A biography of a controversial feminist who helped inaugurate second-wave feminism.
In 2013, social critic and scholar Germaine Greer (b. 1939) sold her massive archive of correspondence, notes, drafts, clippings, photographs, and audiovisual material to the University of Melbourne. Kleinhenz (A Brimming Cup: The Life of Kathleen Fitzpatrick, 2013), formerly a senior research fellow at the Australian Council for Educational Research, draws upon the archive, interviews, and additional sources to search for “the truth” about the woman whose first book, The Female Eunuch (1970), made her an international celebrity. Kleinhenz’s project was challenging. She discovered that Greer, who “rudely” refused support, proved to be a thorny subject: a woman who avoids introspection and intimacy; who describes herself as “disloyal, forgetful, busy” and therefore “a rather hopeless sort of friend”; and who is controlling, quick to anger—sometimes publicly humiliating former friends—“suspicious and conflicted,” and even paranoid. “Ever the contrarian,” writes the author, “she needed to be heard, and she needed to be The Boss.” Kleinhenz follows the trajectory of Greer’s life: her rebellious childhood in a lower-middle-class family; her gravitation to counterculture groups, celebrating drugs, drink, and, especially, sex; her legion of lovers; and her combative assertions about women’s sexuality, including her condemnation of transgender individuals and women she called “lifestyle feminists.” However, Kleinhenz fails to adequately probe the roots of Greer’s narcissism and vindictiveness except to observe that “anger is an excellent defence mechanism.” She notes Greer’s recurring depression and anxiety but does not go beyond Greer’s halfhearted speculations about their cause, suggesting only that geniuses—if Greer is one—“think and behave differently from the rest of us.” While the author does not whitewash Greer’s negative qualities, she praises whenever possible. Greer, she writes, “is a natural scholar,” “loves art and never tires of exploring galleries and museums.” As a writer, “she is raunchy, engaging and amusing.” She is “large in stature, huge in intellect, personality and soul”—and Kleinhenz keeps a respectful distance.
Hardly definitive but an informative look at Greer’s cultural impact.