The harsh truth about feminism

I've seen strong mothers who lived in dreadful poverty but never thought children were a burden
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The Independent Culture
DRIVE ALL the way from Ealing to the British Library to attend the launch party for The Whole Woman by the formidable Dr Greer. Even remember to wear the brooch sent with the card, as strictly instructed.

Seeing as the ship has been out and sending up crowd-drawing fireworks for at least a month, "launch" seems an odd way to describe the event. And a desolate scene greets me when I finally get there.

The rep from the PR company, Colman Getty, her hair sorely tested by gales of wind, stands on the steps with a nice, plump lady in the kind of jacket usually worn by paramedics. The party is cancelled, she sorrowfully tells me, and then she asks who I am anyway. They had apparently contacted all the "known" guests.

Howard Jacobson had also turned up, and been turned away after he (allegedly) accused them of getting him all the way over from Australia. I feel hugely better when I hear this. I am at least as unknown as he. The reason for this debacle? The staff of the library are on strike and "Dr Greer felt unable to cross the picket line".

This is what makes the woman so irresistible to me much of the time. Can you imagine any other writer having the guts and generosity to do such a thing in these apolitical times?

Greer is at her best when she is not simply talking about feminism, and when she incorporates, with immense respect, the world views of other societies and other people's battles. In Sydney, famous Australians have plaques placed in pavements with statements from each of them. Greer's statement reminds her nation of their continuing barbarity when it comes to the Aborigines.

When the Rushdie crisis exploded, she was one of the few prominent individuals who refused to follow the line put down by fundamentalist liberals. In an extraordinary article in 1994, she attacked the "fashionable pseudo- feminism [which] has all too often been a convenient mask for arrogant ethnocentricity".

Ironically, it is that same sisterhood of arrogant feminists (who behave like handmaidens to a goddess in a temple) who have been furious with me in the last week because I dared to say, on Newsnight, that The Female Eunuch meant nothing to me when I arrived here in the early Seventies.

At Oxford, where I then went to do a postgraduate degree, easily swayed lasses in Laura Ashley dresses and hats with bows were bowled over by the ideas of sexual liberation and the defeminisation of women in that treatise. Myself, I couldn't see the point.

It has been just as intensely irritating to read some of these groupies going on about how we have all been standing on Greer's shoulders ever since then, and about how wonderful it is that she made it OK for us to sit with our legs wide open.

I had come here from university in Uganda, where African friends of mine had been gang-raped and then been made to watch as their men were tortured and killed by the soldiers of Idi Amin. I had seen strong mothers who lived in dreadful poverty but never thought that their children were a burden in their lives, only their gold.

These are the women, and others such as Asma Jehangir, the head of the Human Rights Commission in Pakistan, and Roxanna Carrillo, the Peruvian feminist, who have taught me what to think, feel and do. There was and still is appalling sexism in Africa and among my own people. But this is bound up with other forms of inequality.

Racism affects our men and boys in the most brutal, murderous ways, which means that we are never free to think only of women's rights. Yet even the internationalist Germaine Greer said in The Independent that the definition of a feminist is someone whose loyalty is first and last to other women.

Permit me to blaspheme again, but other ideas expressed by Greer make little sense to me. I love men and in my own life, in spite of some cruelty and betrayals, this love has been reciprocated by my husbands, my son, others in the family and lifelong friends. What am I then to make of statements such as: "All men hate all women some of the time; some men hate all women all of the time; some men hate some women all of the time"?

What Greer has said about how the pressures to look good, stay young and do sex on demand are destroying women and girls is absolutely right, and crucial for us to understand. So how come she admires Madonna, and finds it so easy to lay into another woman writer by deliberately highlighting her physical "imperfections"? (I've never forgotten the phrase "three fat inches of cleavage", which she once directed at a rival newspaper columnist).

Unfortunately, the robust debates we should be having around these issues have been silenced by deference, surely the worst possible homage to a woman who has spent her life kicking at the very thought of such blind worship.