Earth-mothers should get tax breaks

The Whole Woman by Germaine Greer (Anchor £7.99)
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The Independent Culture

"It's time to get angry again." Germaine Greer's new battle cry reverberates through the sequel she always said she'd never write. Thirty years after the publication of The Female Eunuch, Greer felt compelled to challenge the assertion of the "lifestyle feminists" that today's women "have it all". If having it all means money, sex and fashion, while young women are regularly starving and cutting themselves, "it would have been inexcusable to remain silent".

The Whole Woman, comprised of 35 self-contained chapters, is divided into four parts: Body, Mind, Love and Power. Greer begins with the body, because for her it is the battlefield where most struggles for liberation take place.

"Preoccupation about her appearance goes some way to ruining some part of every woman's day," she argues. These insecurities make women at once the perpetrators and victims of the ever-growing beauty industries. Under her clear-sighted bossiness, the time and money wasted in the impossible quest for beauty becomes painfully and shamefully obvious. Women's bodies are also at the mercy of the medical establishment, which she takes firmly to task for seeking to control women by means of what she sees as ineffective yet intimidating screening programmes and operations.

Critics were quick to pick up on some of her most contentious and ambiguous arguments. With characteristic disregard for political correctness or theoretical consistency, she dismisses transsexuals as mother impersonators ("like Norman Bates in Psycho") and defends female genital mutilation on the grounds that male circumcision is widely practised.

While acknowledging the progress women have made, Greer gives Girl Power, laddettes and girlie teen mags extremely short shrift. She reiterates her crusading belief that role-reversal and equality are poor substitutes for true liberation. According to Greer, today's orgasm-oriented sex, like penetration, is masculine and therefore oppressive. She continues the romanticisation of the mother begun in The Female Eunuch, campaigning for motherhood to be recognised as a full-time career paid for by taxes. And she speaks eloquently on behalf of older women.

The academic rigour and erudition with which she tackles the knottiest details tempers her occasional earth-motherish enthusiasm. But most compelling is the ease with which her definition of feminism embraces a non-capitalist, pacifist world-view. Whether you find her ideas inspiring or infuriating, she is always entertaining. Greer is an arch polemicist with a deliciously wicked sense of humour.