WASHINGTON — Weeks before her 49th birthday, Germaine Greer is in old fighting form--tall and taunting and outrageous. The author whose 1969 book "The Female Eunuch" embodied, and propelled, the feminist rebirth believes that despite years of talk about Liberated Womanhood no such species exists.
"Professional women may be getting a better deal, but women in general are actually doing worse than they were doing 20 years ago," says Greer. "I'm talking about our mothers who are not professional women, our daughters, our cleaning ladies, the heads of one-parent families, women working in service industries, women as welfare recipients.
"I don't think women want a career. I think they want a life. They want satisfaction from their relationships. They want dignity. They want wisdom. They want peace."
She wears no makeup, her lipstick is eaten off and her nails are short and unkempt. Her accent is part Australian--she was reared in Melbourne--capped by 24 years living in Britain.
Greer was in Washington to tout her new book, "The Madwoman's Underclothes," an anthology of essays and writings spanning 20 years. It's a distillation of Greer that is both fierce and emotional, whether it be her devastation of vaginal deodorants, her ode to the genius of Jimi Hendrix, or her wrenching first-hand account of resettlement in Ethiopia, published for the first time.
Not a day passes, she says, that images from her travels through that famine ravaged land--lifeless, mud-gray children on tiny stretchers--don't surface in her mind. While the chapters on Ethiopia are obviously meaningful to her, she would have been quite content to forgo this new book.
"If left to myself I wouldn't have done this book any more than I would have written an autobiography," she says, explaining that press reviews of her work are rarely on target. "When 'Sex and Destiny' (her 1984 book on the politics of human fertility) came out, nobody could understand what it was about, especially in the United States. I believe the sexual revolution never happened, and here they were saying, 'You're an apostle of the sexual revolution.'
"I wasn't Hugh Hefner. I was a Cassandra focusing on doom and saying that sexual freedom was not possible under this system. . . . And I haven't changed at all. There was never any sexual revolution. If there had been, we would have been able to make love to people instead of T&A and prestige, power and social acceptability."
This is the woman who took on chauvinist emeritus Norman Mailer in a celebrated 1971 New York Town Hall debate for his attacks on feminists in his lengthy article, "The Prisoner of Sex." Mailer's most notorious comment on the emerging pack of female potentates was, "Women should be kept in cages." The two authors have never patched things up.
"I don't really care about Norman," Greer says. "The last time I saw Mailer was in London where he was doing a promotion for his book, 'Tough Guys Don't Dance.' And he knew I was mad at him for 'Tough Guys,' not even because it's a chauvinist piece of work, but because it's a bad book. He has no right to write so sloppily.
"I virtually said to him, 'Your sexuality doesn't offend me, because I don't honor you as a sexist of any kind. I honor you as a writer and you really did a bad thing here.' " She devotes a chapter in "The Madwoman's Underclothes" to the Town Hall battle, called "My Mailer Problem."
Greer curls her lip in disgust when asked to explain the new breed of so-called wimpy men. Could it be that the feminist surge she spawned backfired to cripple male machismo ?
"I don't think we castrated men, although I agree that they've been castrated," she says with a low laugh. It's much more likely, she says, that "the actual corporate system in which they have to try and exist is what is making life impossible for them. It is their own stress that is castrating them. We didn't create that situation.
"And I never wanted there to be a whole set of corporate women who would have just as many heart attacks and blood pressure problems as men, although we now have that class of women. That was never my idea."
Greer has had some extraordinary ideas since she surfaced as the amazon of feminist literature at the onset of the '70s. Married once for three weeks at 30, she is childless and an outspoken critic of traditional relationships.
"Americans are hypnotized by heterosex," she says.
Some of Her Opinions
Some loose-lipped Greerisms reflect a spirit largely undaunted by time, although she no longer tools around in her car gulping from a bottle of Jack Daniel's as was habitual in younger days--"Too dangerous," she says.
On a woman President: "Do you really want to see a woman orchestrating this fiendish saber rattling in the (Persian) Gulf? I mean, America is the most dangerous nation on Earth. You could have it headed up by a woman but she would be like Margaret Thatcher, the most confrontational leader we've ever had, and she would disgrace us all."