Author(s): Elizabeth Kleinhenz
As a student in Melbourne, Elizabeth Kleinhenz heard frequent talk of this almost mythical figure, Germaine Greer. Urged on by her mother, a first wave feminist, she read The Female Eunuch, a clarion call that rallied women to assert their female power,and, like her mother and millions of others across the world, changed her life.
As one of the first researchers permitted to trawl through the Germaine Greer Archive housed at the University of Melbourne, Elizabeth found evidence of a brilliant teacher, serious scholar, flamboyantly attired hippie TV presenter, provocative magazine columnist and editor, real estate investor, domestic goddess, creator of extravagant gardens and preserves, shelterer of strays and waifs, libertarian, bohemian, anarchist, working journalist, correspondent, traveller and adventurer, international celebrity and performer, wag and ratbag, mentor and icon.
Germaine Greer has said that her archive is a representation of the times in which she has lived. Yet she anticipated, catalysed and triumphantly rode the wave of the immense social and intellectual changes of her era.
For Elizabeth, two things are certain- women's lives today are very different from how they were when Germaine Greer and she left school; and much of the change that has occurred over the past half-century can be directly attributed to the lifetime of intense scholarship, unremitting hard work and influence of Germaine Greer.
Arguably one of the most important women in 20th century feminism, Germaine Greer parted company with first-wave feminism while it was still a formative movement. Greer felt that the sentiment of liberation applied to everyone, not just one gender in particular. In her challenging book; The Female Eunuch (1973), she argued that women were socially castrated because they lacked independence. Like her contemporaries Clive James and Robert Hughes, Greer also parted company with Australia and became a scholar at Cambridge. Good looking, she quickly became the pin-up for the hippie generation. Never one to be politically correct, she then upset the art-history community with her well researched book called The Obstacle Race. Subtitled; Women in Art History, she named and blamed many old masters for the patriarchal treatment of their talented daughters. Greer enjoyed being outspoken but there was a price to pay; she had wanted a child but ironically, her own permissiveness denied her that option. These days, Germaine lives comfortably on a farmlet in Essex, with animals and a few close friends. If that sounds like an unfulfilled life, the author argues that Germaine was the most significant and influential Australian woman of her time. Personally, I think we all owe her a great deal. Mike