Women's Writing Before Woolf: A Social Reference/Germaine Greer

Germaine Greer (1939-) edit

Biography: edit

Germaine Greer, (b. 29 January 1939), in Melbourne, Australia, is an Australian author and libertarian who pioneered the feminist movement and heavily influenced the sexual freedom of women. Greer was born into a lower-middle-class household in Melbourne, where she went on to be educated by Catholic nuns; Greer's family was significantly religious, adherents of the Catholic denomination of Christianity, however, a year after leaving school, Greer abandoned her beliefs stating that the existence of a God was "unconvincing." “She spent time as a student in the milieux of the “Drift” association of artists in Melbourne and the “Push” in Sydney. Greer was educated across an array of universities as she moved from Australia to England. She attended the Universities of Melbourne and Sydney before moving onto a doctorate in 1967 in literature at the University of Cambridge. Greer was one for the arts, she acted on television, aided in the process of journals, and lectured at the University of Warwick. Moreover, she continued to the lecture until her influential book, ‘The Female Eunuch’ was published in 1970, where she stipulates the suppressive nature of a traditional nuclear family on the sexuality of women. Always confident when presented with controversy, in April 1917 Greer was a part of a debate against author Norman Mailer on the topic of women’s freedom, or lack thereof, at New York City’s Town Hall. The debate would then be readapted in the 1979 documentary ‘Town Bloody Hall.’ Greer continued to move around and continue her passion for lecturing where she moved to Italy before shortly returning it England. Throughout the 1970s, 80s, and 90s Greer continued to publish revolutionary work that would continue to push an aid in the feminist movements across the globe, where she became a household name. Greer’s archives were sold to the University of Melbourne in 2013, covering the period of 1959-2010. (University of Melbourne). The University raised three million dollars to fund the purchase of the netiere collection, where Greer stated that her cheque from the sale would be donated to her charity, Friends of Gondwana Rainforest (University of Melbourne).

Work: edit

Germaine Greer began writing for Oz Magazine, which was reopened in London after the Australian Oz had been shut down in 1963. Greer was familiar with the editor of the magazine, and was offered a writing job when reunited with Richard Neville, leading to her article In Bed with the English, published in 1967. Greer co-founded Suck: The First European Sex Paper in 1969, along with Jim Haynes, William Levy, Bill Daley, Heathcote Williams and Jean Shrimpton, with the purpose of creating “a new pornography which would demystify male and female bodies”. Greer wrote a column entitled Sucky Fucky by Earth Rose, which advised women on how to care for their genitals. Greer published the name of her friend, dedicating the title of the Female Eunuch to, stating in the magazine: “Anyone who wants group sex in New York and likes fat girls, contact Lillian Roxon” (Wallace 141). Greer left the company when a nude photograph of herself was published in the magazine, stating that the editors were being “counter-revolutionary” (G). She stated at a later date that by joining the team at Suck, she aimed to attempt to steer the magazine away from exploitive and destructive pornography, in the hopes of bringing female liberation into the paper (Kleinhenz 123).

In 1970, after lecturing for many years, Germaine Greer published her first and most influential novel. ‘The Female Eunuch’ divulges Greer’s interpretation of the 1960s housewife and the negative nature surrounding it. Greer stated that her thesis ‘is that the ‘traditional’ suburban, consumerist, nuclear family represses women sexually and that this devitalizes them, rendering them eunuchs. ” Greer’s influential book offered up a new perspective on the typical housewife. ‘The Female Eunuch’ argued that a ‘tradition nuclear family’ is sexually repressive for women. As Betty Friedan analyzed in her ‘The Feminine Mystique’ Greer had intentionally spoken to the array of unsatisfied and alienated housewives, of the 1960s suburbia, and preached that there was more to a woman than her family. The Female Eunuch, published in 1970, broke the barriers that society had built and transformed the “ordinary women in a way that was rare for an explicitly feminist text.” Greer has also stepped into historical feminist lense, observing the concept of the male gaze's connection between women and objective wealth through the concept of dowry in Shakespeare and the Marriage Contract (2008)[1] Greer’s other published work also includes The Obstacle Race: The Fortunes of Women Painters and Their Work (1979), Sex and Destiny: The Politics of Human Fertility (1984), The Change: Women, Ageing and the Menopause (1991), and Slip-shod Sibyls: Recognition, Rejection, and the Woman Poet (1995).

Reputation/Legacy: edit

Always surrounding herself with controversy, Germaine has a long and varied history of provocation across the world.

She was arrested in 1972 for using profanity during a now infamous speech in New Zealand. She claims she was "acquitted on 'bullshit', but convicted on 'fuck'."

In 1984 a letter was sent to the Sunday Times where eight ‘activists’ were perceived to illuminate the weaknesses between Greer’s connection to the feminist movement and the way in which she provides her interpretation of feminism. Quotes from the letter, “Her thoughts are her own and they are based not on history, not even on the present, but on a sentimental misalignment of information plucked from a dozen sources, countries, cultures, and centuries.” From the Twentieth Anniversary of her novel, ‘The Female Eunuch’, Greer stated, in an interview in London, that she will always continue the fight for women to be totally free. To fight for those women who do not have the strength to use their own voices and for those who are unable to speak for themselves. The quote reads, “The freedom I pleaded for twenty years ago was freedom to be a person, with dignity, integrity, nobility, passion, pride that constitutes personhood. Freedom to run, shout, talk loudly and sit with your knees apart. Freedom to know and love the earth and all that swims, lies, and crawls upon it… most of the women in the world are still afraid, still hungry, still mute and loaded by religion with all kinds of fetters, masked, muzzled, mutilated and beaten.”

She has been an ongoing thorn in the side of Australian history. In 2003 she wrote a Quarterly Essay that proclaimed there was no way Australia would become a fully respected country without the incorporation and uplifting of First Nations voices. Although, more people were horrified at her description of Australia as a "cultural wasteland".

Greer has always despised living biographies.

Greer has received several honorary doctorates in the past decades, including a Doctor of Letters from York University in 1999 (York University Archives), a Doctor of Laws from the University of Melbourne in 2003 (The Age), and a Doctor of Letters from the University of Sydney in 2005 (University of Sydney). In 1971, Greer was voted as the Woman of the Year in the UK, and her photographs were sold to The National Portrait Gallery in London, while also being selected as an Australian National Living Treasure in 1997. In 2001, Greer was inducted into the Victorian Honour Roll of Women, and was one of the four feminists represented on Australian postage stamps, including others such as Eva Cox, Anne Summers and Elizabeth Evatt. In 2016, BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour had a segment regarding which women had the most impact on other female lives over the last seventy years, titled the Power List, and placed Greer fourth (BBC News).

Greer remains a powerful figure of the feminist movement, radical and dismantling of the societal systems of female oppression since her career began. Greer's work, legacy and influence continues to be seen in feminist voices today, lifted by Greer's affronting questioning of systematic attitudes towards women.

Further Readings: edit

Reading Germaine: three generations respond to On Rape The article, by the Guardian, looks at the ‘new’ novel by Greer and continues the ever-important conversation about rape. The article was published in 2018 and in 2021, where the publicity surrounding rape and the fear installed after the murder and rape of Sarah Everard lingers. While many criticize Greer’s approach to the novel, as one stated, “she is also a “bolter”, married for only three weeks, who has said she would have liked a husband “intermittently”. Yet On Rape is strongly shaped by what she believes is a pattern in long-term relationships in which the man demands and the woman passively gives in” begging the question of whether her opinion is valid. Nevertheless, the article is most important as it continues the conversation between generations of women and how their perceptions can be utilized.

  1. Greer, Germaine. “Shakespeare and the Marriage Contract.” Shakespeare and the Law, https://doi.org/10.5040/9781472560322.ch-004.


BBC News. “Margaret Thatcher Tops Woman's Hour Power List.” 2016.

Cambridge Footlights. Footlights at 120: A History of Footlights. Retrieved 2020 ed., Archived from original in 2006. Accessed 28 May 2021.

Clive, James. “May Week was in June.” Pan Books, 1991. Accessed 28 May 2021.

Ditum, Sarah. “Germaine Greer Has Always Refused to be 'Nice' - If Only There Were More of Her.” New Statesman, 2018. Accessed 28 May 2021.

Greer, Germaine. “Shakespeare and the Marriage Contract.” Shakespeare and the Law, https://doi.org/10.5040/9781472560322.ch-004.

Greer, Germaine. “Country Notebook: Drunken Ex-Husband.” The Daily Telegraph, 2004.

Greer, Germaine. The Development of Byron's Satirical Mode. University of Sydney, 1963.

Greer, Germaine, creator. Enough Rope with Andrew Denton. ABC Television Australia, 15 September 2003.

Greer, Germaine. “The Slag-Heap Erupts.” Oz, vol. The Madwoman's Underclothes: Essays and Occasional Writings 1968-1985, 1970.

Greer, Germaine. The Whole Woman. London, Doubleday, 1999. Accessed 28 May 2021.

Kleinhenz, Elizabeth. “Germaine: The Life of Germaine Greer.” 2018. Accessed 28 May 2021.

Lake, Marilyn. “Revolution for the Hell of It: The Transatlantic Genesis and Serial Provocations of the Female Eunuch.” Australian Feminist Studies, 2016.

Reilly, Susan P. “Female Eunuch.” Encyclopaedia of Feminist Literary Theory [New York], Routledge ed., 2010.

The Age. Roll Out the Honours. 2005.

Toynbee, Polly. “Behind the Lines:Ironing in the Soul.” Women of the Revolution: Forty Years of Feminism, vol. Guardian Books, 1988.

University of Melbourne. “An Introduction to the Germaine Greer Collection at the University of Melbourne Archives.”

University of Sydney. Germaine Greer Speaks to University of Sydney Graduates. Francis & Henningham 2017, 2005.

Wallace, Christine. Germaine Greer: Untamed Shrew. Faber and Faber, 1999. Accessed 28 May 2021.

York University Archives. 1999.