Books: a book that changed me

CELIA BRAYFIELD on Germaine Greer's `The Female Eunuch'
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The Independent Culture
When did you first read it? When I was a writer on the Daily Mail women's page, circa 1971.

Why did it strike you so much? It made sense of the crazy fix I was in. I'd always wanted to be a writer but all the hot names then were Northern working-class lads, so I didn't think I had a chance. My father had refused to let me go to university and I'd struggled into journalism through The Times's typing pool. Old Fleet Street must have been the sexual harassment capital of Britain; all a girl could do was write about lipstick and interview footballer's wives. I was looking at three career paths - horizontal progress, apprentice Glenda Slagg or follow Anthea Disney and get the hell out. Being still a bit of a flower child, I didn't have the Rosie The Riveter mentality to tough things through. And I loved my partner but nowadays our relationship would be regarded as abusive. So all my dawns were hopeless. Then I read The Female Eunuch and it gave me the courage to go and get myself a life. I trusted Germaine Greer completely. She wrote like somebody I knew, somebody very clever, very brave and very witty, who'd sat around the same flats as I had in Notting Hill Gate in the Sixties thinking "Okay, cool but - hey - something's still wrong here." She felt much closer to me than the other feminists: Betty Friedan wanted you to be an American housewife, Kate Millet wanted you to be a lesbian and Erica Jong was just too prissy to be living in the real world. Also, Germaine was spot on about sex, which the rest of them pussyfooted around, rather. The book made me feel that my voice counted, that I had something to say, that I could be a real writer after all. I started freelancing for underground newspapers, writing about the arts and women's issues, then got a proper job and started dreaming up books.

Have you re-read it? Lots. She was a little rose-tinted about men - she didn't anticipate the Loaded lad. It's amazingly erudite. I still find it gives me the answers to all kinds of questions. I've just lent it to someone but normally it's in my reference bookshelf, next to the big dictionary. A throwaway line in it led me to my current project, a biography of Bess of Hardwick.

Do you recommend it? All the time.

Celia Brayfield's latest novel is `Getting Home', Little, Brown pounds 15.99

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