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Chat transcript: Germaine Greer on feminism and war

June 21, 1999
Web posted at: 4:31 p.m. EDT (2031 GMT)

(CNN) -- Following is an edited transcript of a chat with Germaine Greer, author of the acclaimed book "The Female Eunuch" and the fiery sequel "The Whole Woman." Greer joined the chat June 11 via the phone from Boston.

Chat Moderator: Please tell us a little bit about your background and your new book.

Germaine Greer: I was born in Australia in 1939, which means that in 1999 I'm 60. I grew up in Australia, and then went to England in 1964 and have lived there ever since. I graduated from two Australian universities and then won a scholarship to Cambridge University, where I earned, as we say, a Ph.D. for a thesis on the early comedies of Shakespeare. In 1969 or so, I was briefly married, which turned out to be the worst jam I was ever in. Until that time, I had been rather unsympathetic to the suffering of women, and in 1969, therefore, after running away from my husband, I began to write a book about the need for feminism called "The Female Eunuch."

Chat Participant: What have you done that you are most proud of?

Germaine Greer: I have no idea. I think planting my wood is the thing I'm most proud of. But it could die at any time. Planting a wood is like having children -- you are offering up hostages to fortune.

Chat Participant: Tell us about this marriage and why it was so bad?

Germaine Greer: Like Princess Diana, I married a man who didn't like me. He liked shagging me, but he didn't like me.

Chat Participant: Has the definition of feminism changed over the years? What does it mean today?

Germaine Greer: I'm not keen on definitions, because definitions build walls around the subject when what you want is for the subject to run free. In my version, a feminist is one who identifies herself as a woman before she identifies herself as belonging to any race or color or creed or class.

Chat Participant: What IS a female eunuch?

Germaine Greer: A eunuch is any person who has been castrated. The female eunuch is the woman who has been castrated in order to function as the feminine stereotype. That is, the glamorous, supermenial who is expected to be all things to all men, and nothing to herself.

Chat Participant: Ms./Doctor Greer: Do you see women's colleges as elitist institutions or grassroots stomping grounds for feminism?

Germaine Greer: Well now.... All colleges are elitist institutions. Colleges exist in order to form an elite. Single-sex colleges have the unique advantage that the women in them get to control their own environment, make their own rules, establish their own style and laugh at their own jokes.

Chat Participant: Do you prefer being addressed as Dr. rather than Ms.? Is this important to you?

Germaine Greer: If your concern was to be correct, you would address me as Professor Greer. My University went to the trouble to setting up a chair just so they could get me on the masthead and it would grieve them very much to know that I cannot get Americans to address me as anything other than "Ms." The Doctor title is not now correct because the Professor title takes precedence. It's important to women because so few full chairs are women. I actually don't give a damn. I have a perfectly good Christian name, which is Germaine, and I don't think I need any other form of address.

Chat Participant : Germaine, do you think that men too have been castrated by a society in which they are measured by only money and prestige? How can men like this respect themselves, let alone the women in their lives?

Germaine Greer: Precisely. I have never envied the condition of one-dimensional man, but the best I can do for him is to get off his back.

Chat Participant : Dr. Greer, does defining yourself as a woman include supporting other women in attaining their goals as well?

Germaine Greer: It would depend what their goals were. Nothing would make me support Madeleine Albright.

Chat Moderator: Why?

Germaine Greer: Because what has been going on in Yugoslavia is larrikin politics; what we have seen in Yugoslavia is hooliganism. It was a drive-by shooting. It was macho crap.

Chat Participant: And you blame that all on her?

Germaine Greer: Of course not. She got the job because she was the toughest guy around, but the job would have been done by someone no matter what.

Chat Participant: Do you agree there has been a general backlash against women?

Germaine Greer: There has been a backlash against women ever since women got uppity. And just as in Yugoslavia, the backlash has been wildly out of proportion with the offense.

Chat Participant: Dr. Greer, was there a better solution to the Yugoslavia problem that we Americans were not allowed to see by our news media?

Germaine Greer: There was no better solution available because no better solution was ever sought. We had the technology, and we were busting to use it. It never occurred to anybody that we had a duty to develop different kinds of solutions to this kind of communal conflict. You will have plenty of opportunity to see just how hopelessly incompetent we are at keeping any kind of a peace.

Chat Participant: And you don't think opposing ethnic cleansing was reasonable justification?

Germaine Greer: Ethnic cleansing had to be opposed, but there are other ways of opposing behavior we disapprove of that do not involve smashing communities that were miles, hundreds of miles away from the conflict.

Chat Participant: What is a woman's place in war?

Germaine Greer: All modern warfare is carried out at the expense of civilian populations. Women's place in the conflict in Yugoslavia, in both Serbia and Kosovo, was as victims. And I would include the women soldiers who were carrying out orders that were unjust, and which they themselves did not understand. Any woman who agrees to fire shells tipped with depleted uranium into a country where the fallout will remain within the ecosystem so that generations yet unborn will suffer is a stooge and therefore a victim.

Chat Participant: If the U.S. president would be a woman, how would the conflict in Kosovo have been solved?

Chat Participant: Sabine, she would have invited Milosefor tea, and they would have "talked it over."

Germaine Greer: Anybody who is so dumb as to agree to drink tea with Milosevic isn't going to get far. In fact, it wouldn't have made any difference if the president had been a woman, just as it makes no difference that Madeleine Albright is a woman.

Chat Participant: Dr. Greer, when women who have a public platform disagree, others are quick to point that out as a weakness rather than a strength. How do we counteract that?

Germaine Greer: We go on disagreeing. Conflict and confusion are fruitful states of mind. What we have to fear is murderous certainty.

Chat Participant: If you could pass one law, what would it be?

Germaine Greer: That would depend on which forum I was passing my law in. There have been a pretty good set of laws promulgated that are supposed to apply to the whole Judeo-Christian world. One of those is "Thou shalt not kill."

Chat Participant: Is there any place, in your opinion, where a woman is no victim?

Germaine Greer: I must say, I don't understand this question. One of my greatest struggles over the last 30 years has been to persuade women that they should be victims no longer -- in particular, when it comes to rape. Insofar as rape is the assault via the penis, it's one of the least destructive assaults. And it bugs me that women are still so impressed by the penis that they think it can destroy their personality and their life. Also, I wish that women were not so easily frightened by poor medical research, by sensationalist health journalism, whether about the risks to the fetus or the penalties for not using replacement estrogen, or about breast implants or about not having big-enough tits.

Chat Participant: There is a lot of anger (and humor) in your writings, and that anger hasn't abated. How do you view the progression of women's interests in the world?

Germaine Greer: It depends where you're standing. If you're watching teen-age prostitutes with a drug habit working some scuzzy street in Bangkok or Boston, you're not really impressed by any improvement in her condition. If you're watching female farmers working to produce luxury vegetables for European and American supermarkets at piece-rates that won't pay for food for their children, you don't figure that she's doing so well.

Chat Participant: You've said it's time to get angry. What makes you angry these days?

Germaine Greer: All kinds of things make me mad, but lying makes me madder than anything. What I find infuriating is the misrepresentation of issues that concern women, and some of this misrepresentation is brought about by political correctness. So we talk about violence among schoolkids, when what we mean is violence among schoolboys. We represent abortion to women as if it was a privilege. We tell women that being in the work force is absolutely great -- even though we have never had a workforce so vulnerable as the work force is today.

Chat Participant: How would you propose educating younger women about feminism being a good thing instead of the negative view that so often surfaces in the media?

Germaine Greer: It seems to me that young women learn pretty soon just how difficult their lives are going to be, whether it's in relationships with guys or in planning their life of work, or in even getting a fair deal from the people who teach them. They're frightened by the word "feminist" because of the way the media characterizes feminism, but sooner or later, with or without the label, they will discover who their friends are.

Chat Moderator: Any final comments?

Germaine Greer: I'm sitting here buck-naked, and I don't think I can do my next TV deal in this condition. Well, I'm just sad I'm not *in* the chat room. Here I am talking into the plastic spout, and I can't see if my jokes have made anyone laugh. We're going to have to put a "hee-hee" button on keyboards so you can judge how many hee-hees you've got.

Chat Moderator: Thank you, Germaine, for joining us today.

Germaine Greer: Kisses.... Goodbye.

Visit our chat calendar for a complete list of future events and past chat transcripts.

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