Germaine Greer didn't want this book. Indeed, she described its author, an Australian journalist with a background in parliamentary reporting, as an "amoeba", a "dung-beetle" and a "brain-dead hack".
Greer's loss is our gain. Unlike the hagiographies too common in the women's movement, this profile of the non-feminist's feminist is an admirable attempt to analyse Greer's celebrity, and the sales of The Female Eunuch, as a paradigm of post-war media success: "Take a great title, arresting cover artwork, a promotable, quotable author, add sex...." Greer's life makes a compelling story because, like so many professional polemicists, she has never been inhibited by fact, logic or consistency. Wallace's efforts to unearth the successive layers of her myth reveal a young non-feminist who initially dismissed her agent's suggestion for a book on the status of women, a sexual libertarian who recently attacked her Cambridge women's college for hiring a transsexual, a trained scholar who subsequently declared all women academics hopelessly neurotic--only to return to the ivory tower at financially expedient intervals.
Yet in one respect, if no other, Greer has remained constant. As this biography demonstrates, the media's favourite feminist has been a lifelong misogynist, singling out women (painters, poets, other feminists, her mother, the female eunuch) for opprobrium. Wallace's analysis of this extraordinary career is careful, well-informed (particularly on the Australian intellectual traditions which contributed to Greer's bizarre combination of moral certainty, libertarianism and political pessimism) and--given her subject's threats and libels--surprisingly fair. As she stresses, The Female Eunuch may have made little impact on organised feminism, but its "vision of assertive women in hot pursuit of pleasure, independence and spontaneity'" is remembered as empowering by women far beyond the realms of activism. Whether Greer's subsequent writings ever contributed to anything other than her bank account is a different question. In a final irony, the biography she didn't want is published in Britain to coincide with a new book of her own, and will undoubtedly help the hype. --Mandy Merck