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NONFICTION : THE MADWOMAN'S UNDERCLOTHES: ESSAYS AND OCCASIONAL WRITINGS, 1968-'85 by Germaine Greer (Atlantic Monthly: $17.95; 320 pp.).

September 06, 1987|Bridget Connelly

This book of essays spans the career of one of the founding mothers of the contemporary feminist movement--a matriarch lately deemed "anti-feminist" or at best a member of the "conservative, pro-family" breed of feminists like the latter-day Betty Friedan. Brilliant, witty, entertaining, incisive, always informed, the essays cover the diverse topics that are the history of the women's movement and our contemporary world.

Greer's range is enormous. She covers the student rebellions (from the vantage point of an untenured professor and underground newspaper writer); she visits Castro's Cuba to see how it has materialized "an early feminists' dream world" of state-given free birth control, abortion and day care; she enters the world of hatcheck girls, groupies and rock musicians; she treats radical movement machismo, Ethiopian resettlement, Brazilian river life, the "other woman," and Calabrian peasant society all with equal aplomb.

Originally writing for publications that vary from the British underground "Suck" to the London Times, Harper's, Playboy and Esquire, Greer ranges from the titillatingly pornographic to the irreverently satiric to the moralistic. Her portrait of the 1975 U.N. World conference for the International Women's Year ("that jamboree in Mexico") wickedly exposes the antics of the Imelda Marcoses and Jihan Sadats of the Third World and the ironies implicit in the bourgeois aspirations and attainments of the women sent to represent their patriarchal governments' various agendas in the face of the real status of the female population around the world.

Greer spares few from her satirist's barbs or her moralist's wrath. Known as the "women's libber" with sex appeal and media appeal (she reminds us that her husband appeared as the British Cosmo's centerfold), Greer somehow has always irked more doctrinaire feminists with her romanticized idealization of the traditional extended family and her concern for world population issues. Although frequently viewed as quixotic and undisciplined in her method of analysis, Greer consistently reveals herself through this selection of essays and through her travels about the world as a heroic figure, an amazonian wordsmith whose thought is firmly grounded in the values of cultural relativism and neo-traditionalism.

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