Feminism and The Female Eunuch
Book Review: The Female Eunuch
“... Greer has not yet caught up with the feminist struggle and the respect we have for our own sex. Greer’s reflexes are still conditioned by the old patriarchal, male supremacist ideology which taught women to respect men but not themselves.”
The Female Eunuch (McGraw-Hill Co., 349 pp., $6.95) is a contribution to the continuing dialogue on the problems of women’s liberation. Germaine Greer, the author, is from Australia, received her Ph. D. in Cambridge, and is now living and teaching in England. Her best-selling book has had an impact like that of Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics - but there the comparison ends. Millett’s indictment of patriarchal male supremacy and the glorification of sexual brutalities against women by famous male authors made her unpopular with male reviewers. Greer takes a different approach. She caters to men and castigates women for the sexual disabilities of our times. Her book has received a warm reception by male literary critics and others who are still smarting from the wounds inflicted upon their egos by Millett.
Thus in an April 20 review Christopher Lehmann-Haupt of the New York Times barely recovering from the shattering experience of reviewing Millett’s book, calls this “The Best Feminist Book So Far.” Since “it is everything that Kate Millett’s book is not,” he wishes that “the timing of the publication of this book had been such that it could have caught the lightning that struck ‘Sexual Politics.'” Greer is a model for those men who want more sex and less politics from women writers in the feminist movement.
A more objective appraisal is given by Sally Kempton, of the New York Radical Feminists, in the April 25 New York Times Book Review. “It is brilliantly written, quirky and sensible, full of bile and insight,” says Kempton. However, “her book is a conglomeration of fact and speculation and polemic which is almost completely devoid of policy proposals for the feminist movement.” What women need now, says Kempton, “are programs for revolutionary change, and of these Germaine Greer offers little.”
Greer, who favors revolution and even communism, excuses this deficiency in the introduction to her book. It was not designed to answer questions, she says, but merely to ask them in a more proper way (p. 12). However, she does set forth her positions if only in passing. For example, “it is not true that to have a revolution you need a revolutionary theory.” (p. 295) Her attitude on programs for action is no less negative. She belittles or does not even discuss the most elementary demands raised by women in the current liberation struggle such as adequate child-care centers and women’s right to abortion.
Greer’s crusade is largely restricted to furthering the sexual revolution of the 1960s. “Sex must be rescued from the traffic between powerful and powerless, masterful and mastered, sexual and neutral, to become a form of communication between potent, gentle, tender people, which cannot be accomplished by denial of heterosexual contact.” (p. 8) She believes that sex can be rescued if enough women defy monogamous marriage, slam the door of the nuclear family behind them like Nora of The Doll’s House, and find out they don’t all have to be mothers to become fulfilled as women. These propositions are scarcely bold or innovative; they have already been abundantly discussed in the women’s liberation movement.
Greer invites radical and revolutionary women to appraise her book and predicts that “The most telling criticisms will come from my sisters of the left, the Maoists, the Trots, the I. S., the S. D. S.” These will be directed toward her, she says, “because of my fantasy that it might be possible to leap the steps of revolution and arrive somehow at liberty and communism without strategy or revolutionary discipline.” (p. 12)
As one of the sisters of the left who has been singled out for special attention by the author in her critical review of feminist literature, I accept the invitation. Here is my answer as a feminist, a Marxist, and an anthropologist concerned with the matriarchal period of history.
The ‘Female Eunuch’
Although the word “eunuch” is defined as “a castrated male person,” Greer claims that it is the woman who is castrated. Frigidity in women, unconnected with any frigidity or impotence in men, lies at the bottom of the joyless sexual relations between the sexes today. “Cherchez la femme” is the expression commonly used in the search for a female scapegoat. Now this feminist from England proceeds along a similar line.
“Sex for many has become a sorry business,” says Greer, a fact few will dispute. It is also no secret - even without the use of electronic devices in laboratory experiments to demonstrate it - that the most “enfeebled” sex relations occur in the “ideal marriage,” where it is “dull sex for dull people.” However, according to Greer the situation is scarcely better outside the bonds of holy wedlock. Although today “more girls permit more (joyless) liberties” than ever before, they seem to be getting as little satisfaction out of it as the married women. Thus, she complains, not only homosexuality but “group sex, criminal sex, child violation, bondage and discipline” are flourishing apace. But “simple sexual energy,” presumably meaning heterosexual sex, is badly deteriorated (pp. 34-35).
What is the source of this sad state of disrepair in the sexual realm? Greer recognizes that women are “contoured by their conditioning” to adopt the passive feminine posture that is agreeable to men. They are badly brought up under “authoritarian” family and other forces, especially by mothers in the case of female children, so that they arrive at maturity not understanding and even fearing and loathing their own bodies. After marriage something happens to the love that the pair started with; the husbands neglect the wives or the wives freeze up at the insipid lovemaking doled out to them occasionally.
At the end of all this descriptive material there is little in Greer’s book to pinpoint the root causes of these sexual disabilities. She hints that the problem is social when she exposes the ineffectiveness of seeking relief from psychologists, who might lessen some of the more galling conflicts but cannot provide a solution to the problem, In fact, as she says, those psychiatrists who seek to place the blame on the woman herself rather than on society are playing a “confidence trick” on the women. “Psychologists cannot fix the world so they fix women,” she says (pp. 82-83).
Yet this observation does not lead Greer into an analysis of the real source of the sexual dilemma - the capitalist system which breeds profound alienations in every realm, including the sexual. In this patriarchal, male-supremacist society not only are men and women sexually alienated from each other, but the “contouring” of women alienates them from their own sexuality and makes them the passive objects of male sexuality.
Greer, however, skips over the capitalist social system to criticize its institution of marriage and the family. “If marriage and family depend upon the castration of women let them change or disappear.” (p. 89) But this institution is an integral socio-economic unit of the capitalist structure and can only be replaced through a revolutionary change in the structure itself. If a few women favorably situated can indulge in personal defiance of this institution, the great mass of women cannot free themselves in this manner. Their economic dependency obliges them to remain chained to the institution that according to Greer “castrates” them.
Under these circumstances, Greer’s analysis of what is to be done is extremely superficial. Women should stop submitting to a conditioning which is so injurious to free and happy relations between the sexes. They should reject the ideal marriage as their goal in life since it is only “standard, low-agitation, cool-out monogamy.” If women are to retain their humanity, “they must hold out not just for orgasm but for ecstasy.” (p. 34) A good sexual goal, most women will agree, but how is it to be achieved?
According to Greer, women cannot wait for the social revolution that may or may not change things. Her advice to each individual housewife is to “begin not by changing the world, but by reassessing herself.” (p. 4) Greer therefore begins not with politics and sociology through an investigation of the structure of capitalism which is the underlying determinant of female victimization but with biology and an investigation of the female organism. Moreover, “Female sexuality has always been a fascinating topic.”
She accordingly examines the Body and proceeds through all its parts: the Bones, the Curves, the Hair, the Sex and the Wicked Womb. Considering the ignorance in which women are kept with regard to their bodily organs and functions, many of them will probably find here some elementary facts and helpful hints, along with some speculations.
Other chapters in the book discuss romance, love, marriage, the family, as well as the soul, the abuse, the misery, and the resentment of women. Though much of what is presented has been said before by other writers in the feminist movement, it is worth repeating for newly awakening women. More women will learn how they are exploited in the merchandising of beauty preparations and other consumers’ goods, and perhaps more will reject the myth of the Eternal Feminine which produces the stereotype of the husband-hunter and man-catcher.
Unfortunately, after digesting this pastiche of descriptive and prescriptive materials, homilies, lectures and advice to the lovelorn, many women will find themselves no wiser than before on the question of how they can shed their ignominious posture as “female eunuchs.” The net result of the piled up data leans more toward castigation than illumination.
In the chapter on Misery, for example, we learn that this leads to Resentment. But the chapter on Resentment tells us this is no way to deal with misery. “Female revolt takes curious and tortuous forms, and the greatest toll is exacted by the woman upon herself,” says Greer. She holds up the alarming picture of the wife who drives her husband away by “destructive carping” and “fighting off his attempts to make love to her, because somehow they seem all wrong.” (p. 277)
But this raises the question: why would a woman fight off the lovemaking of her husband if the lack of it produced the carping in the first place? “Frigidity” is the reason, according to Greer. “Frigidity is still a major problem,” she says - not for men but for women. She even draws a profoundly pessimistic conclusion about this female frigidity: “know-how about the female structure and orgasms will not change it.” (pp. 277-278) In the end, then, the smorgasbord served up by Greer, which men find so delectable, provides little nourishment for women. What good is all the advice about the female body, curves, sex, etc., if, as Greer hints, women are locked into a permanent stage of frigidity?
Frigidity isn’t the only thing that makes women such a difficult problem for men (the “male burden” in this sexual area is the counterpart of the “white man’s burden” in relation to the colonial peoples). For, according to Greer, it seems that the same women who are so frigid are also low enough to use their sex as a means of punishing and “blackmailing” their husbands.
“Much wifely frigidity is the withdrawal of a pleasure as punishment, although this is never admitted,” says Greer. Indeed, she knows this at first hand by the behavior of the wives of her male colleagues in the British university circles. With these women “sex is granted to the husband as a reward for something accomplished or as a consolation for some setback. The blackmail is that there is nothing in it for her, so that her husband feels both bestial and grateful when she allows him the use of his conjugal hole.” (p, 287)
Greer does not investigate the possibility that the manner of use or even misuse of the conjugal hole may have made sexual intercourse “nothing” for the wives and turned them frigid in the first place. Yet in her chapter on Loathing and Disgust she indicates how this might and often does come about. In many cases the man regards the woman “as a receptacle into which he has emptied his sperm, a kind of human spittoon, and turns from her in disgust.” (p. 250)
Whether or not this occurs in the university circles Greer frequents, we do not know. Such an investigation into the women’s point of view would presuppose some sisterly collaboration between Greer and the wives of her male colleagues, which is not the case. Speaking frankly about the coldness between them, she says, “As a female lecturer at a provincial university I have to tolerate the antics of faculty wives, but they are fairly easy to ignore.” (p. 127)
In general, Greer is quite pessimistic about the capacity of women to collaborate, much less to feel affection for one another. Women, she says, congregate only to “bitch” or backbite an absent member of their group. To be sure, women pent up in petty homes doing petty chores often become petty-minded. But what social forces have made them this way? According to Greer, it is the fact that they are female eunuchs, plus a defect in self-love that lies at the bottom of this “impotence” of women to love one another.
A brotherhood of men seems more conceivable to Greer than a sisterhood of women. While men “nip down to the local” or collect coins, or find other pretexts to get together for fun, women do not rejoice in the company of other women. “Of the love of fellows [read: sisters] they know nothing. They can love each other in this easy, innocent, spontaneous way because they cannot love themselves.” (p. 138). This passes beyond simple description to condemnation.
It is odd that this downgrading of women is stressed at the very point of the burgeoning of the women’s liberation movement. Perhaps her visit to the United States will show Greer that multitudes of women are already coming forward and joining together in considerable excitement at their reunion after so many centuries of patriarchal dispersal and isolation - and this is only the beginning.
Sister Greer, however, is unconvinced that women can ever trust one another. “Those women who boast most fulsomely of their love for their own sex (apart from lesbians, who must invent their own ideal of love),” she says, form relationships with other women that are usually “disloyal, unreliable and tension-ridden, however close and longstanding they may be.” (p. 138) Doesn’t this echo the propaganda used by men for ages to keep women in their cages?
Although women get most of the heat, men are by no means exempted from Greer’s criticisms. She does not hesitate to point out their defects and chastise them for their bad behavior. In her section on Hate, for example, she writes: “Women have very little idea of how much men hate them.” (p. 245). One reason is that men have been conditioned to despise women who “give” themselves without insisting on marriage. “Any women who goes to bed with a man for the first time knows that she runs the risk of being treated with contempt,” she says. (p. 252) The situation is even worse with prostitutes who “must undergo the bestial rituals which civilized men find necessary for sexual release,” and she adds: “The unfortunate girls found strangled with their own stockings and raped with bottles are the victims of male fetishism and loathing, and yet no woman has ever cried out after such an outrage on her sex, ‘Why do you hate us so?’ although hate it clearly is.” (p. 253) Greer misses the main point. Women today have gone beyond merely voicing their outrage - we are creating a movement of liberation that all women are invited to join, not merely in talk but in actions.
Greer, however, is concerned with explaining why men are not to be totally faulted for their weaknesses and defects. For one thing, “Men do not themselves know the depth of their hatred. It is played upon by inflammatory articles in the magazines designed for morons with virility problems which sell for high prices in transport cafes.” (pp. 247-248)
Then, again, the women themselves are to blame, she feels, since they are too stupid and awkward to arouse the respect and love of the young men. “Any Saturday afternoon in a provincial English town,” she writes, “one may see groups of girls clad in the uniform of their accepted image standing about the streets feigning to ignore the groups of boys who express clear scorn for them. Their susceptibility combined with insipidity and dishonesty offers them no ground for genuine intercourse with their male contemporaries.” (p. 78)
This disdain for the young women shows that Greer has not yet caught up with the feminist struggle and the respect we have for our own sex. Greer’s reflexes are still conditioned by the old patriarchal, male supremacist ideology which taught women to respect men but not themselves.
Despite her displeasure with masses of women, Greer undertakes to improve matters between the sexes through an intellectual appeal to men, presumably from academic circles. Since they are members of the brainy sex, she does not give them instructions about their bodies as she does to the female sex; she aims to reach their logic and reason.
On this lofty level, Greer argues: “The castration of women has been carried out in terms of a masculine-feminine polarity in which men have commandeered all the energy and streamlined it into an aggressive conquistatorial power, reducing all heterosexual contact to a sadomasochistic pattern.” (p. 6) Translated, this means that men who enjoy male supremacy in society have also carried their brutalities against women into the sexual realm - a proposition that Kate Millett has documented with great skill and honesty. If Greer agrees that men are sadistic toward women, how will an appeal to men’s reason change the social causes that gave them their power in the first place?
Greer skirts around the socio-economic foundation of capitalist society that made women inferior to men; she ascends to the psychological stratosphere where she arrives at a misty, pacifistic conclusion. We learn from her that just as Eros and Thanatos (Love and Death) are hooked together but are at war with each other, so is the masculine-feminine polarity. Men are identified with aggression-war-death-sadism; women with peace-love-masochism. In her chapter on Womanpower she debates this dubious schema in an involved polemic with Otto Weininger, the misogynist, whose work few psychologists take seriously. The net result of her argument can be summarized in the plea Greer addresses to all woman-hating men: give women a chance and they will soon demonstrate that they are fully capable of earning the genuine love and respect of men.
Greer goes on to amplify this entreaty because she is concerned not merely with love in the bedroom but also with peace and love in society at large. “We cannot survive in the environment of male sadism and female masochism, a universe of aggressors and victims,” she writes (p. 85). Presumably, through a proper appeal to men’s intellect, they will cease their punishment of women and perhaps even follow their lead on the path toward a brave new world of peace and love. “If women can supply no counterbalance to the blindness of male drive the aggressive society will run to its lunatic extremes at ever-escalating speed. Who will safeguard the despised animal faculties of compassion, empathy, innocence and sensuality?” (p. 108) In short, as certain pacifist antiwar slogans put it: “Make Love, Not War,” and “Give Peace a Chance.”
Greer winds up with the following exhortation: “Womanpower means the self-determination of women, and that means that all the baggage of paternalistic society will have to be thrown overboard. Woman must have room and scope to devise a morality which does not disqualify her from excellence, and a psychology which does not condemn her to the status of a spiritual cripple.” (p. 108) Agreed. That still leaves open the question how do we go about achieving that goal?
Feminism and Marxism
There is nothing wrong with appealing to man’s intellect any more than with giving instructions to women about their body, curves, sex, etc. For it sometimes happens that men are as ignorant about what goes on in their minds as women are about the bodily organs and processes. It might even be advantageous to turn it around; give men instructions about their bodies of which they are also in great need and appeal to the intellect of women. Either way, however, it must be borne in mind that such rationalistic, reformist methods are strictly limited in scope and function.
The notion that petitions, lectures, and intellectual confrontations will by themselves bring about the desired fundamental changes in social and sexual relations is a liberalistic or reformist doctrine. Marxists have a different method of thought and practice. We believe that basic social issues will only be decided through great social struggles, and that these require a revolutionary strategy and tactics if they are to be victorious. Consequently, to say as Greer does, that Marxists are “doctrinaire” is a version of the liberal’s device for disregarding or denying this necessity. Liberals are no less “doctrinaire,” except that they hold to a non-revolutionary doctrine which seeks to amend rather than abolish the status quo.
The Marxist program for revolutionary struggle includes fighting for immediate, progressive reforms in every realm, including the realm of women’s liberation. That is why we are in the forefront of the fight for such basic measures as the repeal of all laws against abortion; for the setting up of twenty-four-hour child-care centers under the control of those who use them; for equal education of women with no tracking; for equal jobs and pay for women. However women may differ in their political views, we think we can all mobilize as women around these demands, and thereby win greater control over our own bodies and lives.
Greer, however, is opposed to reforms. She counter-poses individual defiance through an experimental life style to mass struggles of women in the social and political arenas. Women don’t have to mobilize in actions. All they have to do is to defy a curious male figure she calls the Omnipotent Administrator. “The Ultra-feminine must refuse any longer to countenance the self-deception of the Omnipotent Administrator, not so much by assailing him as by freeing herself from the desire to fulfill his expectations.” (p. 8)
Whoever this Omnipotent Administrator is, Greer’s advice to women is: “The world will not change overnight, and liberation will not happen unless individual women agree to be outcasts, eccentrics, perverts, and whatever the powers-that-be choose to call them.” (p. 325) In other words, be anything you wish on an individual basis; just don’t mobilize on a mass basis for struggle in actions.
Her prejudice against actions can be seen most clearly in Greer’s chapter on Work, where she shows that the discrimination, exploitation and oppression of working women in England is, if anything, worse than in the U. S. There is the same tracking of women in education and shortening of their schooling. Women’s situation in the professions is also dismal. Nonetheless, she sees little or no value in women getting together to fight for their rights on any level, academic, trade-union, or legislative. In fact, on these questions she is not only negative but hints that the difficulties women suffer from are mostly their own fault.
In education, for example, she holds that the fully educated woman is the exception rather than the rule largely because of the problems of female puberty. “The odds against the average pubescent girl pursuing her education are long, however, because of the loss of enterprise and energy which accompanies female puberty,” says Greer. Apparently boys do not suffer from this affliction in the vital realm of education.
Greer shows the relentless pressure put upon the young woman by her family which is usually more interested in seeing her safely married than in becoming a scholar. But Greer is herself highly ambiguous on whether or not women have the intellectual capacity for the same kind of higher education that is taken for granted in the case of men, and she seems to feel that there is some kind of innate conflict between femininity and education. “Girls are seldom brilliant,” she says, thus they must work twice as hard to be merely recognized s being as good as man. Even more disastrous, “If she feels that she must also retain her sexual identity by being feminine the conflict of desires can have radical effects.”
Finally, Greer gives the clincher: “The prejudice that academic women are neurotic is justified in actual experience if not in theory (p 128-129). What young woman would want to fight for higher education against all the deterrent forces only to come out as a desexed neurotic?
Betty Friedan documented this manipulation and brainwashing of young women far more effectively and with considerable passion in The Feminine Mystique. That book inspired women to rise against these insidious forces and is rightly held to mark the inception of the second wave of the feminist movement. Greer has nothing more to say on the subject than “if a girl feels that she can make it there is no reason why she shouldn’t.” (p. 128)
No less negative are Greer’s observations of feminist struggles in the political and industrial field. “The sad fact is that prejudice and discrimination cannot be legislated out of existence.” In any case, women themselves are to blame, since they are afflicted with inertia and are “not interested” in the problems of their oppression and exploitation. In politics women are often more “antifeminist” than men, says Greer, and cites a UNESCO report by Maurice Duverger, written in 1955, fifteen years ago (p. 114).
Women are also held responsible for the lack of struggles in English industries. Because of the “claims of home,” women fail to unionize themselves, says Greer, and those who are unionized are not active in their unions. But she disdains even those actions which have been taken or contemplated. On the question of setting up nurseries to relieve women of the claims of home and family, she is positively amused. “The intrusion of sex and children adds a tinge of frivolity to the arguments: in fact, an employer who faces problems of organizing his employees’ children as well as themselves might well be inclined to discriminate more and more.” (pp. 114-115) Let’s pity the poor employer carrying the female burden!
As for a mass rally in England called for women’s equal rights in 1969, which “attracted no more than a thousand,” according to Greer all these militant women succeeded in doing was to make themselves very unattractive to men. “The activist women are forced in such an eventuality to make up for their rareness by an increase in raucousness invoking the mockery and sabotage of their own sex.” (p. 115) Presumably American women will learn from the failures of their English sisters not to start any actions unless they are guaranteed in advance to be very large and attractive to men.
Professional women in both countries are also castigated. Of the teaching profession to which Greer belongs, she says, “In the higher educational establishments in which women are segregated there is a curious air of constipated revolt.” But she does not furnish her female colleagues with any guidance on how to pass from constipation to movement. Rather, we learn that the real reason for their plight is that they are female eunuchs. “Most women teachers are not married and do not have any very significant intercourse with the opposite sex.” The “extreme repressions” they practice on themselves are the indicator of their “impotence in this regard.” (p. 292)
Greer regards herself as an exceptional case, proving that women can get ahead in life through their own individual talents, without organizing in fighting units which only make them raucous and unattractive to men. “I do receive equal pay,” she informs us; “I was appointed in preference to male competition and nothing can prevent me from being promoted in the natural course of events. Guiltily I must also admit that I did not toil particularly hard to attain what academic distinction I have.” (p. 127)
Greer offers other “success stories about women” to prove that some women can make it in a man’s world without losing their femininity. Naturally, the examples she gives are not women known to be feminists or out in front fighting for women’s liberation. They are “canny and creative women” primarily in the business world who are helping men make a lot of money and even making lots of money on their own.
Asha Radnoti, for example, “graduated with honors in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from Oxford,” who has worked her way up the ladder to become a portfolio manager for a big Canadian investment firm “with day-to-day responsibility for the investment of more than four million pounds.” Miss Ishbel Webster, after twelve years of aerosol depilator work, has now patented her own formula called “Spray Away.” Marjorie Hurst “is a millionairess and joint chairman of Britain’s biggest secretarial agency,” which just about rules her out as an organizer of secretaries in the women’s liberation movement. Fashion designer Ma Qu is so feminine, despite her financial success, that she “has had her pubic hair shaved into a heartshape by her adoring husband.” Among the dozen or so American women successes who “have conquered male chauvinism is in the business world are Jane Trahey, 1969 “Advertising Woman of the Year.” (pp. 129-130) Greer’s listing of these token successes is reminiscent of show-window Blacks in white supremacist capitalist America.
To Greer, the feminists fighting for women’s liberation stack up poorly alongside the female careerists in the business world. She praises Betty Friedan as a woman of “considerable reputation and attainments,” and acknowledge that her NOW movement which first organized feminist groups on a national scale, has achieved “recognition from the political establishment.” However, she has a low opinion of these accomplishments.
It is true that Friedan works within the existing system. But at least she has the merit of helping to organize women against specific inequalities. And this recourse to action is worth more than mere verbal declamations in favor of revolution. The ultra-radical Greer, however, sneers at the results of the actions taken by NOW and other organized groups in fighting against discrimination.
In her attitude toward theory, Greer is flagrantly contradictory. In one place she asserts there is no need for revolutionary theory to achieve liberty and communism. In another she looks to “inventing a new mythology” made up of borrowings from such eclectic sources as “mystics like Lao-Tse, scientists like Whitehead and Needham and Merleau-Ponty,” and “brilliant speculation from Norman O. Brown, Herbert Marcuse, Borges.” (p. 106)
She is no less vague as to what women should do specifically to promote their freedom. Insofar as an alternative to the Marxist program can be pieced together from her pages, she urges women to withdraw from the system and do their own thing. Greer’s own thing is a private Utopian fantasia. She dreams of an extended family setup in a farmhouse in Calabria, Italy, where her hoped-for child (a male child) can be brought up with a few others also born without benefit of wedlock by their mothers, in a household served by a local peasant family (p. 232). This anarchistic, individualistic solution may be possible for a few comfortable professional women, but it is hardly a realistic solution for millions of poor and oppressed women.
Matriarchy: Gut issue of anthropology
For half a century or more the question of the matriarchy, the ancient communistic society uncovered by the pioneer anthropologists, has been ignored, played down or concealed. Few students were encouraged to add to the findings made by Bachofen, Morgan, and others; instead, they were taught the official line that such a system had never existed. Now the women’s liberation movement has rekindled interest in this subject among many women desirous of reconstructing our own history. Many have rediscovered Engels’ Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, the basic text that analyzed the findings of the early anthropologists in the light of historical material.
My book, Problems of Women’s Liberation: A Marxist Approach, adheres to this viewpoint. It is a compilation of articles and speeches presented over the past sixteen years that defends and amplifies the matriarchal structure of pre-class society. Such a study of the past can open doors for women today who are trying to fathom how and why we have been reduced to the “second sex.”
Greer attacks my book, primarily because it combines Marxism with anthropology. “Unlike other theorists,” who confine themselves to Marxism alone, she thinks I have been duped into falling for “Engels’ dubious anthropology.” (p. 296)
Her criticisms appear in the two last chapters of her book; one on the uselessness of Rebellion, and the other on the uselessness of Revolution. Greer scoffs at my “naive attempt” to show that the struggle of women against oppression is part of the class struggle. “Her arguments are couched in typical Marxist doctrinaire terminology, buttressed by phony anthropology and poor scholarship,” she says. It is bad enough that I pinpoint, in her phrase, the “deliberate sinister ploy of money-hungry capitalists” to exploit women. Even more ridiculous is my contention that such victimization of women did not exist in ancient society, the period of the matriarchy. It is a great “pity,” she feels, that my book is “unusually well-distributed and may be influential ... for much time will be wasted debating invalid conclusions.” (p. 298)
By this Greer infers that the study of the main stages of social evolution is a waste of time and can shed no light on the changing status of women in history. “It is not necessary for feminists to prove that matriarchy is a prehistoric form of community or that patriarchy is a capitalist perversion in order to justify our policies, because the form of life we envisage might as well be completely new as inveterately ancient. We need not buy dubious anthropology to explain ourselves . . .” (pp. 327-328)
Prominent male reviewers, like Lehmann-Haupt in the New York Times eagerly quoted from and endorsed Greer’s position on this issue. Max Lerner, in his April 28 review in the New York Post, even offered up a prayer of thanks for her criticisms. “I am glad that Miss Greer is sensible on the currently fashionable topic of the return to the matriarchy ... To which I say Amen.”
The fact is, Marxists have not dealt with the prehistory of form of the community in order to advocate a return to that primitive condition of life and labor. Their purpose was to give a scientific exposition of how and why primitive collectivist society differed from class society culminating in capitalism, to shatter the myth that what we endure today is unchanging and everlasting.
The message in my publication is in line with the revolutionary implications. As women, we can learn from our ancestresses, the leaders in founding the first sisterhood and brotherhood of humanity. We can learn that we were not always the “second sex,” that relations between women and men have been and can be quite different than they are today, and that we can aspire to and help create a superior social system in place of the present capitalist jungle.
Curiously enough Green makes no comments on the contents of my book nor does she give the essence of my position. She directs her attention exclusively to the illustration on the cover, a female figure from an Attic vase. She claims it is not “a goddess symbol of the matriarchy,” as the caption says, but “a graceful Bacchante with thyrsus and dead wildcat. Evelyn Reed would have been horrified if she had realized that her work was decorated with the symbol of hippiedom and drug culture, flowing hair, snake diadem and all.” (p. 297) The question at issue, then, is what does this figure signify and is it appropriate to the contents of my book.
The figure in question is a Menad (Maenad, Mainad), also called Nymph, defined as a lesser divinity, also called Priestess, also called Bacchante, worshipper of Dionysus and Bacchus. All the Greek goddesses, nymphs, and innumerable other females in groups, such as the Nurses, the Fates, the Charities, the Muses, etc., including the Menads, stem from the matriarchal era before the gods and goddesses were born. At that time they had only the simple designation of “The Mothers,” which meant not simply the mothers of new life but the mother-governesses of social and cultural life. Reduced to their most basic symbol, the women in groups are often called “Mother Earth” or “Mother Goddess.”
The insignia that the Menad in the illustration wears, from the snake diadem to the thyrsus in one hand as Mother of Vegetation or Agriculture, to the cat in the other as Mother of Wild Animals, hark back to her matriarchal origins. Her encirclements by the moon is another symbol of the matriarchy, for the earth goddess is also a moon goddess.
Thus the figure in question is not merely a graceful Bacchante holding a thyrsus and dead cat. Still less is she a symbol of the hippiedom and drug culture of our times. To a historical anthropologist she is representative of the matriarchy whether or not Greer thinks she should be admitted into the ranks of the goddesses. More than this, the Menads are among the most interesting of the female figures in ancient Greek myth-history since they tell us something about that critical period-the transition from the matriarchy to the patriarchy. “The character of the Maenads was long a subject upon which the most mistaken ideas prevailed,” says a summary article about them. “The accounts of them given by the poets, mythographers, and historians were all mingled together, and were, moreover, mixed up indiscriminately with the .representations of the cult of Dionysus in art, while, again, these artistic products were not submitted to any process of critical analysis.” (Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Hastings; 1910, viii, p. 240)
The connection between the Menads and Dionysus provides a clue to their changing roles as women in a changing social system. For many millenia the mothers and their daughters, equipped with digging sticks, cultivated the ground until, with the rise of a new economy rooted in agriculture, men were liberated from their former occupation as hunters to become farmers and stock-raisers. It was in the course of these developments that a male culture-hero made his appearance in history and evolved into Dionysus. This god is most closely associated with the grapevine and thus also became known as Bacchus. The Menads were connected with the rites of the Dionysiac agricultural cult.
Although it may not be explicit in the large body of data available on the cult of Dionysus, in my view this signifies that women were passing through a drastic social change. They were no longer looking to one another for joint leadership and guidance in the activities of a communal society. They were now performing rites for a solitary male who arose as a matriarchal culture-hero but was becoming a patriarchal god.
This is one of the signals that the patriarchy has overtaken and will soon crush the matriarchy. In the final stage of their metamorphoses, the Menads will become the “Bacchae” or Bacchantes, the “worshippers” of the god, their lord Bacchus. Here in refracted form we can see the downfall of the women. Originally free, proud and independent, women have ever since been down on their knees before their male lords on earth as in the heavens.
As transitional figures in the period of the death agony of the matriarchy and the rise of the patriarchy, the illustration is entirely appropriate on the cover of my book. For the Menads are also called “the frenzied ones” or “the raging ones.” They forecast that in this period of the death agony of patriarchal class society, new “raging ones” will arise to participate in the revolutionary events ahead. Women, getting up off their knees will help settle accounts with a rotten, racist, sexist, capitalist social order whose time is up.
In her introduction Greer says, “Hopefully this book is subversive.” She hopes it will “draw fire from all the articulate sections of the community.” She even says if it is “not ridiculed or reviled it will have failed of its intention.” (pp. 11-12) An appeal of this intensity cannot be ignored.
Greer’s book will not be - and has not been - regarded as subversive by the powers-that-be merely because of her “denial of the Holy Family,” her “denigration of sacred motherhood,” or her “inference that women are not by nature monogamous” (p. 11) The capitalist rulers can easily assimilate and even sensationalize such criticisms these days when they involve no more than individualistic expressions of defiance.
From the standpoint of the feminist movement, however, Greer’s query is relevant. Adding up all the castigating and scornful remarks scattered throughout the book, she seems to be as much against the feminist struggle as for it. Consider the following items which are illustrative:
Item: “The concept of liberty implied by such liberation [as organized actions] is vacuous; at worst it is defined by the condition of men, themselves unfree, and at best it is left undefined in a world of very limited possibilities.” P. 4. (Moral: If even men can’t all live like humans women must stay where they belong at the end of the line.)
Item: “Insofar as such movements demand of men or force men, to grant their liberty, they perpetuate the estrangement of the sexes and their own dependency.” P. 8 (Moral: Do you want to turn men off for the sake of liberty - or will you settle for love?)
Item: “It is a kind of female rebellion to eschew cosmetics and the business of attraction... Such unremarkable and unconscious forms of rebellion against the feminine role are old and ineffectual.” Pp. 292-293. (Moral: Feminine attractiveness to men isn’t all that bad; look at Greer’s awful example, the Englishwoman “who was famous for farting and belching at table.”)
Item: “It is dangerous to eschew sex as a revolutionary tactic because it is inauthentic and enslaving in the terms in which it is now possible, when sex is the principal confrontation in which new values can be worked out.” P. 295 (Moral: Never mind what Greer said previously in her book where she castigates women who use “pussy-power” to “manipulate their menfolk” - use it.)
Item: “The chief means of liberating women is replacing of compulsiveness and compulsion by the pleasure principle... It is possible to use even cooking, clothes, cosmetics and housekeeping for fun.” P. 324. (Moral: The feminine role isn’t all that wrong; take the “anxiety quotient” out and replace it with a little “spontaneity” and it’s fun.)
Item: “That women should seek a revolution in their circumstances by training themselves as a fighting force is the most obvious case of confusing reaction or rebellion with revolution.” P. 313. (“The process to be followed is the opposite; women must humanize the penis, take the steel out of it and make it flesh again.” P. 3)
Item: “Men are tired of having all the responsibility for sex; it is time they were relieved of it. And I do not mean that large-scale lesbianism should be adopted, but simply that the emphasis should be taken off male genitality and replaced upon human sexuality.” Pp. 315-1361 (Moral: Take the heat off the Misters - and load it on the sisters.)
Greer’s capacity for double-talk can perhaps best be seen in the last paragraph of her book. On the one hand, she tells women that in pursuing their freedom they will also free men. On the other hand, she advises sympathetic men not to support the freedom struggle of the women because it is only a middle-class movement. She writes:
“The first significant discovery we shall make as we racket along our female road to freedom is that men are not free, and they will seek to make this an argument why nobody should be free. We can only reply that slaves enslave their masters, and by securing our own manumission we may show men the way that they could follow when they jumped off their own treadmill.”
The next sentence is presumably addressed to the men: “Privileged women will pluck at your sleeves and seek to enlist you in the ‘fight’ for reforms, but reforms are retrogressive. The old process must be broken, not made new. Bitter women will call you to rebellion, but you have too much to do. What will you do?” (pp. 328-329, end of book)
One of the most striking achievements of the new feminist struggle is that women are viewing-and reviewing-their social, political and sexual problems through the eyes of an awakened female sex. But Greer’s outlook remains infected with the sick femininity imposed upon us by patriarchal society; she keeps one eye cocked upon what men will say, think or do about our struggle.
This is hardly a posture that can be called subversive. But more importantly, if as Greer says, mass revolutionary struggle is unnecessary and even reforms are “retrogressive,” her book is demonstrably not subversive of patriarchal capitalism or of the dominant position occupied by men in it.
What kind of service, then, does Greer’s book perform for the women’s liberation movement? It contains a number of sprightly expressed truisms about the conditions of life for women today with which most of us will agree. But insofar as she presents no proposals for changing these conditions through common struggle, the feminist cause cannot be benefited by a writer who is a “female eunuch” in revolutionary theory and practice.