The Female Eunuch Analysis

Form and Content (Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The Female Eunuch, by Germaine Greer, is remarkable both for its style and for its substance. Stylistically, it presents a nonstop journey of blistering eloquence, as Greer scores point after point against what she sees as the wrongheaded ways that people think about sexuality, love, the family, politics, and society in general. The relatively loose organization of the book gives Greer free rein to search out and destroy myths which promote oppression and unhappiness for women and men alike. Interspersed with Greer’s own prose are boxed quotes from numerous authors, past and present, who—sometimes foolishly, sometimes wisely—have approached the book’s subject matter (sex and gender) in a revealing way. These quotes are not always clearly related to the main text, but they are always provocative and entertaining, which is also true for the book as a whole. Substantively, the book addresses the issues of female sexuality and gender equality in an original and profound way, one which, joined with its provocative style, struck a chord with many women and more than a few men. The book also aroused stern opposition from inside and outside the women’s liberation movement.

As the book’s title indicates, Greer’s central thesis is that, in numerous ways, western culture castrates women (this castration is literal in the case of clitorectomies, formerly a way of controlling female masturbation), thoroughly repressing their natural sexuality and replacing it with the myth of passivity. Women are reduced either to idealized eunuchs—morally pure, odorless, pert, and attractive—or, if they reject their asexual designation, witches and whores. Either way, women’s lives, liberty, and pursuit of happiness are seriously proscribed. Moreover, this oppression of women does not profit men, at least not in the long...

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The Female Eunuch Context (Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The Female Eunuch had an immediate impact on the reading public, becoming a best-seller despite its publisher’s initial hesitancy to put large quantities of the book in print. This surprising marketability, in turn, increased publishers’ interest in other feminist authors, many of whom rode Greer’s coattails to commercial success and, most important, a broader audience. The Female Eunuch also has displayed a certain amount of lasting power.

In addition, Greer herself became a widely exposed spokeswoman for women’s liberation. She was the first of the contemporary feminists to become a media star, more than holding her own with various television interviewers and discussion panelists. Tall, articulate, and unremittingly provocative, Greer made an impressive role model for young and not-so-young women working toward greater independence and a stronger personal identity. Both Greer and her book made significant contributions to the “sexual revolution” of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, helping to legitimize female sexuality as well as a more free orientation toward sexual activity for both men and women.

On the other hand, Greer’s influence on feminist thought pales beside that of figures such as Betty Friedan, Kate Millett, Shulamith Firestone, and Mary Daly. While Greer is occasionally quoted and her books have been avidly reviewed in periodicals, she really has been channeled into the role of entertainer...

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The Female Eunuch (Masterpieces of Women's Literature, Critical Edition)

The Work

Germaine Greer, who taught at Warwick University in England and wrote for journals such as The Listener and The Spectator, became a popular voice in the second wave of the women’s movement, or the “second feminist wave,” in the early 1970’s. A rousing public speaker, she debated male chauvinists and called for a shaking up of contemporary society. Australian by birth, Greer held a unique position in Anglo- American culture, spanning continents and reaching millions of readers and listeners. The Female Eunuch, translated into twelve languages, called for nothing less than a revolution in women’s thinking about themselves and how society treated them.

In the introduction to The Female Eunuch, Greer allies herself with the New Left, a political movement she sees as a broad amalgamation of forces working toward the liberation of the oppressed. As part of the New Left, feminists must not be content with the middle- class protest of earlier feminists such as the suffragists, who demanded participation in society as it was already constituted. Progressive women at the turn of the twentieth century were concerned with winning voting rights and becoming part of the status quo, Greer observes. Her generation, on the other hand, should reject society as such, which has promulgated a male chauvinist, predatory view of women.

The Female Eunuch, as its title suggests, deplores the degradation of women. If men have turned women into stereotypes, women have abetted their own dehumanization. The first section, titled “Body,” emphasizes how every aspect of the female anatomy has been isolated into desirable parts (bones, curves, hair, and so on). Women worry about “tummy control” and fashion themselves into walking dummies, inhumanly contorting themselves into the culture’s conceptions of beauty, Greer concludes.

This stripping down of women into their body parts is paralleled by what is done to their interiors, Greer points out in the second section, “Soul.” Women are described as dependents—babies and girls, malleable and passive. Women are so much raw material or playthings—dolls available to male fantasy.

In section 3, Greer explores “Love,” caustically showing how women become the objects of male fantasy and succumb to the “middle-class myth of love and marriage.” In this myth, women are deprived of their individuality and character and must constantly suit themselves to the unreal and abstract conceptions of the male-dominated workplace and home.

In section 4, Greer analyzes the results of this unnatural repression of women and uncovers the roots of the second feminist wave: loathing and disgust, misery, resentment, and rebellion. Women turn against themselves—if not against their society—because they have become eunuchs, almost literally deprived of what should make them truly appealing as sexual and mental beings. Only a revolution could wrest...

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The Female Eunuch Bibliography (Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Castro, Ginette. American Feminism: A Contemporary History. Translated by Elizabeth Loverde-Bagwell. New York: New York University Press, 1990. This book provides an eminently accessible introduction to the range and varieties of contemporary American feminism. Chapter 5, in which Greer is treated as an advocate of feminist androgyny, is especially relevant.

Coole, Diana. Women in Political Theory: From Ancient Misogyny to Contemporary Feminism. 2d ed. New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1993. Though this book does not include Greer’s book in its bibliography, it helps to put her work in perspective both by placing contemporary feminism into the context of Western political thought and by showing the incredible range, depth, and complexity of feminist political ideas.

Greer, Germaine. Daddy, We Hardly Knew You. New York: Viking Penguin, 1989. An investigation into the life of her father after he dies in 1983, this book sheds light on Greer’s skeptical attitude toward the idealized nuclear family.

Greer, Germaine. The Madwoman’s Underclothes: Essays and Occasional Writings 1968-85. London: Picador, 1986. This highly diverse collection illustrates Greer’s pungent, eclectic—critics might say ad hoc and undisciplined—brand of commentary. Topics range from an analysis of Jimi Hendrix’s tragic demise to Greer’s dealings with self-proclaimed critic of feminism Norman Mailer to her brief association with Suck (a pornographic newspaper that she helped to found).

Mailer, Norman. The Prisoner of Sex. Boston: Little, Brown, 1971. Mailer’s swipe at feminism. Greer, however, is treated rather favorably, a fact that neither she nor other feminists appreciated. Greer later appeared in a televised debate with Mailer, describing the experience in an essay entitled “My Mailer Problem.” The essay is included in The Madwoman’s Underclothes (listed above).