Books

Greer's call to arms

A passionate feminist pioneer argues it is time for women ‘to get angry again’

Patricia Chisholm May 24 1999
Books

Greer's call to arms

A passionate feminist pioneer argues it is time for women ‘to get angry again’

Patricia Chisholm May 24 1999

Greer's call to arms

A passionate feminist pioneer argues it is time for women ‘to get angry again’

Books

There’s something about Germaine Greer that women adore. It’s probably not her politics: the author of The Female Eunuch (1970) is far too left, too iconoclastic and too bloody-minded to inspire wide consensus. But when the 60-year-old feminist, author and academic made an appearance at a Toronto luncheon recently, love was in the air. Greer pulled in more than 1,400 women, a record for the Women of Influence series (sponsored by Chatelaine magazine), and delivered a fluid, passionate call to arms. Echoing her new book, The Whole Woman, Greer decried the state of almost everything important to women, from reproductive medicine to poor representation in management. Women’s lives are richer than they were 30 years ago, she said, but they are also harder. It’s time, Greer declared, “to get angry again”—about money, about work, about what it means to be female.

It is that very public anger, served up with Greer’s characteristic wit, that women respond to. The problem is that this new book reads like little more than a series of venomous broadsides. The beauty industry, in its obsession with selling product, she says, has deliberately infected women with what the medical profession calls “body dysmorphic disorder”—a preoccupation with perceived physical defects. The pill and IUD amount to “abortion” and routine screening for cervical cancer results in the “torturing” of women.

On topics where she is comfortable, such as motherhood, work, and what it means to be female, Greer often scores a direct hit. Who could argue that, despite decades of feminism, women feel more pressure than ever to appear ageless, squandering their precious time and energy in absurd battles with implacable foes like cellulite? Children, far from being assets and delights in themselves, are viewed more and more by

society as a “drain on resources and a clog on life’s pleasures.” Their mothers, mired in worry, guilt and exhaustion, still take the blame if their marriages fail or their children turn out badly. Depression, the plague of women that is seldom taken seriously, is a rational response to these “unbearable circumstances,” Greer says.

But the book’s force is undermined by Greer’s tendency to go out on a limb when discussing subjects she seems to know little about. This is particularly true when it comes to medicine, a discipline she appears to view as one of the dark arts. Ultrasound screening of fetuses may cause dyslexia, she claims, although she supplies very little support for that claim. Infertility treatment causes more suffering than joy, she says, adding the questionable conclusion that it pits mothers who conceive artificially against those who do so naturally. Too often, her arguments simply deteriorate into a rant, doing both Greer and the women’s movement a disservice. Given her welldeserved stature as a groundbreaking feminist, it is unfortunate that Greer failed to give her new book the sober second thought that first-class work requires.

Patricia Chisholm