Arts history: Germaine Greer

Germaine Greer was born in Australia in February 1939. As an academic and cultural critic, she has been at the forefront of feminist politics since she rose to prominence in the 1970’s, with the publication of The Female Eunuch (1970). Since then she has caused controversy after controversy, her charismatic advocacy for women’s liberation (not gender equality) winning her both admiration and disapproval.

Germaine Greer

Greer’s career began in academia, studying and lecturing at universities across the world, including Cambridge. She then branched out into the media, presenting on Granada TV in the early 70s, writing columns for Private Eye, and later cultural columns for publications including The Times and the Guardian.

A polemical work spanning feminist literary and cultural criticism, The Female Eunuch ignited debates that are still going on today, and encouraged women to seek sexual, monetary and political autonomy. Its basic argument, which propelled Greer to a position at the forefront of feminist debates, is that women are “castrated” by the social conditioning they are subjected to. The book’s caustic yet witty style made it and its writer household names.

However, Greer hasn’t always been the darling of the feminist movement, and much of her polemic can be problematic when viewed from 40 years down the line. In 1989, while she was a Special Lecturer and Fellow at Newnham College, Cambridge, she opposed the election of Rachael Padman to a fellowship on the grounds that Padman, a transsexual, had been born a man and therefore could not be admitted to a female-only college. Fortunately, this attempt to block Padman from Newnham was unsuccessful. Greer’s transphobia has continued however, and certain comments from her have led trans-rights protestors to glitter-bomb her in protest on several occasions, most recently in 2012.

Greer’s uncompromising branch of feminism has also alienated both men and women alike, and has arguably contributed to the (inaccurate and reductive) stereotype of the angry, bra-burning and man-hating feminist. Writer Margaret Talbot has even labelled Greer “the female misogynist”. That said, Greer has won admiration for her advocacy of worldwide, not just Western, women’s liberation movements, and her support for the political and social liberation of Australia’s Aboriginal population.
Germaine Greer has been one of the key cultural critics and feminist voices of the last 40-or-so years.

Hers is a voice that raises eyebrows, courts controversy, and will not be silenced. Whether you call yourself a feminist or not, and whether you agree or disagree with her particular feminism, Greer’s work is essential reading for understanding gender inequality, and how the feminist movement has evolved throughout the later 20th and early 21st centuries.


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August 2022
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