Germaine Greer is in a bit of a fuss over a man. Not men as a universal group, although she has quite a few issues with them, too. Greer is plenty clear in her new book, "The Whole Woman," what she thinks about men. "To be male," she writes, "is to be a kind of idiot savant." Men are "freaks of nature." They are slothful. They are spongers. They are mean.
But this fuss isn't about men, it's about A Man. The Man. The man she gave--oh dear, how embarrassing--a tape of her voice so he wouldn't miss her too much during her current American book tour. She's desperate to get that tape back now that she's dumped him. That's right, she "blew him out," to use her exact words. She had to, after all. He had her in "a tumult."
How can she work if she's worrying about when he's going to call her, if he's going to call her, what he's going to say when he calls her, what she's going to say back? Impossible! She can't be wandering around the world giving lectures about the failures of feminism, or the evils of the male-run medical system, or men's tendency to be hateful to women, while wondering why all she gets is that vile recording when she calls his cell phone.
"He was deliberately keeping me on short rations," Greer confides over lunch at the Four Seasons Hotel. "It's a power play. Always a power play. So in the end I just thought, 'I can't be doing this.' I have too much work to do, it's making me crazy, and of course I began to be worried about the motivations.
"So I blew him out. Stopped. Gone."
"Oh," she says, in a long exhale, "I shouldn't be so lucky. It's not over. There's a bit of shouting to go on, I think. Shouting is left." Greer sighs. "It's one of the hardest things I've ever done."
Greer is 60 now, and still furious at the world. "It's time to get angry again" is the anthem of her new book--a book she swore, years ago, that she'd never write. But a lot has changed in the 28 years since she became a feminist icon with the publication of "The Female Eunuch," a smart, witty book that brought a fresh analysis of the modern female condition. A lot has changed and, in Greer's opinion, not enough has changed. Not nearly enough.
"Even if it had been real, equality would have been a poor substitute for liberation," Greer writes in the introduction to "The Whole Woman." The book is not "The Female Eunuch"--not as sharp, and not likely to have anything approaching the first's impact. She makes some astute points and, as reviewers have noted, she also makes some outrageous points: She compares an episiotomy to female genital mutilation in Third World nations. She declares Roe v. Wade to be a tool of a greedy male medical system eager to make money off women's suffering. She suggests that excessive ultrasound tests during pregnancy cause dyslexia in children.
In other words, she's still Germaine: fascinating, opinionated and more than a little outlandish.
[O]urs is a culture in which elevated testosterone levels are sought, prized and rewarded, no matter how destructive the consequences. Consider the vogue of road rage.
--From the chapter titled "Testosterone" in "The Whole Woman"
Greer is contemplating Mike Tyson. Tyson and his history of rape and violence and, most recently, road rage. Tyson, who appeared recently on the cover of Esquire kissing his young son during a prison visit. It was the Father's Day issue. Greer finds this a bit hypocritical. Which brings her, quickly, to the Clintons.
"It's a bit like Hillary and Bill groping each other for the cameras, which I find disgusting," she says, cringing a bit to emphasize her distaste. "The meaty hands on the shoulder. The holding hands getting out of the plane. Ah, you want to drop him, don't you? You want to drop them both."
Greer had a somewhat infamous run-in with President Clinton years and years ago, when he was studying at Oxford and she was lecturing there. In her oft-told and reported recollection, she was talking about how men marry women of a lower class, for comfort, while women try to marry up--to marry their rivals. What women really need, Greer explained, was to marry for comfort as well. That's when Clinton stood up and said, as Greer recalls it, "Would a middle-class boy from Arkansas be in with a chance?" She was floored.
"I couldn't believe," she says now, "he was coming on to me in front of 500 people."
Greer is amused by Clinton and the whole Monica Lewinsky thing. She watched Jon Snow interview Lewinsky on British television and was fixated on the way that Snow, in her opinion, stared at Lewinsky's mouth throughout the interview.
But Lewinsky bores Greer. To tears. "Monica has nothing to say except 'poor me,' and as far as I'm concerned, yes, poor her, I agree," she says. "She was abused, but she did most of it to herself like we usually do. She told herself it was not squalid and not impersonal and that it was something that it wasn't."
She saves her venom for Hillary.
"I never liked Hillary," she confides, leaning in as if this is some kind of confession. Then she sits back and smiles.
"The nicest thing about Hillary," she continues, "is her [rear end]. Because it's big and fat and close to the ground, and there's [nothing] she can do about it."
No one ever accused Greer of being tactful.
Her Soft Side
It may be that persecution of mothers is a permanent feature of patriarchal societies, but at the end of the millennium contempt for the mother seems to have assumed a new dimension.
--From the chapter "Mothers"
Greer is enraptured. There is a baby in the restaurant, a tiny little girl, 2 months old at most, wearing a frilly white dress and a matching headband dotted with pink rosebuds.
"A baby," she says, almost breathily. "All that cuddling."
Greer wanted a child. She attempted fertility treatments without success, and she angrily attacks reproductive technology in general in "The Whole Woman." On the subject of babies, though, she melts.
"Babies can handle all the love you can give them," she says. "That's what is so great about them. They let you love them. They put no obstacles in your way. When they do those things that they do, like when they rub their hands up and down your ribs, or they put their hands on your face, ah, it's heaven. Just heaven."
This is her soft side, a side sometimes lost in her humor, intelligence--and anger. She adores her dogs. She adores her filly. "I don't care how she races--and this is a very womanly thing--I just want my horse to be happy."
Greer is also a godmother. In fact, she has 13 godchildren, by her latest count, and several other children she considers "good friends." Like Matthew and Oliver, two 12-year-olds who drove her nuts over a recent game of pool. They told her what to do, how to play. She rolls her eyes.
"I potted three balls on one break, and they still didn't think I knew how to play pool," she says. "It's because they're boys. Boys think they have a right to criticize anything females do." She says this with affection, but underneath she is completely serious.
Love Is Hell
From the beginning feminists have been aware that the causes of female suffering can be grouped under the heading "contradictory expectations." The contradictions women face have never been more bruising than they are now.
--From the chapter "Recantation"
Greer is her own bundle of contradictions. She has been widely quoted as saying that lipstick rots women's brains, yet she wears makeup. In her book "The Change: Women, Aging and Menopause," she longs for a time when older women can let their bodies settle into their natural shapes, yet she admits going on a diet for this book tour. And she pulls at her Issey Miyake blouse to demonstrate how it will "hide anything."
She complains about men ruling women's lives, then she agonizes over her soon-to-be ex-boyfriend (whom she declined to name) and how his failure to phone affects her day-to-day existence.
And she refuses to call him. Outright refuses. Well, she called twice. That was it.
"He wanted me to ring him," she says. "It was that simple."
And now, it's over--maybe, probably--and she's doing that typical girl thing. She's pining. Missing him. Missing it. Telling herself she'll never find another man.
"I'm 60 years old, girl," she says. "The miracle was that this man responded."
She says she's taking "precautions" so that she won't let it happen again.
"It's been hell," she explains, sounding for all the world like a teenager jilted by her first lover. "Five minutes of bliss for 50 hours of hell. Isn't that what love is? Oh, damn! I can't stand it anymore."
She left him because that's how she keeps her sense of power and control. It's also how she makes her life fit her philosophy. Dating him was a feminist act. She made him better at being a man.
And booting him?
"If he regrets my sudden departure," she says, "let him regret. It will teach him a lesson, and some other woman may be the beneficiary someday."
CAPTION: "It's not over. There's a bit of shouting to go on," says Germaine Greer speaking of a recent romantic break-up but, also echoing her thoughts on feminism itself.
CAPTION: Children are feminist writer Germaine Greer's delight. "Babies can handle all the love you can give them," says the happy godmother of 13. ". . . They put no obstacles in your way."