Germaine Greer

From Academic Kids

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Dr. Germaine Greer, pictured in her middle age

Germaine Greer (born January 29, 1939) is an Australian academic, writer, and broadcaster, who is widely regarded as one of the most significant feminist voices of the 20th century.

A professor of English literature at the University of Warwick in England, and the author of several highly acclaimed books, Greer's ground-breaking The Female Eunuch became an international bestseller when it was published in 1970, turning Greer overnight into a household name, and bringing her both adulation and criticism. Her ideas have created controversy ever since.

"[Her] mind provokes us like no other," her biographer Christine Wallace wrote in The Sydney Morning Herald, "but for all the wrong reasons." [1] (


Biographical details

Greer has stirred up debate all her adult life, identifying herself since the late 50s as an anarchist. The Guardian reported that the writer Angela Carter described her as "a clever fool", while former British MP Edwina Currie called her "a great big hard-boiled prat". Christine Wallace used the terms "grooviness personified", "anachronistic passivity", and "hegemonic heterosexuality" to describe her subject, to which Greer replied that Wallace was a "dung-beetle" and "a flesh-eating bacterium". Stephanie Merritt wrote in The Guardian:

She has been in the business of shaking up a complacent establishment for nearly 40 years now and was employing the most elemental shock tactic of getting naked in public both long before and long after it ever crossed Madonna's mind ... She has repeatedly written about her own experiences of lesbian sex, rape, abortion, infertility, failed marriage (she was married for three weeks to a construction worker in the 1960s) and menopause, thereby leaving herself open to claims that she shamelessly extrapolates from her own condition to the rest of womankind and calls it a theory ... In part, her ability to remain so prominently in the public consciousness comes from an astute understanding and well-established symbiotic relationship with a media as eager to be shocked as she is to shock. [2] (,6000,1057077,00.html)

Greer was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1939, growing up in the bayside suburb of Mentone. After attending a convent, Star of the Sea College, in Gardenvale, Melbourne, she won a teaching scholarship in 1956 and enrolled at the University of Melbourne, where she acquired the nickname Germianic Queer, and graduated in 1959 with a B.A. (Hons.). She then moved to Sydney, where she became involved with the Sydney Push, a group of intellectual left-wing anarchists who practised non-monogamy. The writer Christine Wallace describes Greer at that time:

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Germaine Greer in 1970
For Germaine, [the Push] provided a philosophy to underpin the attitude and lifestyle she had already acquired in Melbourne. She walked into the Royal George Hotel, into the throng talking themselves hoarse in a room stinking of stale beer and thick with cigarette smoke, and set out to follow the Push way of life — 'an intolerably difficult discipline which I forced myself to learn'. The Push struck her as completely different from the Melbourne intelligentsia she had engaged with in the Drift, 'who always talked about art and truth and beauty and argument ad hominem; instead, these people talked about truth and only truth, insisting that most of what we were exposed to during the day was ideology, which was a synonym for lies — or bullshit, as they called it.' Her Damascus turned out to be the Royal George, and the Hume Highway was the road to it. 'I was already an anarchist,' she says. 'I just didn't know why I was an anarchist. They put me in touch with the basic texts and I found out what the internal logic was about how I felt and thought' (Wallace 1997).

While in Sydney, Greer lectured at the University of Sydney, gaining an M.A. in 1963 for a thesis on Byron. A year later, the thesis won her a Commonwealth Scholarship, which she used to fund her doctorate at the University of Cambridge in England, where she became a member of the all-women's Newnham College.

Professor Lisa Jardine, who was at Newnham with Greer, recalled the first time she met Greer, at a college formal dinner:

The principal called us to order for the speeches. As a hush descended, one person continued to speak, too engrossed in her conversation to notice, her strong Australian accent reverberating around the room. At the graduates' table, Germaine was explaining that there could be no liberation for women, no matter how highly educated, as long as we were required to cram our breasts into bras constructed like mini-Vesuviuses, two stitched white cantilevered cones which bore no resemblance to the female anatomy. The willingly suffered discomfort of the Sixties bra, she opined vigorously, was a hideous symbol of male oppression ... [W]e were ... astonished at the very idea that a woman could speak so loudly and out of turn and that words such as "bra" and "breasts' — or maybe she said "tits" — could be uttered amid the psuedo-masculine solemnity of a college dinner. [3] (,6000,1057077,00.html)

Greer joined the student amateur acting company, the Cambridge Footlights, which launched her into the London arts and media scene. Using the nom de plume Rose Blight, she wrote a gardening column for the satirical magazine Private Eye, and as Dr. G, became a regular contributor to the underground London OZ magazine, owned by Australian writer Richard Neville. [4] ( The July 29, 1970 edition was guest-edited by Greer, and featured an article of hers on the hand-knitted Cock Sock, "a snug corner for a chilly prick."

She received her Ph.D. in 1968 for a thesis on Shakespeare's early comedies, and accepted a lectureship in English at the University of Warwick. The same year, in London, she married Australian journalist Paul du Feu, but the marriage lasted only three weeks, and ended in divorce in 1973.

Following her 1970 success with The Female Eunuch, Greer left Warwick in 1972 after flying around the world to promote her book. She co-presented a Granada Television comedy show called Nice Time with Kenny Everett and Jonathan Routh, bought a house in Italy, wrote a column for The Sunday Times, then spent the next few years traveling through Africa and Asia, which included a visit to Bangladesh to investigate the situation of women who had been raped during the conflict with Pakistan.

In 1989, Greer returned to Newnham College, Cambridge as a special lecturer and fellow, but left after attracting negative publicity in 1996 for allegedly "outing" Dr. Rachel Padman, a transexual colleague. Greer unsuccessfully opposed Padman's election to a fellowship, on the grounds that Padman had been born a man, and Newnham was a women's college. A June 25, 1997 article by Clare Longrigg in The Guardian about the incident, entitled "A Sister with No Fellow Feeling", disappeared from websites on the instruction of the newspaper's lawyers. [5] (

The Female Eunuch

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The cover to The Female Eunuch

Women don't realize how much men hate them, Greer argued, and how much they are taught to hate themselves. Christine Wallace writes that, when The Female Eunuch was first published, one woman had to keep it wrapped in brown paper because her husband wouldn't let her read it; arguments and fights broke out over dinner tables; and copies of it were thrown across rooms at unsuspecting husbands (Wallace, 1997). It arrived in the stores in London in October 1970. By March 1971, it had nearly sold out its second printing and had been translated into eight languages.

The book's main thesis is that the traditional, suburban, consumerist, nuclear family represses women sexually, and that this devitalizes them, rendering them "eunuchs". It is a "fitful, passionate, scattered text, not cohesive enough to qualify as a manifesto," writes Laura Miller. "It's all over the place, impulsive and fatally naive — which is to say it is the quintessential product of its time." [6] (

"The title is an indication of the problem," Greer told the New York Times, "Women have somehow been separated from their libido, from their faculty of desire, from their sexuality. They've become suspicious about it. Like beasts, for example, who are castrated in farming in order to serve their master's ulterior motives — to be fattened or made docile — women have been cut off from their capacity for action. It's a process that sacrifices vigor for delicacy and succulence, and one that's got to be changed." (March 22, 1971).

Two of the book's themes already pointed the way to her later book Sex and Destiny, namely that the nuclear family is a bad environment for women and for the raising of children; and that the manufacture of women's sexuality by Western society was demeaning and confining. Girls are feminized from childhood by being taught rules that subjugate them, she argued. Later, when women embrace the stereotypical version of adult feminity, they develop a sense of shame about their own bodies, and lose their natural and political autonomy. The result is powerlessness, isolation, a diminished sexualty, and a lack of joy:

The ignorance and isolation of most women mean that they are incapable of making conversation: most of their communication with their spouses is a continuation of the power struggle. The result is that when wives come along to dinner parties they pervert civilized conversation about real issues into personal quarrels. The number of hostesses who wish they did not have to invite wives is legion.

Greer argued that change had to come about by revolution, not evolution. Women should get to know and come to accept their own bodies, taste their own menstrual blood, and give up celibacy and monogamy. But they should not burn their bras. "Bras are a ludicrous invention," she wrote, "but if you make bralessness a rule, you're just subjecting yourself to yet another repression."

While being interviewed about the book in 1971, she told the New York Times that she had been a "supergroupie." "Supergroupies don't have to hang around hotel corridors," she said. "When you are one, as I have been, you get invited backstage. I think groupies are important because they demystify sex; they accept it as physical, and they aren't possessive about their conquests.

Other publications

Her second book, The Obstacle Race: The Fortunes of Women Painters and Their Work, was published in 1979. In the same year, she accepted a post at the University of Tulsa, Oklahoma as the director for the Center of the Study of Women's Literature.

Sex and Destiny: The Politics of Human Fertility, published in 1984, continued Greer's critique of Western attitudes toward sexuality, fertility, family, and the imposition of those attitudes on the rest of the world. Greer's target again is the nuclear family, government intervention in sexual behavior, and the commercialization of sexuality and women's bodies. Greer's apparent approval of life styles and family values in the developing world — the world is over-populated, she argued, only by Western standards of comfortable living — and of poverty in preference to consumerism, led her to endorse practices frequently at odds with the beliefs of most Western feminists. Female genital mutilation had to be considered in context, she wrote, and might be compared with breast augmentation in the West. The book consequently attracted a great deal of criticism.

In 1986, she published Shakespeare, a work of literary criticism, and The Madwoman's Underclothes: Essays and Occasional Writings, a collection of newspaper and magazine articles written between 1968 and 1985. In 1989 came Daddy, We Hardly Knew You, a diary and travelogue about her father, whom she described as distant and unaffectionate, weak, craven, and feeble, which led to claims — as she knew it would, according to The Guardian — that in her writing she was projecting her relationship with him onto all other men.

In 1991, The Change: Women, Ageing, and the Menopause, which the New York Times called a "brilliant, gutsy, exhilarating, exasperating fury of a book" became another influential book in the women's movement. In it, Greer tries to dispel myths about the menopause and ill health, advising against the use of hormone replacement therapy. "Frightening females is fun," she wrote in The Age. "Women were frightened into using hormone replacement therapy by dire predictions of crumbling bones, heart disease, loss of libido, depression, despair, disease and death if they let nature take its course." She argues that scaring women is "big business and hugely profitable." It is fear, she wrote, that "makes women comply with schemes and policies that work against their interest," (The Age, July 13, 2002).

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The Beautiful Boy, 2003

Slip-Shod Sibyls: Recognition, Rejection and the Woman Poet followed in 1995 and, in 1999, two books: The Female Misogynist in 1999, in which she attacked both men and women for what she saw as the lack of progress in the feminist movement, and The Whole Woman. The chapter titles reveal the theme: "Food," "Breast," "Pantomime Dames," "Shopping," "Estrogen," "Testosterone," "Wives," "Loathing," "Girlpower." Greer wrote in the introduction: "The contradictions women face have never been more bruising than they are now. The career woman does not know if she is to do her job like a man or like herself ... Is motherhood a privilege or a punishment? ... [F]ake equality is leading women into double jeopardy ... It's time to get angry again."

In 2003, The Beautiful Boy was published, an art history book about the beauty of teenage boys, richly illustrated with 200 photographs of what The Guardian called "succulent teenage male beauty", alleging that Greer had reinvented herself as a "middle-aged pederast." [7] (,6000,1057077,00.html) Greer described the book as an attempt to address women's apparent indifference to the teenage boy as a sexual object and to "advance women's reclamation of their capacity for, and right to, visual pleasure," (Greer 2003).

Recent events in her life

On April 23, 2000, Greer was taken hostage by Karen Burke, a nineteen-year-old student from the University of Bath who had been writing to Greer, and who eventually broke into her home in Essex, tied Greer up in the kitchen, and proceeded to smash up the contents of the house with a poker and rip the telephone from the wall. Dinner guests eventually found Greer lying in a distressed state on the floor, with Burke hanging onto her legs, shouting "Mummy, mummy". Burke was arrested and charged with assault and unlawful imprisonment, and was later sentenced to two years' probation. Greer was not hurt and held a press conference in which she told reporters: "I am not angry, I am not upset, I am not hurt. I am fine. I haven't lost my sense of humour. I am not the victim here. Ever since I published The Female Eunuch there's been an off-chance that some nutter is going to pick me off, judging by the hostility in the letters." [8] (;sessionid=AZJQDTIMISDADQFIQMGSM54AVCBQWJVC?xml=/news/2000/07/05/ngre05.xml)

In 2001, she attracted publicity again for a proposed treaty with Aboriginal Australia. In 2004, Australian Prime Minister John Howard called her "elitist" and "condescending" after she criticized Australians as "too relaxed to give a damn".

In January 2005, Greer was revealed as one of eight contestants in Celebrity Big Brother, a British variant of the reality television show Big Brother. She had previously said that the show was "as civilized as looking through the keyhole in your teenager's bedroom door". She walked out of the show after five days inside the "Big Brother house", citing the psychological cruelty and bullying of the show's producers, the dirt of the house, and the publicity-seeking behavior of her fellow contestants. [9] (,,2120-16149-1441708,00.html)

Books by Germaine Greer

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Greer in Chelsea in 1969, photographed by Bryan Wharton
  • Whitefella Jump Up: The Shortest Way To Nationhood (2004), Profile Books, ISBN 1861977395
  • Chico, El - El Efebo En Las Artes (2004), Grupo Oceano, ISBN 8449426006
  • The Beautiful Boy (2003), Rizzoli, ISBN 0847825868
  • Libraries (2003), Lemon Tree Press, ASIN B0006S84S6
  • Shakespeare: A Very Short Introduction (2002), Very Short Introductions series, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0192802496
  • One Hundred Poems by Women (2001), Faber and Faber, ISBN 0571207340
  • The Whole Woman (1999), this edition 2000, ISBN 0385720033
  • The Change : Women, Aging and the Menopause, this edition 1993, Ballantine Books, ISBN 0449908534
  • Daddy, We Hardly Knew You, 1989
  • The Madwoman's Underclothes: Essays and Occasional Writings (1986), this edition 1990, Atlantic Monthly Press, ISBN 0871133083
  • Shakespeare (1986), Past Masters series, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0192875396
  • Sex and Destiny: The Politics of Human Fertility (1984), this edition 1985, Olympic Marketing Corp, ISBN 0060912502
  • The Obstacle Race:The Fortunes of Women Painters and Their Work (1980), this edition 2001, Tauris Parke Paperbacks, ISBN 1860646778
  • The Female Eunuch (1970), this edition, Farrar Straus Giroux (2002), ISBN 0374527628


  • Wallace, Christine, (1997), Germaine Greer: Untamed Shrew, this edition, Faber & Faber (1999), ISBN 0571199348
  • "A new outbreak of Germ's warfare" ( by Catherine Keenan, Sydney Morning Herald, August 28, 2004
  • Danger Mouth (,6000,1057077,00.html) by Stephanie Merritt, The Guardian, October 5, 2003
  • "Germaine Greer - Opinions That May Shock the Faithful", by Judith Weinraub, New York Times, March 22, 1971
  • Growing up with Greer (,6121,97559,00.html) by Lisa Jardine, The Guardian, March 7, 1999
  • "Stalker jumped on Greer crying 'Mummy, Mummy'" (;sessionid=AZJQDTIMISDADQFIQMGSM54AVCBQWJVC?xml=/news/2000/07/05/ngre05.xml) by David Sapsted, The Daily Telegraph, May 7, 2000
  • "From feminist sister to Big Brother housemate" (,14173,1385211,00.html), by Steven Shukor, The Guardian, January 7, 2005
  • "Greer walks out of 'bullying' Big Brother" (,14173,1388383,00.html) by Owen Gibson, The Guardian, January 12, 2005
  • "Filth!" (,,2120-16149-1441708,00.html) by Germaine Greer, The Sunday Times, January 16, 2005

More external links

de:Germaine Greer es:Germaine Greer nds:Germaine Greer pl:Germaine Greer sr:Џермејн Грир fi:Germaine Greer


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