Sex and Destiny Critical Essays

Germaine Greer


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Greer’s first book, The Female Eunuch (1971), was an outcry against the suppression and misrepresentation of female sexuality. The enormous impact of that work raised the prospect that whatever came from the pen of its author could be filed under the heading “feminist theory.” Contrary to those expectations, Sex and Destiny is not about the power imbalance between men and women. Instead, it concerns the power imbalance in another dominance relationship, the one between the “developed,” largely Eurocaucasian, industrialized market economies and the “developing,” largely equatorial, postcolonial Third World.

Greer takes a respectful position with regard to the practices of traditional nonindustrial societies. She repeatedly illustrates ways in which customs that seem bizarre and negative to the urbanized West were beneficial to the survival of groups that practiced them. For example, ritual sexual abstinence during the growing season had the effect of slowing the birth rate to a level that could be accommodated by available food supplies. Greer’s understanding acceptance is not, however, limited to relatively neutral practices such as customs regulating when and where sexual intercourse is allowed. She also speaks, with utilitarian respect of clitoridectomy, infanticide, Islamic purdah, patriarchal kinship systems, and menstrual seclusion. These practices, although legitimately “traditional,” have long been instrumental in the oppression of women. For this reason, some readers who expected a straightforward feminist message from Greer have been disappointed and even betrayed. Others have complained of the logical inconsistency of a cultural relativism that accepted and positively valued the practices of all cultures except, irrationally, one’s own. Of her own...

(The entire section is 744 words.)