Feminist Book Review February 2013: The Female Eunuch

“I do things like get in a taxi and say, ‘The library, and step on it.'” — David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest

98532February 2013: The Female Eunuch, 1970; 2001 Farrar, Straus, and Giroux Edition

Author/Editor: Germaine Greer; Introduction by Jennifer Baumgardner

Purchased: Open Books, Chicago, IL

So, here’s the thing with the feminist manifestos of the Second-Wave. You know how literary hipsters quote one or two lines of Howl and think they’re well-read? Feminist hipsters do the same with their radical ancestors’ books. They demand to know why you’re not spending your weekends stitching your own reusable period pads out of organic cotton — because if you’re not, you’re out of touch with your body, and remember, Germaine Greer said that a real woman tastes her menstrual blood! (She didn’t exactly say this).

See, no one actually wants to read anything produced in the 60s and 70s. They want to have copies of The Feminine Mystique and The Female Eunuch on their bookshelves (preferably ones from a used bookstore with pre-broken spines and creased pages) so that when they’re having a Girls viewing party it looks like they casually read such things all the time.

And it is hard to read through some of these works. It is a commitment. They are heady and philosophical and written in a completely different style than more current popular titles such as Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman or Jessica Valenti’s Why Have Kids?. They are often embarrassingly products of their time — full of homophobic or transphobic assumptions (The Female Eunuch is particularly guilty in this regard, describing transitioning trans men as “mutilating themselves” and the lesbian who regards her sexuality as genetic/inborn as “apologist of her own way of life”). But to not read them is not only to work off of assumptions and second-hand knowledge about what they say but to disregard how immense of an impact their ideas have had on subsequent feminist works.

Now this doesn’t mean you have to read all 370 pages of The Female Eunuch. You’re busy, you have a life (I don’t) — I understand. Get a copy from the library (or better yet, a used copy that you can mark up) and skim. Skip through some of the vaginal vs. clitoral orgasm sections in the beginning with the understanding that this kind of discussion was risky and progressive in Greer’s culture, but is less relevant to us today. Take your time instead on chapters like “The Psychological Sell,” which meticulously examines the way in which women are ‘othered’ in a patriarchy: “Psychologists can not fix the world so they fix women.”

The Love section is also filled with rich chapters that examine self-sacrifice, obsession, and passivity in romantic connection — all elements which unfortunately still plague our modern relationships: “Self-sacrifice is the leit-motif of most of the marital games played by women, from the crudest, (“I’ve given you the best years of my life”) to the most sophisticated (“I only went to bed with him so that he’d promote you”).”

Ponder over the chapters on family, in which Greer displays a strange bias against wives and mothers — advocating open-relationships in a militant manner and decrying family planning as classism: “‘We can only afford two children,’ really means ‘We only like clean, well-disciplined, middle-class children, who go to good schools and grow up to be professionals.'”

Take a massive trigger warning for the Hate section, and then marvel at Greer’s understanding of rape culture — what she believes to be a product of internalized misogyny. Here it is, right in print, forty-two years ago, and yet we still wrestle with a society that has to be constantly reminded that rape is a violent act based on power differentials rather than sexual attraction.

“The act is one of murderous aggression, spawned in self-loathing and enacted upon the hated other.”

“Punished, punished, punished, for being the object of hatred and fear and disgust . . . “

tumblr_mcl9fc6Mqg1rn7xh6o1_400Commit to The Female Eunuch in whatever degree you can manage it, and by doing so connect to your feminist history.

(P.S. — the menstrual blood comment is in the Body section, the “Wicked Womb” chapter.  Read it for yourself!)

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