul de Feu (a journalist), 1968 (divorced, 1973). Education: University of Melbourne, B.A., 1959; University of Sydney, M.A., 1961; Newnham College, Cambridge, Ph.D., 1967. Politics: Anarchist. Religion: Atheist.
ADDRESSES: Home—Essex, England. Agent—Gillon Aitken Associates Ltd., 18-21 Cavaye Place, London SW10 9PT, England
CAREER: Sydney University, Sydney, Australia, senior tutor, 1963-64; also taught at a girls' school in Australia in the 1960s; University of Warwick, Coventry, England, lecturer in English, 1967-73; Sunday Times, London, England, columnist, 1971-73; American Program Bureau, lecturer, 1973-78; University of Tulsa, Tulsa, OK, visiting professor, graduate faculty of modern letters, 1979, and professor of modern letters, 1980-83; founder and director of Tulsa Centre for the Study of Women's Literature, 1979-82; director of Stump Cross Books, 1988—; special lecturer and unofficial fellow, Newnham College, Cambridge, 1989-98; University of Warwick, professor of English and comparative studies, 1998—. Writer. Has been an actress on a television comedy show in Manchester, England.
AWARDS, HONORS: Australian Junior Government scholarship, 1952; Diocesan scholarship, 1956; Senior Government scholarship, 1956; Teacher's College scholarship, 1956; Newnham College Commonwealth Scholar, 1964; J. R. Ackerly Prize, Internationazionale Mondello, 1989, for Daddy, We Hardly Knew You; honorary degree from University of Griffith, 1996.
The Obstacle Race: The Fortunes of Women Painters and Their Work, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1979, reprinted, Tauris Parke (New York, NY), 2001.
Sex and Destiny: The Politics of Human Fertility, Harper & Row (New York, NY), 1984.
The Madwoman's Underclothes: Essays and Occasional Writings, Picador (New York, NY), 1986.
(Editor, with Jeslyn Medoff, Melinda Sansone, and Susan Hastings) Kissing the Rod: An Anthology of Seventeenth-Century Women's Verse, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1989.
Daddy, We Hardly Knew You, Viking Penguin (New York, NY), 1989.
The Change: Women, Aging, and the Menopause, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1991.
Slip-Shod Sibyls: Recognition, Rejection, and the Woman Poet, Viking (New York, NY), 1995.
The Whole Woman, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 1999.
The Beautiful Boy, Rizzoli International (New York, NY), 2003, published as The Boy, Thames & Hudson (London, England), 2003.
Contributor to River Journeys, Hippocrene Books, c. 1985. Contributor to periodicals, including Esquire, Listener, Oz, Spectator, and, under pseudonym Rose Blight, Private Eye. Coadvisory editor for The Cambridge Guide to Women's Writing in English, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England), 1999. Cofounder of Suck.
SIDELIGHTS: Germaine Greer is a leading feminist, speaker, author, and literary critic, whose bold pronouncements in such works as The Female Eunuch and The Whole Woman have occasioned a great deal of spirited debate and controversy. Greer's writings, which also include The Obstacle Race: The Fortunes of Women Painters and Their Work, Sex and Destiny: The Politics of Human Fertility, a literary study titled Shakespeare, and the essay collections The Madwoman's Underclothes and The Beautiful Boy, have earned her serious consideration from mainstream, academic, and feminist critics. Praise for her work has typically been offered for her scholarly insight—especially notable in Shakespeare and her study of great but unrecognized women artists, The Obstacle Race—and the criticism has often been for her refusal to routinely espouse whatever literary or feminist ideas are most popular at a given time. In an interview conducted with Greer on the Web site Enough Rope, Andrew Denton declared that the author has "affected the lives of millions with her powerful views on how we should live." Belinda Luscombe in Time International called Greer "the ultimate Trojan Horse, gorgeous and witty, built to penetrate the seemingly unassailable fortress of patriarchy and let the rest of us foot soldiers in." Luscombe went on to laud Greer as "a joy to read, an eloquent maniac."
Greer became famous in America and abroad upon the publication of The Female Eunuch. Such celebrity was consistent with her roles as a television performer and as a self-avowed London "groupie" (her enthusiasm for jazz and popular music had brought her into contact with musicians and other members of Britain's underground culture). Some critics seized upon her slick and frankly sexual image as counterproductive to the feminist cause she espoused, but others welcomed her manifesto as "a rallying cry for sexual liberation," to quote a Time reviewer. While The Female Eunuch climbed the best-seller charts in both the United States and England, and Vogue magazine hailed her as "a super heroine," some members of the women's liberation movement questioned Greer's authority. While a Newsweek writer described her as "a dazzling combination of erudition, eccentricity and eroticism," some feminist writers wondered whether an indisputably attractive Shakespearean scholar could speak with understanding about the plight of women in general.
The proof lies in the book sales. The Female Eunuch, still in print, was ultimately translated into twelve languages. During a United States promotional tour in the spring of 1971, Greer furthered her message on television and radio talk shows, in Life magazine, and in a well-publicized debate with Norman Mailer, a novelist and self-confirmed "male chauvinist." The publicity generated enormous interest in the book, drawing readers from all walks of life.
Greer's basic argument, as explained in the introduction to The Female Eunuch, is that women's "sexuality is both denied and misrepresented by being identified as passivity." She explains that women, urged from childhood to live up to an "Eternal Feminine" stereotype, are valued for characteristics associated with the castrate—"timidity, plumpness, languor, delicacy and preciosity"—hence the book's title. From the viewpoint of this primary assumption, Greer examines not only the problems of women's sexuality, but their psychological development, their relationships with men, their social position, and their cultural history. What most struck early critics of the book was that she considered "the castration of our true female personality . . . not the fault of men, but our own, and history's." Thus the Newsweek writer considered Greer's work "women's liberation's most realistic and least anti-male manifesto." Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, writing in the New York Times, called it "a book that combines the best of masculinity and femininity."
Greer followed up the success of The Female Eunuch with her account of human social institutions called Sex and Destiny: The Politics of Human Fertility. In sharp contrast to the optimism in her first book, the author depicts sexual freedom as a step backward rather than forward in society. On the whole, Greer informs the reader that the modern world is decidedly opposed to reproduction. She writes, "Historically human societies have been pro-child; modern society is unique in that it is profoundly hostile to children." Greer objects to contemporary attitudes toward sex and children, asserting that they are treated as commodities. "In Miss Greer's current view," wrote Carol Iannone in Commentary, "the West is now over-sexed, subfertile, and hopelessly materialistic."
Greer's collection of essays The Madwoman's Underclothes: Essays and Occasional Writings covers such subjects as fertility, fashion, and sex roles. The author comes across as feisty as she did in her first book by challenging the status quo with her confrontational stance on feminism. Her essays range in topic from the legalization of marijuana, to pornography, to the death of rock star Jimi Hendrix. The book is divided into three parts, and the essays encompass the years 1968 to 1985. They serve as an ideal starting ground to those unfamiliar with her work. New York Times Book Review critic Linda Blandford said of the book that the author's "strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures are all here; they are the human stumblings of feminism itself, wanting it all while wanting none of it."
In 1989 Greer published a more personal book than her previous volumes, Daddy, We Hardly Knew You, which records her painstaking investigations into the life and personality of her father, Reginald "Reg" Greer, after his death in 1983. Greer's "quest" to reconstruct her father's lineage leads to an international tour through the landscape and archives of Britain, Australia, South Africa, India, Tuscany, Malta, and finally Tasmania, where she discovers her father's humble upbringing as a foster child whose lifelong reticence was intended to bury his illegitimate origin. According to Jill Johnston in the New York Times Book Review, the story of Reg Greer "is a very sad story, which his daughter glosses with her rage and transcends with her vast knowledge of all sorts of things." The paucity of information produced by her frustrating research is supplemented by expansive digressions that portray the land and people encountered on her travels, including an entire chapter entitled "Sidetrack" that documents various physical and historical aspects of the Australian continent. Nancy Mairs described the book in the Los Angeles Times Book Review as "part childhood reminiscence, part travelogue, part genealogy, part history, part social commentary." As the author can no longer view her father as a "hero" or "prince in disguise," Johnston concluded, "In the end Germaine Greer can't reconcile her father's lack of love with her understanding of the fear that made him lie to conceal his lowly origins."
Greer produced a forceful indictment of modern youth culture with The Change: Women, Aging, and the Menopause, renaming the later female life stage "climacteria" and invoking the term "anophobia" to describe the irrational fear and hostility directed toward older women. As Joan Frank observed in the San Francisco Review of Books, Greer identifies menopause as "a real and crucial transition in a woman's life for which no—repeat, no—reliable information, clear role models, rites of passage, historic or cultural sanctions exist as they do for comparable transitions: birth, the onset of menarche, marriage, childbirth, and death." Gleaning evidence from diverse and unlikely sources such as "historical accounts, memoirs, correspondence from the court of Louis XIV, old medical textbooks, anthropology tracts, novels, and poems both familiar and obscure," as Natalie Augier noted in the New York Times Book Review, Greer "talks with unvarnished candor about the invisibility of the middle-aged woman in our own culture, the unfairness of a system that lionizes the silver-haired male while scorning his female counterpart as beyond use, pathetic, desiccated, desexualized, a crone." Katha Pollitt remarked in a New Yorker review that Greer's version of post-menopausal life is "so charming, so seductively rendered—especially when it's contrasted with the situation of the wistful wives, desperate party girls, and breast-implanted exercise addicts which for her constitutes the only alternative—that the reader may find herself barely able to wait."
In Slip-Shod Sibyls: Recognition, Rejection, and the Woman Poet, Greer challenges the validity of feminist revisionism and the status of celebrated female poets in the Western canon, including Sappho, Aphra Behn, Christina Rossetti, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. As Carol Rumens said in a Times Literary Supplement review, "Though Greer admits we should carry on reclaiming women's work, she believes that 'to insist on equal representation or positive discrimination so that She-poetry appears on syllabuses in our schools and universities is to continue the system of false accounting that produced the double standard in the first place.'" Camille Paglia noted in the Observer Review that "the absence of premodern female poets from the curriculum," in Greer's view, "is not entirely due to sexism but rather to a lack of quality." Citing the life and work of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, Greer similarly dismisses contemporary female poetry for its futile, and often fatal, narcissism. According to Greer, as Margaret Anne Doody summarized in the London Review of Books: "The twentieth century merely adds to the heap of sickly, self-regarding and self-destructive female poets. Lacking education, training in the Great Tradition, certainty about voice or subject-matter—and in the absence of any sense of how the culture of publicity and publication can work—woman writers of poetry over three centuries have exhibited themselves delving into their emotions. Poetry with them constantly becomes a morbid exercise." Furthermore, Greer contends that women poets were often responsible for their own artistic shortcomings. Fleur Adcock wrote in a New Statesman & Society review that Greer suggests such female writers "took bad advice; they fell for flattery; they wrote fast and without revising sufficiently; and they failed to understand 'what was involved in making a poem.'" Praising Slip-Shod Sibyls and Greer's significant contribution to femin ist criticism, Paglia concluded: "When the history of modern women is written, Germaine Greer will be seen as one who, like Jane Austen, permanently redefined female intellect."
Thirty years after the publication of the groundbreaking The Female Eunuch, Greer followed up her arguments with a sequel, The Whole Woman. The book is not short on controversy, as Greer urges women to quit struggling for equality with men and instead focus on liberation. In her refusal to accept male-dominated institutions, Greer postulates that the use of birth control is simply a ploy by males to restrict women from having children and being mothers. The Whole Woman is a more optimistic—and more libertarian—book than its predecessor. To Greer, women must break away from the weight of cultural conditioning in order to take control of their lives. In a review for the Los Angeles Times, Suse Linfield wrote that Greer's view "is neither pessimistic nor triumphal; The Whole Woman seeks not to depress women (a clearly redundant task) but to alert them to how and why things are still so bad." A Time reviewer called the work "provocative, brilliantly engaging and maddeningly contradictory" and praised Greer for taking "issues on which most progressive women thought they had positions and sets a standard all her own."
Greer's The Beautiful Boy muses on the moment in a young man's life when he is no longer a child but just barely a man. Greer sees this fleeting moment as transcendentally inspiring to artists and, if women are frank, sexually exciting as well. She uses historical texts and works of visual art to delve into the changing meanings attached to male beauty in various eras. One point of the work is that women of all ages should feel free to appreciate the beauty of the young male. According to Nadine Dalton Speidel in Library Journal, Greer's aim is to encourage both men and women to "have the freedom to see and be seen as sexual beings and more."
Greer remains decidedly liberationist in her views and suggests that her writings need not be seen as blueprints for lifestyle change. "I don't want to tell people to do anything," she said in Time. "I have put down what makes my heart ache, and either it will be helpful to people, or it won't." As many critics see it, Greer's personal heartaches echo the sensibilities of a multitude of women at the turn of the twenty-first century.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 131, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2000.
Feminist Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Todd, Janet, editor, Women Writers Talking, Holmes & Meier (New York, NY), 1983.
Wallace, Christine, Germaine Greer: Untamed Shrew, Faber & Faber (New York, NY), 1998.
Alberta Report, August 16, 1999, Celeste McGovern, review of The Whole Woman, p. 37.
Atlantic, February, 1990, Phoebe-Lou Adams, review of Daddy, We Hardly Knew You, p. 108.
Australian Book Review, May, 1999, review of The Whole Woman, pp. 4-5.
Booklist, April 1, 1999, Mary Carroll, review of The Whole Woman, p. 1363; December 15, 2003, Ray Olson, review of The Beautiful Boy, p. 718.
Book World, May 23, 1999, review of The Whole Woman, p. 8.
Chicago Tribune Books, January 11, 1990, p. 6.
Choice, June, 2000, P. Palmer, review of The Cambridge Guide to Women's Writing in English, p. 1782.
Commentary, August, 1984, Carol Iannone, review of Sex and Destiny: The Politics of Human Fertility, p. 71; September, 1999, Samuel McCracken, "Blast from the Past," p. 65.
Community Care, June 10, 1999, review of The Whole Woman, p. 32.
Detroit News, May 9, 1971.
Economist, April 22, 1989, review of Daddy, We Hardly Knew You, p. 84; March 13, 1999, review of The Whole Woman, p. 4.
First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, October, 1999, Midge Decter, "Liberating Germaine Greer," p. 21.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), February 25, 1984; October 17, 1987; April 29, 1989; August 5, 1989; May 1, 1999, review of The Whole Woman, p. D11.
Guardian (London, England), March 2, 1999, Joan Smith, "Women v. Real Women," p. T6.
Human Life Review, fall, 1999, Faith Abbott McFadden, review of The Whole Woman, p. 62.
Independent (London, England), March 3, 1999, "So, Germaine, Since Animals Now Have Rights, How about Men?," p. S1.
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 1999, review of The Whole Woman, p. 599.
JAMA: Journal of the American Medical Association, February 2, 1994, Mona M. Shangold, review of The Change: Women, Aging and the Menopause, p. 404.
Journal of Popular Culture, fall, 2002, Roger Neustadter, "Oh Dad Poor Dad," p. 384.
Lancet, December 23, 1995, John Bignall, review of Slip-shod Sybils: Recognition, Rejection, and the Woman Poet, p. 1691.
Law Society Journal, August, 2001, Sandra Berns, review of The Cambridge Guide to Women's Writing in English, p. 94.
Library Journal, May 15, 1999, Barbara Ann Hutcheson, review of The Whole Woman, p. 113; December, 2003, Nadine Dalton Speidel, review of The Beautiful Boy, p. 108.
Life, May 7, 1971.
Listener, October 22, 1970.
London Review of Books, December 14, 1995, p. 14-15; July 15, 1999, review of The Whole Woman, p. 7.
Los Angeles Times, March 7, 1984; November 26, 1987; April 5, 1999, Marjorie Miller, "Think You've Come a Long Way, Baby? Think Again, Author Says," p. E1; June 3, 1999, Suse Linfield, "Compelling, If Sloppy, Feminist Manifesto," p. E3.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, September 6, 1987; April 8, 1990, Nancy Mairs, "Germaine Greer As Dogged Daughter," p. 8.
Maclean's, May 24, 1999, Patricia Chisholm, "Greer's Call to Arms," p. 53.
Nation, June 7, 1971, Claudia Dreifus, review of The Female Eunuch, p. 728; May 26, 1984, Linda Gordon, review of Sex and Destiny, p. 645; December 5, 1987, Carol Sternhell, review of Madwoman's Underclothes: Essays and Occasional Writings, p. 690.
National Review, July 13, 1984, Maggie Gallagher, review of Sex and Destiny, p. 42; January 18, 1993, Maggie Gallagher, review of The Change, p. 49.
Natural Health, March-April, 1993, review of The Change, p. 127.
New Leader, March 17, 1971, Anne Richardson Roiphe, review of The Female Eunuch, p. 8.
New Republic, May 21, 1984, Barbara Ehrenreich, review of Sex and Destiny, p. 32; March 26, 1990, Hermione Lee, "Mother Country," p. 33; January 31, 1994, p. 29; May 31, 1999, Margaret Talbot, "The Female Misogynist," p. 34.
New Statesman, November 21, 1986, Sara Maitland, review of Madwoman's Underclothes, p. 29; February 26, 1999, Melanie McDonagh, review of The Whole Woman, p. 12; March 12, 1999, Charlotte Raven, review of The Whole Woman, p. 48; December 17, 2001, Melanie McDonagh, "Germaine Greer," p. 71.
New Statesman & Society, October 11, 1991, Sara Maitland, "Hagiography," p. 23; October 6, 1995, Fleur Adcock, "Killed with Kindness," p. 37.
Newsweek, March 22, 1971; November 16, 1992, p. 79.
New York, October 12, 1992, Rhoda Koenig, "Cronehood Is Powerful," p. 74.
New Yorker, April 16, 1990, p. 116; November 2, 1992, Katha Pollitt, "The Romantic Climacteric," p. 106.
New York Review of Books, May 31, 1984, Peter Singer, review of Sex and Destiny, p. 15.
New York Times, April 20, 1971; November 1, 1979; March 5, 1984; April 23, 1984; May 18, 1999, Michiko Kakutani, "The Female Condition, Reexplored Thirty Years Later," p. B9.
New York Times Book Review, October 11, 1987, Linda Blandford, review of Madwoman's Underclothes, p. 14; January 28, 1990, Jill Johnston, review of Daddy, We Hardly Knew You; October 11, 1992, Natalie Augier, "The Transit of Woman," p. 32; May 9, 1999, Camille Paglia, "Back to the Barricades," p. 19.
Observer (London, England), October 11, 1970; February 14, 1999, interview with Germaine Greer, p. 27; February 14, 1999, Bella Bathurst, "Do Not Go Genitally into That Good Night," p. 27; March 7, 1999, review of The Whole Woman, p. 11.
Observer Review, October 8, 1995, p. 14.
People, May 21, 1984, Deirdre Donahue, review of Sex and Destiny, p. 18; May 15, 2000, "Fit to Be Tied: An Obsessed Young Woman Leaves Feminist Writer Germaine Greer Bound and Distressed but Unscathed," p. 78.
Psychology Today, April, 1988, Pamela Black, review of Madwoman's Underclothes, p. 79.
Publishers Weekly, May 25, 1984; December 1, 1989, p. 42; August 24, 1992, review of The Change, p. 66; March 22, 1999, review of The Whole Woman, p. 76.
San Francisco Review of Books, January, 1992, Joan Frank, review of The Change, p. 6.
Spectator, March 6, 1999, review of The Whole Woman, p. 36.
Sunday Times (London, England), February 28, 1999, Fay Weldon, "Women Are Slaves, but No Longer of Men," p. 19.
Time, April 16, 1984; February 5, 1990, Martha Duffy, review of Daddy, We Hardly Knew You, p. 68; October 26, 1992, Barbara Ehrenreich, review of The Change, p. 80; May 10, 1999, "The Force Is with Her," p. 88.
Time International, October 25, 1999, Belinda Luscombe, "Germaine Greer: With Verbal Brilliance, Rock 'n' Roll Swagger and a Talent for Outrage, She Became Feminism's First Superstar," p. 76.
Times (London, England), March 20, 1986; October 23, 1986; March 20, 1989; March 25, 1989.
Times Literary Supplement, June 17, 1988; March 17, 1989; October 13, 1995, p. 29; March 19, 1999, Ferdinand Mount, "Still Strapped in the Cuirass," p. 6.
Washington Post, November 22, 1979; January 24, 1990; June 12, 1999, Jennifer Frey, "Germaine Greer's Trouble with Men," pp. C1, C5.
Washington Post Book World, May 23, 1999, Elizabeth Ward, "The Trouble with Women," p. 8.
Washington Times, June 28, 1999, Ann Geracimos, "Still a Defiant, Feminist Contrarian," p. 8.
Woman's Journal, March, 1999, review of The Whole Woman, p. 19.
Women's Review of Books, January, 1993.
World Press Review, May, 1999, Kara J. Peterson, review of The Whole Woman, p. 37.
Enough Rope with Andrew Denton,http://www.abc.net.au/enoughrope/stories/ (August 24, 2004), "Germaine Greer: Enough Rope, Episode 27, Transcript."
Naplesnews.com,http://www.naplesnews.com/ (May 31, 2002).
New York Times on the Web,http://www.nytimes.com/ (May 31, 2002), Camille Paglia, biography of Germaine Greer.
Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/ (May 31, 2002), Laura Miller, "Brilliant Careers."*