Election Day Reactions (Warning: Non Sequitur Ahead)

Here’s my post-election reaction.  The public school where I voted on Tuesday was giving books away from its library. I spotted an Important Book lying on the table — Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch —swiped it and browsed its contents on the way to work.  I am confident that I will eventually find pearls of wisdom in it to belie the unfortunate stereotype of feminist writing as a petulant and solipsistic embarrassment to the Left.  So far, however,  the only pearls I’ve found in the book are pearls of hilarity. Like this one:

[A woman’s] breasts are only to be admired for as long as they show no sign of their function: once darkened, stretched of withered they are objects of revulsion.  They are not parts of a person but lures slung around her neck, to be kneaded and twisted like magic putty, or mumbled and mouthed like lolly ices. The only way women can opt out of such gross handling is to refuse to wear undergarments which perpetuate the fantasy of pneumatic boobs, so that men must come to terms with the varieties of the real thing.

Translation: Other women should let the breasts flop around like sacks so that mine will be considered more attractive by comparison! Needless to say, women have not and never will take up Ms. Greer’s baldly self-serving invitation.  It unwittingly exposes a core fallacy of much feminist thinking, namely, that women are natural allies, whereas, if anything, they are natural rivals. (It’s never even seemed to me that they like each other very much.) The idea that women are going to collude in order to impose on men a more egalitarian standard of beauty is risible. Depond upon it: Cruelly heedless of the humiliation they inflict thereby on their less comely sisters-in-arms, the ladies who have got it will flaunt it until doomsday.

Just to make sure we hear cry for help, Ms. Greer goes on:

Every human body has its optimum weight and contour, which only health and efficiency can establish. Whenever we treat women’s bodies as aesthetic objects without function we deform them and their owners. Whether the curves imposed are the ebullient arabesques of the tit-queen or the attenuated coils of art nouveau, they are deformations of the dynamic, individual body, and the limitations and possibilities of being female.

But women whose bodies actually are treated as “aesthetic objects” are all too happy to revel in the attention of powerful men, not to mention the envy of unprepossessing female peers. Ms. Greer simply demands that the sexual marketplace — where female beauty is traded for male power — be abolished.  The massive collective action problems that would need to be overcome in order to achieve her goals never seem to have occurred to her. The moment that women stop tirelessly titivating themselves through dress, make-up, diet and exercise is the same moment that a selfish free-rider will exploit her suddenly increased status and monopolize the more desirable men.

To be fair to Ms. Greer, she was writing in a relatively primitive climate of opinion in which it was assumed that sexual norms are socially constructed.  Then again, what feminist writer today does not make that same assumption? In the introduction to The Female Eunuch, Ms. Greer all but anoints herself a Prophetess of the Second Feminist Wave (which nowadays I believe is more often referred to as the Third Wave). She confidently predicts that her book  “will draw fire from all the articulate sections of the community.” Maybe it did back in 1970. From the perspective of forty years, however, the only reaction the “articulate” reader can muster is bemused pity.

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16 thoughts on “Election Day Reactions (Warning: Non Sequitur Ahead)

  1. “Translation: Other women should let the breasts flop around like sacks so that mine will be considered more attractive by comparison!”

    Wow. You took a bad piece of thinking from a bad author, and managed to add just enough of a misogynist, male-oriented “I like tits!” point of view to almost make me sympathetic to her atrocious argument.

    Sure you want to stop there? You can double down on how they really just want to stay at home and pump out babies and win double the fabulous prizes.

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    • @Barrett Brown,

      Really? OK, then here’s a bet. Go into any bar at happy hour, and tell all the women that you have figured out that their main driving motivation is wanting to have you acknowledge they have fabulous tits, and you are willing to do so if they show them to you. Keep track of how many roll their eyes, cringe, or ask to have you removed, and compare to the amount that give you that “Wow! He really understands me!” look and take their top off. If I’m right, the responses will be overwhelmingly in the former category.

      If you’re right, then I have a new happy hour hobby.

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      • @RTod, I’m not sure my girlfriend with perfect tits would like that. Nor does the fact that some subset of human beings would not react happily to some assertion of emotional significance to them automatically prove that such an assertion is not true. Finally, such a game would not even accurately reflect my views or the views expressed in the original post.

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  2. I remember finding a copy of this book when I was way, way too young to be reading it. (Think elementary school.) I read anyway, though I had to look up what a eunuch was.

    If my memory serves me — and I could be way, way off — Greer writes somewhere that only women have real emotions. Men just experience physical sensations where their emotions should be. They don’t feel nervousness, but only butterflies in the stomach. No joy, but only the sensation of physical pleasure, or a tic of the smiling muscles.

    I spent a few weeks wondering if I was psychologically deficient. Then I decided that I couldn’t believe everything I read in books.

    That said, Greer is usually considered a second- (not third-) wave feminist. And she’s definitely not trying to make her breasts look better by comparison. As Wiki quotes her saying: “Bras are a ludicrous invention, but if you make bralessness a rule, you’re just subjecting yourself to yet another repression.”

    Presumably, the women with bras would look better, and she’s fine with that. (When are men going to start wearing codpieces again?)

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  3. Translation: Other women should let the breasts flop around like sacks so that mine will be considered more attractive by comparison!

    That this is your translation says much more about your own biases and skills of interpretation than it does about Greer’s work. Greer’s complaint is that breasts are valued for their aesthetics above their function, but you somehow managed to make a translation that not only missed the point, but read the complete opposite of the intended and obvious meaning.

    But women whose bodies actually are treated as “aesthetic objects” are all too happy to revel in the attention of powerful men, not to mention the envy of unprepossessing female peers.

    This scarcely deserves a response. If you think this is the only response women ever have to constant objectification, you need to read more feminist literature- or just ask some of your conventionally attractive female friends. Then again, if you insist upon clinging to your belief that all feminists are, at bottom, only angry that they’ve lost out on the “sexual marketplace,” (like that’s a healthy lens to view relationships through!), you’re wasting your time by reading any feminist writing. You’re certainly wasting our time by writing about it, in addition to tarnishing your reputation as an intelligent and thoughtful commentator.

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  4. I’m not a big believer in the idea that sexual norms are entirely socially constructed, but if they weren’t somewhat socially constructed, they’d be unchanging across time and cultures, and of course they’re not. Besides, it sounds like you’re saying they’re shaped by female competition for mates, and that is, you know, another motor of social construction.

    Take for example the most stupid and repulsive fashion trend of my lifetime: female pubic shaving. There’s no way that there’s not a pretty good amount of social construction going on there, and yet, it’s frequently taken as natural and health-conscious by young men and women. An ex-girlfriend once claimed that women with pubic hair struck her as “dirty”. I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry.

    So I do think that Greer has a sort of ideal of Rousseaunian “naturalness” in mind that can be just as unobtainable as fashionable artifice- again remember the time period. However, I think what she’s really demanding there is not that sexual marketplace be overturned, but its aesthetic standards shouldn’t be taken as axiomatic and go unquestioned. At the very least, the advantage of questioning those standards is that it might break up the horribly dull and homogeneous appearance of young men and women of mating age.

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    • @North, Really? I have a hard time thinking of Greer as anything but her own category. One of the things this post hints at is that she’s sort of loopy and iconoclastic, which is why she’s also a lot more fun to read than more representative feminist writers.

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      • @Rufus, I suppose so Rufus, lord(lady?) knows I’m not widely read in Feminism but if I were to associate Greers screeds with any of Feminisms waves it’d definitely be with the aggrieved and confrontational second wave rather than the more temperate spirit of the third.

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