In the course of the last year three books were written by women on women’s oppression and liberation.
The Female Eunuch and Patriarchal Attitudes, although not written from within the women’s liberation movement, are nevertheless valuable contributions to it. They try to grapple with a number of problems related to the current growth of consciousness among women and, in their treatment of the present as well as their suggestions for the future, reflect the strengths and weaknesses of the present stage. The author of Sexual Politics is an active member of the American women’s liberation movement, and this book is the most recent attempt to articulate the components of sexual politics and put them into a social and historical context. In this sense it is a continuation of the project started by Simone de Beauvoir in 1949. The three books illustrate the range of problems as well as the scope of the effort necessary to construct a theory of women’s position in society. They all suffer from one fundamental weakness: a failure to link sexual with class politics. But if one thing is clear about the women’s liberation movement as it has developed in the last few years, it is its
A female human infant gains admission to the society which ‘has been lying in wait for her since before her birth and seizes her before her first cry, assigning to her her fixed destination’. Although this process gives her a certain room to manoeuvre, so to speak, enough room to make disastrous mistakes as well as achieve spectacular successes, it is nevertheless in almost every detail determined by the particular culture into which she is born.
Greer’s premise is that a woman successfully socialized into patriarchial society is a spectacular failure as a human being, a tragic negation of all that she could be; she is, in short, defined by her castration.
From childhood, woman’s upbringing, both physically and intellectually, is characterized by the contradiction between her feminine conditioning and the male order that suffuses the world around her. The castration of women is ‘carried out in terms of a masculine-feminine polarity, in which men have commandeered all the energy and streamlined it into an aggressive conquistadorial power, reducing all heterosexual contact to a sado-masochistic pattern’. This results in love perverted by altruism and self-interest, and turned into an obsession produced by the bourgeois myth of love and marriage. This syncretism of body and soul is the stereotype, the myth of the Eternal Feminine. Perverted love comes to involve hate. The way out lies not in ‘rebellion’ but in ‘revolution’. The Female Eunuch is therefore structured around three dichotomies: body/soul, love/hate and rebellion/revolution.
The section of the book dealing with sex shows Germaine Greer to be magnificently and militantly anti-puritan: here she is at her most convincing. She quotes from ballad literature to portray a time when women could describe their sex as that ‘lusty wench’ did in the 17th century:
You’l find the Purse so deep,
You’l hardly come to the treasure.
Samuel Collins’ Systema Anatomicum published in the same century ‘described the vagina so lovingly that any woman who read his words must have been greatly cheered. . . . Collins’ description is an active one: the vagina speaks, throws, is tense and vigorous’. The debunking of the illusory vaginal orgasm has been an advance, argues the author, but the pendulum has now swung to the other extreme and ‘the substitution of the clitoral spasm for genuine gratification may turn out to