Germaine smacks her sisters

THE MOTHER OF FEMINISM IS BACK AND THIS TIME IT'S PERSONAL

A CURIOUS hush has fallen. Germaine Greer, veteran and scourge of the feminist world, is about to publish a sequel to her groundbreaking tract, The Female Eunuch, nearly 30 years on.

But although The Whole Woman is sure to provoke intrigue and ire when it comes out on 8 March, critics are already reluctant to come forward. The sisters in arms have closed ranks, refusing to be drawn into a "catfight" - despite the fact that the professor herself is still shooting from the hip.

Speaking about the book in the Daily Telegraph yesterday, she spared no scorn for "lifestyle feminists", and for writers such as Natasha Walter and Fay Weldon. She was reported as "furious" about The New Feminism, published last January by Ms Walter (a journalist with the Independent on Sunday), remarking: "This isn't what it is about at all". And she was openly sarcastic about Ms Weldon, accusing her of having "forgotten" the mechanism of speaking up for women. "I know she has had a facelift and I know she's on HRT, but would that have such a devastating effect on the cerebellum?"

But it seems her peers will not retaliate. Indeed, they are openly eager to read The Whole Woman.

Suzanne Moore, whom Prof Greer attacked in 1995 for her "hair bird's- nested all over the place, fuck-me shoes and three fat inches of cleavage", admitted: "If Germaine attacked me for my writing, it would be far more worthy than to attack me for my shoes". The attack was in response to Ms Moore's comments on an inaccurate report that Prof Greer had a hysterectomy at 25. The latter told the Telegraph yesterday it was "stupid and hurtful" to suggest she didn't want kids. "It's pretty painful when you have spent a goodly part of your life struggling to have children, to have this young woman - who is lucky enough to have two children of her own - suddenly announce that I had myself hysterectomised at 25 because I didn't want kids. How could she be so stupid? I think that level of incomprehension is inexcusable in someone who calls herself a feminist."

Ms Moore remarked yesterday: "Germaine's womb is the centre of her universe, but it isn't for me." But she added: "It's always reported that we had a spat: people want a catfight. Obviously I was upset by what she said, but none the less, I have a lot of admiration for her. She's absolutely right in saying that women need to be angry and that not everything is OK, and she's absolutely the person to write passionately and polemically on it."

Ms Walter said that while she had eagerly awaited the new book, feminism had "grown up" since the era of The Female Eunuch. Never out of print, it has sold more than one million copies and been published in 13 languages. It argued that marriage was legalised slavery, that women's passivity was equal to castration, and that, most famously, "the personal is political".

Ms Walter also insisted that today's feminist battles be fought over ideas, not personalities. "It is very important that feminism isn't seen as a catfight between individual women. It's about trying to get equality."

Prof Greer, who lectures at Warwick University, is legendary for her insults. She branded financial journalist Christine Wallace a "brain-dead hack" and a "flesh-eating bacterium" after the latter wrote an unauthorised biography, Greer: Untamed Shrew, published in Britain next month. It claims to explore "why she could be so contradictory and why, despite this, the net impact of her influence has been positive."

But Prof Greer took exception to the book, which also gave details of a childhood lesbian affair with another schoolgirl. She warned that Ms Wallace would be "kneecapped" if she approached her mother, Peggy Greer, for comments. Ms Wallace described how the professor "went to some lengths to sabotage ... an honest and well-intentioned project" with threats and vilification. Prof Greer refused to read the account, calling it "a piece of excrement", and added: "I am still alive, in case it has escaped anyone's notice, and I happen to think that living people own their own lives."

That view has not stopped her, as she put it yesterday, "smacking" other prominent women "around the chops". She apparently perceived that Fay Weldon, an old friend, had "let the side down badly" in her recent approach: "She sort of chuckles away and says; 'Ho ho, poor men'."

But Ms Weldon, who spoke at a debate together with Prof Greer and Erica Jong last March, did not rush to her own defence. A spokesman said: "Fay and Germaine are friendly with each other and have always been supportive of each other, so she's got no comment."

The Whole Woman, for which seven publishers battled - the victor, Doubleday, paid a pounds 500,000 advance - is billed as "a savage critique of women's lives today". Prof Greer's literary agent, Emma Parry, said: "It will be provocative, but she won't analyse every individual feminist writer and their ideas in turn. She will of course take on some of the more recent trends and significant writers."

Prof Greer declared yesterday: "The hypocrisy out there is so gross sometimes that I can't breathe." But she admitted a sneaking desire to be liked by other feminists. "I do care about attacks ... they can be gratuitous, but they can keep me awake at night."

Some await the book more warily. Independent on Sunday columnist Joan Smith complained last November that journalists wanted to divide feminist opinion before the book was even written. "What is happening to Ms Greer shows that double standards are still being employed against women - and by other women, which makes the offence all the greater."

But most are looking forward to a rattling read. The American feminist and writer Andrea Dworkin called her unique, and said: "I am always excited whenever she publishes. She's a very original and tremendous presence." She hopes the book will herald a new era of co-operative feminism. "I tend to be the butt of most of that [kind of] criticism, and I would very much welcome a ceasefire."

Suzanne Moore added: "The thing about Germaine is that even when she's wrong, it will still be full of fire, and that's what we need. Most of the supposed new feminism is just bland, wishful thinking. I don't know what it's for. To have Germaine come along and say 'It's a nightmare' is great. Feminists can fight each other. We don't all have to be the same."

JOAN SMITH, PAGE 29

"I am slightly mystified about Fay Weldon. She was one of the earliest feminists to speak up in this country. She understood the mechanism then, and it seems to me she has forgotten it now" GREER ON FAY WELDON

"All she had to do was ring up and say, 'I am sorry. I was misquoted' or 'I was drunk'. Anything! She said nothing, so I decided I would smack her round the chops" GREER ON SUZANNE MOORE

"I thought, this isn't what it is about at all" GREER ON NATASHA WALTER

"She claimed President Clinton hadn't done anything wrong" GREER ON BETTY FRIEDAN

"They have such a difficult life because they don't have that kind of access, that men's room access to the Prime Minister. And they never will. Never. It is much easier to be a gay man in politics than it is to be a woman" GREER ON MO MOWLAM AND CLARE SHORT

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