Beyond The Female Eunuch

Germaine Greer in Conversation with Bee Rowlatt

 

Women Uninterrupted Series

 

NexaFront Lawn

 

RushatiMukherjee, Official ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival Blogger

 

“A tornado of provocation” is how moderator Bee Rowlattdescribed author and feminist icon Germaine Greer. The term was entirely apt for describing the session that followed. The author of the seminal text of second wave feminism, The Female Eunuch, faced a volley of questions from both Rowlatt and the audience, who questioned her on her pronouncements about the trans community, the #MeToo movement and much more.

 

Greer had imagined that by this time- it has been 39 years since The Female Eunuch was released- her book would have been rendered unnecessary. Written on the fiftieth anniversary of women getting the vote in Britain, Greer mentioned that many frustrations remained in spite of that rather late milestone, and propelled her to write this book, such asno policies for women, a disgraceful bargain between British feminists and the war effort, and the fact that the vote was initially only available to women over 30 who had property.

 

She also referred to the work of black radical Eldridge Cleaver, and his book, Soul on Ice, in which he mentions the spiritual castration of black men- a concept she found an interesting analogy for women: “A girl is born with energy, creativity and a voice. How does she become silenced?” She asked.

 

Greerobserved she wrote the book so that women could read it, and she kept in mind that most women have no time for leisure, and would have to juggle reading with their work. “It was the women who made The Female Eunuch,” she said. “It’s not a very good book. It’s the way they read it that made it important.”

 

Other parts of the discussion were less unanimously agreed upon. Her views on the trans community, and indeed, being trans, did not seem to be in step with modern consensus. She acknowledged the existence of a third gender, but beyond that, her ideas of biological sex, gender and sexuality seemed to be interchangeable in terms in her parlance. In contemporary understanding, transness is neither a “costume,” nor is it the peculiar phenomenon of “men being better at being women than women are”, both of which Greerassociated with being trans.

 

Greer’s views on the idea of #NotAllMen is one commonly heard amongst third wave feminists, and one she argues is a necessary counterpart to the #MeToo movement: “not that all men hate all women all the time, but that women don’t know when they’re in danger from the men they’re with.”

 

However, more contentious was her take on the #MeToo movement itself, which she seemed to dismiss as publicity seeking by those victims who reported the incident years after signing non-disclosure agreements about workplace harassment, as a way to extort money from the accused. This idea was, in particular, strongly resisted by the audience, which made for a lively QnA session during which many members vocally disagreed with her.  She did clarify, however, that she never used the word “whining” to describe the movement.

 

Other aspects of Greer’s long career, such as her environmental activism and her exploration of women poets from the sixteenth and seventeenth century, provided a sense of balance in the discussion. Ultimately, the session closed with a comment by Rowlatt that seemed to echo throughout the Front Lawn: “Many women, I suppose, feel betrayed by your stand. I suppose they feel that you were a voice for the powerless and now you’re a voice for the powerful.”

 

 

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