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The Whole Woman [Paperback]

Germaine Greer
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)

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Editorial Reviews Review

For women born in the immediate postwar period, there were the years BG and AG--"before Greer" and "after Greer." It's all too easy to underestimate its influence, but the fact is that in 1970 every self-respecting woman on the Left owned a copy of The Female Eunuch. Thirty years later, Germaine Greer is ready to get angry again. In The Whole Woman, she analyzes, among other issues, the invasive ways in which the health industry persuades women to have their bodies and reproductive systems "managed." Greer lays out the facts about the high failure rate and devastating side effects of in vitro fertilization and the incongruence between the "success" of breast implants in achieving the "perfect" mammary to please men and the continuing failures in detecting and treating increasingly prevalent breast cancer.

Greer's polemic has the confident virtuosity of wit and maturity. Celebrating women's successes, The Whole Woman is a more positive book than The Female Eunuch. Her unique combination of outrageous humor and assertiveness continues to lead the way forward for women who want to take control of their lives. --Lisa Jardine, --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

The blithe spirit of The Female EunuchAa tart, irreverent feminist screed that crackled across the Western world in 1971Ahas given way to the surprisingly curmudgeonly temperament of Greer's latest effort, with its dim view of humanity and our capacity to change. After 30 years and many books, the Australian-born polemicist who lives and teaches in England has attempted to recreate and update the formula that brought her international acclaim. Like its predecessor, this new work is a loosely connected series of short, idiosyncratic, Menckenesque essays larded with statistics, slangy erudition and disembodied quotations set off in half-tones. This time around, the author gambols over such disparate subjects as female circumcision in Africa (Greer urges tolerance for cultural practices so different from our own) and transgendered people (she blazes with antagonism against sexual reassignments). In one of her pet peeves, she excoriates housewives who waste hours in shopping malls in search of the latest prepackaged foodstuffs while remaining immune to the joys of baking a cake from scratch. At her best, Greer argues passionately for the mystic virtues of ecofeminism and stirringly calls for a return to the values of a simpler life, minus its egregious sexist assaults. Occasionally an aphorism sparkles with the old wit and biteA"One wife is all any man deserves"; "The power of Hillary Clinton's well-trained brain is principally demonstrated to the American public in her spirited defenses of her husband against the charges that he has cuckolded and humiliated her"Abut too often the effect is labored and strained. Greer has grievances aplenty with present-day society, but she offers few prescriptives for improvement besides demonstrations of support for embattled Iraqi and Palestinian women. Agent, Gillon Aitken. 100,000 first printing; seven-city author tour.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Although Greer calls this a sequel to her 1970 feminist classic The Female Eunuch, it is more a reprise. The structure is parallel, and some content is repeated. Her rationale is "It's time to get angry again"; but if readers are to become "whole women," we need not only this strongly worded reminder of remaining societal barriers but also hope springing from the progress, however limited, of the last 30 years. There is little hope within these pages. There are also some surprising inconsistencies: "Men will not buy cosmetics" vs. "In 1996 male cosmetic surgery was a $9.5 billion industry nationwide." The meaningless (and offensive) generalization from The Female Eunuch that "all men hate some women some of the time" is not only repeated here but reinforced. Libraries should retain the earlier title for historic interest, but this book will serve as a replacement.ABarbara Ann Hutcheson, Greater Victoria P.L., BC
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

"It's time to get angry again," Greer declares in the "Recantation" that opens her new book. Women, she urges, have been persuaded to aspire not to liberation but to mere equality, and "the price of the small advances we have made . . . has been the denial of femaleness as any kind of a distinguishing character." The manifesto Greer offers, 30 years after The Female Eunuch, considers old and new attacks on women under four divisions: body, mind, love, and power. "Body" covers beauty, food, womb, breasts, sex-change operations, infertility treatments, abortion, and medical care. "Mind" takes on work, housework, shopping, estrogen, testosterone, female soldiers, sorrow, and sex. The roles of mothers, fathers, daughters, sisters, wives, single women, and women who love women are Greer's subjects under the heading "Love." Her "Power" section discusses emasculation, fear and loathing, masculinity, equality, girl power, and liberation. Readers who forget Greer is an academic (a Warwick University English and comparative literature professor) may be surprised at the volume of information she provides here, but she remains more than willing to challenge conventional wisdom and court controversy. To her credit, Greer has always recognized that structures that oppress women oppress most men as well, and that "lifestyle feminism" in the industrialized world is ultimately less important than resistance by women in the less developed world against "penetration" of their societies by globalizing multinationals. First printing of 100,000 copies; expect interest. Mary Carroll --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Kirkus Reviews

Greer's ba-a-a-ck in top effing form, as she might say. This book takes up where The Female Eunuch left off, trashing the optimists who believe feminism has moved women along and the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately generation who believe there are no battles left to fight. Greer (Daddy, We Hardly Knew You, 1990, etc.) said that she would never write a sequel to The Female Eunuch (1971), but the ``fire flared up in [her] belly'' when she saw feminism stalled and some feminists asserting that women now had it all. Wrong, asserts Greer: ``On every side, we see women troubled, exhausted, mutiliated, lonely, guilty, mocked by the headlined success of the few.'' Greer proceeds to outline, issue by issue, where women are stuck in the mire of an unliberated society. Beginning with a section on Body, she tackles the Barbie school of beauty, cosmetic surgery, transsexuals, abortion, and mutilation (including episiotomies, cesarean sections, and hysterectomies). In segments on Mind, Love, and Power, she takes on work (including the time women spend working on their appearance), estrogen, testosterone, and sorrow (with comments on the outpouring of grief from women on the death of Princess Diana). She discusses motherhood as a ``genuine career option,'' incest, single women (``no sex is better than bad sex'') plus fear and loathing, rearguing a much-discussed line from The Female Eunuch: ``Women have very little idea of how much men hate them.'' In fact, she predicts, the second wave of feminism is still ``far out to sea,'' and its power will be demonstrated by poor and oppressed women in countries like China, Thailand, and Iran. The text is highlighted throughout with provocative quotes from poets, writers, performers, and publications on the fringe. Little new information here, but Greer, as always, infuses the questions of ``women's liberation'' with clarity, energy, and insight. An inspiring and passionate challenge to feminists and humanists alike. (First printing of 100,000) -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


"Compulsively readable."--San Francisco Chronicle

"Right on."--Los Angeles Times

"She is deliberately irate and humorous, challenging and disarming as she seeks to undermine firmly held beliefs."--Newsday

From the Inside Flap

Thirty years after the publication of The Female Eunuch, Germaine Greer is back with the sequel she vowed never to write.

"A marvelous performance--. No feminist writer can match her for eloquence or energy; none makes [us] laugh the way she does."--The Washington Post

In this thoroughly engaging new book, the fervent, rollicking, straight-shooting Greer, is, as ever, "the ultimate agent provocateur" (Mirabella).  With passionate rhetoric, outrageous humor, and the authority of a lifetime of thought and observation, she trains a sharp eye on the issues women face at the turn of the century.

From the workplace to the kitchen, from the supermarket to the bedroom, Greer exposes the innumerable forms of insidious discrimination and exploitation that continue to plague women around the globe.  She mordantly attacks "lifestyle feminists" who blithely believe they can have it all, and argues for a fuller, more organic idea of womanhood.  Whether it's liposuction or abortion, Barbie or Lady Diana, housework or sex work, Greer always has an opinion, and as one of the most brilliant, glamorous, and dynamic feminists of all time, her opinions matter.  For anyone interested in the future of womanhood, The Whole Woman is a must-read.

From the Back Cover

"Compulsively readable."--San Francisco Chronicle

"Right on."--Los Angeles Times

"She is deliberately irate and humorous, challenging and disarming as she seeks to undermine firmly held beliefs."--Newsday

About the Author

Germaine Greer's books include The Female Eunuch; The Obstacle Race; Sex and Destiny; The Madwoman's Underclothes; Daddy, We Hardly Knew You; The Change; and Slip-Shod Sibyls. She is Professor of English and Comparative Literary Studies at Warwick University, England.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


This sequel to The Female Eunuch is the book I said I would never write. I believed that each generation should produce its own statement of problems and priorities, and that I had no special authority or vocation to speak on behalf of women of any but my own age, class, background and education.

For 30 years, I have done my best to champion all the styles of feminism that came to public attention. Though I disagreed with some of the strategies and was troubled by some of the more fundamental conflicts, it was not until feminists of my own generation began to assert with apparent seriousness that feminism had gone too far that the fire flared up in my belly.

When the lifestyle feminists chimed in that feminism had gone just far enough in giving them the right to "have it all"--i.e., money, sex and fashion--it would have been inexcusable to remain silent.

In 1970, the movement was called "women's liberation" or, contemptuously, "Women's Lib." When the name "libbers" was dropped for "feminists," we were all relieved. What none of us noticed was that the ideal of liberation was fading out with the word. We were settling for equality.

Liberation struggles are not about assimilation, but about asserting difference, endowing that difference with dignity and prestige, and insisting on it as a condition of self-definition and self-determination.

Women's liberation did not see the female's potential in terms of the male's actual; the visionary feminists of the late sixties and early seventies knew that women could never find freedom by agreeing to live the lives of unfree men.

Seekers after equality clamoured to be admitted to smoke-filled male haunts. Liberationists sought the world over for clues to what women's lives could be like if they were free to define their own values, order their own priorities and decide their own fate.

The Female Eunuch was one feminist text that did not argue for equality. At a debate in Oxford, one William J. Clinton heard me arguing that equality legislation could not give me the right to have broad hips or hairy thighs, to be at ease in my woman's body.

Thirty years on, femininity is still compulsory for women--and has become an option for men--while genuine femaleness remains grotesque to the point of obscenity. Meanwhile, the price of the small advances we have made towards sexual equality has been the denial of femaleness as any kind of a distinguishing character.

In the last 30 years, women have come a long, long way; our lives are nobler and richer than they were, but they are also fiendishly difficult.

The career woman does not know if she is to do her job like a man, or like herself. Is she supposed to change the organisation, or knuckle under to it? Is she supposed to endure harassment, or kick ass and take names? Is motherhood a privilege or a punishment?

It is now understood that women can do anything that men can do: anyone who tries to stop them will be breaking the law. Even the President of the United States, the most powerful person in the world, can be called to account by a female nobody who accuses him of asking her to fellate him.

Power indeed! The future is female, we are told. Feminism has served its purpose and should now eff off. Feminism was long hair, dungarees and dangling earrings; post-feminism was business suits, big hair and lipstick; post-post-feminism was ostentatious sluttishness and disorderly behaviour.

We all agree that women should have equal pay for equal work, be equal before the law, do no more housework than men do, spend no more time with children than men do. Or do we? If the future is men and women dwelling as images of each other in a world unchanged, it is a nightmare.

In The Female Eunuch, I argued that every girl child is conceived as a whole woman but, from the time of her birth to her death, she is progressively disabled. A woman's first duty to herself is to survive this process, then to recognise it, then to take measures to defend herself against it.

For years after The Female Eunuch was written, I travelled the earth to see if I could glimpse a surviving whole woman. She would be a woman who did not exist to embody male sexual fantasies or rely upon a man to endow her with identity and social status; a woman who did not have to be beautiful, who could be clever, who would grow in authority as she aged.

I gazed at women in segregated societies and found them in many ways stronger than women who would not go into a theatre or a restaurant without a man. Osage women in Oklahoma, and Anmatyerre and Pitjantjatara women in Central Australia, taught me about survival.

No sooner had I caught sight of the whole woman than western marketing came blaring down upon her with its vast panoply of spectacular effects, strutting and trumpeting the highly seductive gospel of salvation according to hipless, wombless, hard-titted Barbie.

My strong women thrust their muscular feet into high heels and learned to totter; they stuffed their useful breasts into brassieres and, instead of mothers' milk, fed commercial formulae made up with dirty water to their children; they spent their tiny store of cash on lipstick and nail varnish, and were made modern. While western feminists were valiantly contending for a key to the executive washroom, the feminine stereotype was completing her conquest of the world.

This insidious process was floated on the lie of the sexual revolution. Along with spurious equality and flirty femininity, we were sold sexual "freedom." One man's sexual freedom is another man's--or woman's or child's--sexual thraldom.

In February 1997, a National Opinion Poll found that "nearly seven out of 10 women feel political parties do not pay sufficient attention to issues of importance to women." These women would not answer to the description of feminist, but if feminism is the consciousness of women's oppression, they were not afraid to display it.

Even now, women may enter political institutions only after those institutions have formed them in the institutional mould; the more female politicians a parliament may boast, the less likely it is to address women's issues.

Prime Minister Blair has less trouble keeping his party under an unprecedented degree of central control because so many of the Labour MPs are inexperienced, young and female. A male Labour MP called them the Stepford Wives "with a chip inserted in their brain to keep them on message"; the media call them "Blair's babes."

Few of the silly rituals of the House have been abolished, nor has the parliamentary timetable been modified. After a year in the rowdy bear-garden that is the British House of Commons, and many weeks without seeing their families for more than a few minutes at a time, the new women MPs were reporting levels of stress approaching the unbearable.

Changes in British legislation have been slow and tentative, commitment to the economic enfranchisement of women more apparent than real. A woman is now slightly more likely to find a job than a man, entirely because of the restructuring of the job market in the employer's favour.

The workers who will accept a zero-hours contract, which means that they are only called upon if business is brisk and then paid an hourly rate, who will carry pagers and mobile phones and be at the employer's beck and call 24 hours a day, who take work home every night, who have no job protection or guarantee of safe and hygienic conditions or insurance against work-related injury, are women.

Prestige and power have seeped out of professions as women joined them. Teaching is already rock-bottom; medicine is sliding fast.

Though they are close to parity in numbers, the total earned by British women is only 60 percent of what men earn; their pay hour by hour is 79 pence for every pound earned by a man.

The differential between women's pay and men's pay has now been enshrined. A woman who brings a case before an employment tribunal will wait for years before a decision will be reached; a decision in a single case is simply that. British equal pay legislation is legislation meant to be ineffective, designed to be ineffective.

Women are discriminated against by building societies, who treat maternity leave as long-term sick leave and will not lend to couples with both partners in work if the woman is pregnant. Women pay 50 percent more for medical insurance.

Women are the stomping ground of medical technology, routinely monitored, screened and tortured, to no purpose except the enactment of control. They have been punished for their acquisition of a modicum of economic independence by being left with virtually total responsibility for the welfare of children, while gangs of professionals perpetually assess and record their inadequacies. Idealisation of the mother has been driven out by criminalisation of the mother.

Our culture is far more masculinist than it was thirty years ago. Movies deal with male obsessions. Soccer is Britain's most significant cultural activity. Computer use is spreading into every home, but more than 80 percent of Internet users are male.

Women are ignored by manufacturers of video games, which are mostly war games of one sort or another. Popular music is split as never before; the consumers of commercial pop are female; the rock music that appeals to men is deliberately, unbelievably and outrageously misogynist. While women were struggling to live as responsible dignified adults, men have retreated into extravagantly masculinist fantasies and behaviours.

Every day, terrible revenges are enacted on women who have dared to use their new privileges. Female military recruits are sexually abused and harassed, young policewomen subjected to degrading ordeals, and hideous brutality inflicted on women apparently simply because they are female.

On every side, we see wo...
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