Feminism

The Female Eunuch

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Women's Liberation is the cause célébre of the decade. Naturally, we have been deluged with an outpouring of literature on the subject. Every viewpoint has been represented from the super-radical [THE SCUM MANIFESTO, I, B.IT.C.H.) to the moderate (SEXUAL POLITICS) to the conservative approach (THE FEMININE MYSTIQUE). Unfortunately, many of the current books lack something. Some of them are too scholarly and plodding; others are too preposterous; a few would seem to be nothing more than slightly expanded doctoral theses. But this spring a new book that was scholarly, highly readable, entertaining, and relatively consistent entered the market—THE FEMALE EUNUCH. The author is a tall Australian-born professor and super-groupie, Germaine Greer. Her book will have the same impact that Simone de Beauvoir's THE SECOND SEX had when it was first published. Both women share a similar viewpoint—i.e., that men are not the enemy, all humans are oppressed. It is imperative for us to remember that the myths that enslave women also enslave men.

Miss Greer begins her book by stating that it is part of "the second feminist wave." The suffragettes were working for basic reform; today's women radicals want revolution. The first feminists were able to effect some of their reforms, but the author tells us that "the cage door had been opened but the canary had refused to fly out." She then relates the numerous reasons why hard-won rights were treated so lightly by the majority of the female populace.

Then came the sexual revolution. Woman was transformed into Super-Chick—a decoupage of tireless and inventive lover, efficient housewife, forever-youthful sex symbol, exquisite and imaginative interior decorator, gourmet cook, fashionplate, perfect mother, ad nauseum. A lot of women, including myself, were irritated by the untenable position they were almost forced into. So they rebelled; some flagrantly, others imperceptibly. Miss Greer primarily addresses her book to those women who have indeed upset the myth of the "paragon of perfection." At the outset, the author relates that "it is impossible to argue a case for female liberation if there is no certainty about the degree of inferiority or natural dependence which is unalterably female." Therefore, THE FEMALE EUNUCH flows logically to take us on a step-by-step tour of ourselves.

We are first confronted with our bodies. We examine our gender, bones, curves, hair, sex, and womb. Most readers will glean little new information from this section. The author intersperses her writing with bits and pieces of the works of other authors. Each inclusion is highlighted by bold type. This is one of the book's most enhancing features.

When Miss Greer dissects the soul of a women, she has the oxymoronic ability to be passionate yet intellectually detached. She first analyzes the stereotype woman, the "Eternal Feminine." Why does this myth of womanhood rule our culture? Does it not suffocate the emotions of men as well as women? Her wit shines through the pages. At one point, she concludes that "disgraced, unsexed April Ashley is our sister and our symbol." She surmises that

April's incompetence as a woman is what we must expect from a castrate, but it is not so very different after all from the impotence of feminine women, who submit to sex without desire, with only the infantile pleasure of cuddling and affection, which is their favorite reward.

In her overview of energy, she draws from her background as a university lecturer to comment that most women students she has encountered expend their energy conforming with "disciplinary and other requirements, not in gratifying their own curiosity about the subject they are studying." She further states that this could well be the reason that women seldom make great advances and continue to assist men and work under their direction. She sympathetically tells us that "we must endeavor to understand how it is that women's energy is systematically deflected from birth to puberty, so that when they come to maturity they have only fitful resource and creativity." This is one of the most jolting points that the author makes.

Miss Greer then defines the title of her book. Women are eunuchs because they have been taught to deny the element of quest in their sexuality. All of our contacts are stunted from infancy onward. And when we finally become cognizant of our sex, "the pattern has sufficient force of inertia to prevail over new forms of desire and curiosity." In order to highlight her contention, she further states that "we will have to reject the polarity of definite terms, which are always artificial, and strive for the freedom to move within indefinite terms."

The author's analysis of how children's roles are distorted from infancy was particularly intriguing to me. My husband and I have a little boy. We are trying the best we can to raise him without the fetters of a sex role. We encourage his independence (far too much in the eyes of his grandmothers) and we refrain from feeding him the usual cliches. I nodded my head in silent agreement when I read Miss Greer's hypothesis that a "child's acquisition of all facilities is retarded tenfold or a hundredfold by the role he must play as Mother's product, her toy and her achievement." In comparing children who are a joy to both parents with those who exist almost only to give their mothers a purpose, one notices a multitude of differences. Little boys who have not been told that "boys don't cry," "boys are supposed to be brave," and little girls whose ears have not been taunted by the "sugar and spice" rhyme are much more gentle, less aggressive, and less apt to be frightened than other children. These children are people, not images. Miss Greer's chapter on "Baby" should be placed inside those free copies of Dr. Spock that obstetricians are forever handing out.

In a chapter entitled "The Raw Material," Miss Greer makes clear that "it is known…that sex hormones do enter the brain, but no correlation between that physiological fact and mental capacity or behavior has ever been established, although it has been assumed." She then gives a synopsis of Eleanor Maccoby's book, THE DEVELOPMENT OF SEX DIFFERENCES. Girls advance more quickly than boys early in life. Then the pattern changes as society begins to form and shape each child into "feminine" and "masculine." However, it is noted that "mothers who were less nurturant towards daughters during pre-school years had the more academically successful daughters."

The chapter entitled "Womanpower" is the apex of the author's thoughts and deductions. She relates

If women understand by emancipation the adoption of the masculine role then we are lost indeed. If women can supply no counterbalance to the,blindness of male drive, the aggressive society will run its lunatic extremes at ever-escalating speed. Who will safeguard the despised animal faculties of compassion, empathy, innocence and sensuality?…Woman must have room and scope to devise a morality which does not disqualify her from excellence, and a psychology which does not condemn her to the status of a spiritual cripple.

Intelligence was once surmised to have served as "a direct index of the intensity of feeling." But now intelligence is thought to undermine it. A line from William Blake's "Jerusalem" serves as a reminder than once "a Tear was an Intellectual thing." But now Miss Greer writes "how sad it is for men to have feeling and thought in opposition." How tragic that our society has decreed that intelligence and creativity no longer reinforce each other! Parents are told not to despair if their child has a low I.Q. score, that he might indeed be very creative. Teachers and educators smugly tell us that intelligence and creativity don't go hand in hand. Creativity seems to be coming to the forefront again. Computers monopolize much of the vertical thinking. Miss Greer argues that this places "more and more emphasis on the creative propensities of human thought." How fortunate women are that they have escaped separation of intellect and emotion! It could ultimately be the salvation of humanity.

Miss Greer's writings on the subject of work are tainted by her socialist leanings. She contends that women are the casualties of our modified and bastardized free market system. All of her arguments are the same paltry platitudes one hears from most of the other feminists. There is nothing really new in this chapter.

The next section of THE FEMALE EUNUCH, "Love," is masterfully and engagingly written. In many instances, the author excels at making cliches sound refreshing and original. Of course, much of her insight is quite European. Germaine Greer likes men and willingly admits it, but she opines that the only sort of love that can be based on trust and understanding is a relationship between equals. In fact, her thoughts almost parallel the message contained in a movie entitled "My Night at Maud's." Utilization of several passages from Maslow on self-realization and love is quite effective in reaffirming the author's ideas. Maslow contends that a healthy love exists between two people who respect themselves and each other—not phony roles. Miss Greer enthusiastically endorses that viewpoint.

Anyone who agrees with the Objectivist analysis of altruism will find an ally in Miss Greer. Perhaps her most uncompromising put-down in the entire book concerns women who confuse love with altrusim. "They sacrifice what they have never had: a self."

As the author further dissects the images of love, she assails men and women alike for the type of situation they create for themselves in marriage. How many times have all of us heard, "We couldn't live without each other." Statements like that only indicate the eradication of one's own individuality. As Miss Greer states

…both…have sacrificed so much of what initially made them lovable to promote the symbiosis of mutual dependence that they scarcely make up one human being between them.

Unfortunately, I have observed that women who have obliterated their uniqueness far outnumber men in a similar situation. The reason for this is all too apparent: the myths of romance and marriage.

The chapter entitled "Romance" could have been one of the highlights of THE FEMALE EUNUCH. Its many shortcomings are the result of Miss Greer's reliance upon feelings. She attacks the women who read "romantic fiction." Obviously, more Englishwomen read Heyer, LOVE STORIES, and WOMEN'S WEEKLY than do American women. A quick glance at the New York Times Bestseller List will indicate that the only "romantic fiction" that is heavily indulged in by American females are "gothic romances." Many of these books do not rely heavily on magic kisses, virginal white dresses, or lace handkerchiefs; they contain more mystery than kissing scenes. Nevertheless, Miss Greer makes rather sweeping statements to the effect that "a woman is never so happy as when she is being wooed!" How the author can contend this in our day of sexual revolution, when women have finally taken on the sexual ethics of men, is beyond me. She further hypothesizes that romance is the "one adventure open" to young woman and that marriage brings about the end of true romance. I rather doubt that many females still have that starry-eyes attitude. Perhaps 10 years ago, but not now!

Miss Greer's musings on the family brought out an idea that has been received favorably by several of my friends. The author states that if she had a child, she would like to group together with other mothers, rent a farm, hire a local family to maintain the house and its environs, and then come and go as she pleases. There would really be no need for fathers unless they chose to visit. The children would grow up having companionship of peers. They would also be spared the anxiety of having mothers who feel that their children are their purpose for living. They would ideally be free to become themselves—not mere extensions of their mother's frustrations. This idea is more appealing to me than that of a kibbutz. There is some continuity with the presence of a full-time housekeeper. I would also venture to guess that many mothers would be much more interested in their offspring as a unique individual were they not tied down to them day in and day out.

In discussing relationships in the family, Miss Greer points out that the nuclear family is "possibly the shortest-lived familial system ever developed." She contrasted the single marriage family with the stem family in which the oldest male parent headed the entire household. In many cultures, this still prevails. As Margaret Mead and other anthropologists have pointed out, the children who grow up with grandfathers, aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, and sisters, as well as the traditional mother and father, are much more secure. There is always someone there to answer questions, play, commiserate. But industrialization was one of the chief causes of the decay of the stem family. As Miss Greer points out, "More and more of the functions of the large household devolved upon the state; the care of the old, of the sick, of the mentally infirm and backward." In our own generation, more and more of us want to eliminate the state from the family's own responsibilities. For some, the commune is an attempt to create once again the stem family.

In the few pages allotted to security, Miss Greer displays a finely drawn sense of awareness. She begins by assailing us for trying to buy security. While laughing at our follies, she also illustrates the pitfalls of the welfare state, which is a bit unusual since she proclaims herself to be a socialist. She tells us

The more the state undertakes to protect a man from illness and indigence, the more it has the right to sacrifice him to the common good, to demolish his house and kill his animals, to hospitalize his children or take them into approved homes; the more government forms upon which his name appears, the more numerous the opportunities for him to be calumniated in high places.

Security is anti-life. The author quotes a young man who concludes that "security can be a killer, and corrode your mind and soul." One can almost hear his voice lower two octaves when he follows up his observation with the statement, "but I wish I had it." Most of us who have given it any thought must conclude that security as we know it is a trap. Women in particular are apt to consider marriage as the ultimate security. One only has to look at divorce laws to see that this sense of security is false. Miss Greer surmises that it would be best if the contractual nature of the wedding vows were made clearer. Even then, a permanent security could not be guaranteed. In this instance, the author advises that it would be best if, in all situations, people would "refuse to consider the bait of security and bargain openly. To do this a woman [or a man!] must have a different kind of security, the kind of personal security which enables her to consider insecurity as freedom."

For a woman to rise above the promises of security, it takes more than a minimal amount of self-confidence. She must remember that, when she cannot be taken for granted, her soul is her own. The author, who has obviously grappled with the problem, tells us that the woman who struggles to love from "her fullness instead of her inadequacy" may appear hard. Miss Greer encourages woman in this pursuit by gently chiding us that we all ought to remember that we were originally loved for ourselves.

Germaine Greer begins the section on "Hate" by stating that "women have very little idea how much men hate them." She illustrates her point by dissecting "pet names" that males bestow upon their female friends. Most of these endearing terms consist of baby animals and food. This point has been made by other prominent advocates of Women's Liberation. Somehow it escapes them that women, too, have been known to christen their lovers with similar names. After all, Jacqueline Onassis called her first husband "Bunny."

The author does, however, make several significant points regarding men's contempt for the women they sleep with. Oftentimes men who display such a loathing of their sex partners are at odds with their own sexuality. They create this crisis within themselves because they subject themselves to improbable situations—they categorize females into two distinct groups. There are the women they sleep with who are somewhat contemptible; there is the girl they idealize, a modern-day vestal.

The lack of esteem for the female organ is illustrated by recognition of the most common terms of derision. This often reinforces a woman's low opinion of herself. Manifestations of this can be found in woman's profound apologies for her body. Miss Greer contends that bemoaning too small or too large breasts, short legs, hefty hips, flabby buttocks is not a reflection of fashion but of dissatisfaction with our bodies. We too often overwhelm our small store of self-confidence by seeking to change what heredity has dictated.

Misery is the next topic tackled. Most of us realize the conditions that make most housewives miserable. They read the LADIES HOME JOURNAL, MCCALLS, HOW TO BE A HAPPILY MARRIED MISTRESS, and FASCINATING WOMANHOOD. Their heads teem with ideas on making hubby happier, keeping the house cleaner, raising children with a minimum of trauma. These are their goals. They are encouraged to give themselves whole-heartedly to their families. It is tantamount to telling millions of American women to postpone their lives for twenty years. All this propaganda takes its toll on the intelligent, creative woman who happens to be a housewife and mother. Her dilemma is serious and chances are that she will remain the biggest victim.

Unfortunately, women who are not married face a different crisis. Single women are made miserable by society's pressure to get married. A wedding band would seem to signify success as a woman. Germaine Greer closes the argument by saying, "given the difficulties of marriage as a way of life, and the greater difficulties of spinsterhood, happiness must be seen by women to be a positive achievement."

Miss Greer's musings on the subject of resentment contain much talk of Pyrrhic victories. She also hypothesizes that "men usually conduct themselves with more grace than women do upon the battleground." I dispute the last point. As far as I can discern, very few people—male or female—conduct themselves gracefully in any battle. I do agree with the author on the fact that some women are so determined to "get back" at their husbands that they neglect to consider what a change of attitude could bring about. After all, a woman is less herself when revenge is her reason for living. She belongs, in fact, to the object of her hatred.

In analyzing "rebellion," the author relates that

It is dangerous to eschew sex as a revolutionary tactic because it is inauthentic and enslaving in the terms in which it is now possible, when sex is the principal confrontation in which new values can be worked out.

It is also in this chapter that Miss Greer, a self-proclaimed socialist, casts doubt upon "Engels' dubious anthropology" and the radical women's love for equality—Chinese style. It is pointed out that "in China militarization of women, prohibition of cosmetics and frivolous attire" and all of the other things praised in underground newspapers did little to lessen woman's role as servant to her family. Only "the more obvious evils of concubinage were eradicated." Suspicions as to Fidel Castro's true attitude toward equality for women are highlighted by one of his speeches in which he entreats the women who fought side-by-side with men in the struggle for revolution to go back to their former roles. I am tempted to mimeograph this chapter and send it to several friends in the Women's Liberation movement who keep insisting that capitalism is the reason for the dismal situation of American women today.

The book concludes with a chapter entitled "Revolution." The first paragraph begins

Reaction is not revolution. It is not a sign of revolution when the oppressed adopt the manners of the oppressors and practice oppression on their own behalf.

This belief was hinted at in SEXUAL POLITICS when Kate Millett analyzed Jean Genet's writing. But Miss Greer comes out and says it. She also utilizes this chapter to give advice. She urges women not to marry. She equates independence with freedom while stressing that marriage is antithetical to freedom. She tells of the plight of crumpled marriages. She realizes that married women with children pay too high a price for the freedom a divorce offers them. She ends her book by dubbing revolution "the festival of the oppressed." She urges us to become alive in the struggle.

THE FEMALE EUNUCH is memorable because it is sensible. Germaine Greer is not afraid to point out that too many women don't like themselves or each other because there is nothing to like. We are all lazy to some degree, we are all self-centered. When we move away from our warped visions of ourselves, when we face the truths lurking in our minds, only then will we begin to rejoice in the world we are creating.

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