BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: UK
Front Page 
Northern Ireland 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 
Thursday, 27 April, 2000, 13:12 GMT 14:12 UK
Greer's life at the edge

Germaine Greer: Feminist icon
Germaine Greer, the feminist icon who - thanks to her ever-controversial and quotable views - is never out of the headlines for long, is back at centre-stage.

But for once it is not her own doing. Over the Easter weekend, Greer was allegedly tied up and held hostage in her own isolated home.

If we lived in Australia, I would be required by law to keep my dogs in at night, which would remove a good part of the motivation for keeping them in the first place.

Germaine Greer, Daily Telegraph, April
Opinionated, strong-minded and independent, Greer wrote last week: "I have no signs saying 'Private Property' or 'Keep Out' or 'Trespassers will be prosecuted', but the mad glint in my eyes is meant to speak volumes," she wrote.

Yet she is also renowned for her hospitality. In 1994 she invited homeless people to come and stay with her while they got back on their feet. A Mail on Sunday reporter posed as homeless to test the offer, and stayed for several days doing odd jobs.

Writer James Hughes-Onslow witnessed her hospitality during the Notting Hill Carnival riots of 1977. Throughout the weekend, he wrote, a "constant stream of wounded and confused figures" stumbled into her house - "...blacks and whites, Asians and Africans, police and rioters. Most were complete strangers".

She had a "unique gift" for making people feel at home, whatever their original intentions had been, he added.

Greer's isolated Essex house

It was through letting one of her pregnant students stay in her flat in Leamington Spa, and allowing mother and child to stay, which gave her one of her life's happiest experiences. The baby, Ruby, "lit up my life in a way that nobody, certainly no lover, has ever done", she wrote

"I found her scrumptious, delicious, ineffable, adorable, and was astonished."

Greer herself never had a child; earlier this month she wrote about her efforts to conceive following injuries and infection she had suffered when using an early contraceptive device.

Doctors had told her she would not be able to conceive; she terminated a later unexpected pregnancy because of fears for the child's health. But she went on to spend "enough money to buy a Picasso" on medical treatment in her efforts to have a child.

She was married once, for just over three weeks, to Paul Du Feu, who later married Maya Angelou.

How much having a family would have changed Greer's thinking will never, of course, be known. But it is clear from her landmark book, The Female Eunuch (1970), and its sequel, The Whole Woman (1999) that her view of the world has moved as the world has itself.

The Female Eunuch argued that marriage was a legalised form of slavery for women and attacked the misrepresentation of female sexuality by male-dominated society.

Female Eunuch - the book that made Greer's name
The Whole Woman showed Greer still to be angry, and argued that instead of being about liberation, feminism had become about women seeking equality with men on men's terms. Thus cosmetic surgery, eating disorders and uncomfortable clothing were some of her targets.

But also - controversially - were male-to-female transsexuals who should not, she argued, be thought of as real women. She also wrote that female circumcision should not necessarily be banned just because the West found it repugnant.

"If the right to modify one's own body is a civil right, the rights of these women [who cling to their ethnic tradition] are being denied. We accept the rights of parents over their children's bodies in all cases but these," she wrote last year.

Though I have no child of my own, I spend days with young adults who have less difficulty letting me into their lives than my own children would have had

Germaine Greer, Aura magazine, April
A group of MPs criticised her, saying that equating a clitoridectomy with a teenager's voluntary genital piercing was "absurd".

Born in 1939, Greer ran away from aged 17 to study - Melbourne and Sydney universities before coming to Cambridge. Her publishing record includes many academic titles on subjects including Shakespeare, art, poetry and translations from Greek. She is currently professor of English and comparative literature at Warwick University.

A regular critic on BBC Two's Review programme, she also writes a weekly column on country issues for the Daily Telegraph.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

Links to other UK stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more UK stories