Germaine Greer’s Female Eunuch is a second wave feminist classic. A Post Freudian account which argues that the development of a ‘female libido’ is the key to social liberation.
What insights does this iconoclastic work have to shine on the present?
As the prologue lays it out, the earlier – suffragette – wave of feminists had fought hard for civil rights of participation equal to those of men, and, according to Germaine, had largely won them, opening to women a world of possibility (equal access to the ‘ulcer and coronary’). And yet, this is still a ‘man’s world’ of hierarchical order and success or failure through competition and strain. She argues, therefore that fewer women than expected have chosen to enjoy such a ‘privilege’.
This is very different starting point to the contemporary focus on “patriarchy”, which it is said, either excludes or exploits women’s participation in society; but for Germaine, the reluctance of women to participate suggests a glimmer of hope for an alternative form of existence. It was the ‘chief function’ of this book to suggest a way to the alternative.
A confluence of factors has led ‘domestic violence’ and ‘violence against women’ to be placed high on the public and governmental agenda. The critique of “patriarchy” and the assertion of an almost metaphysical connection between deep culture and violence provides the theoretical backbone of this agenda. It is in this context that Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things received the Stella prize earlier this year (the title of the book refers to the media’s portrayal of violence against women).
This is a book of exquisite earthy prose which chronicles the experience of two women (Verla and Yolanda) amongst half a dozen or so other women, who, having been swindled and drugged, are plunged into a nightmarish boot-camp, a remote and expansive bowl of earth surrounded by a 6 metre high electrified fence. The reason for internment is that each has been involved in behaviours deemed inappropriate by the lights of ‘society’; sexual behaviours, ranging from affairs with politicians, to sleeping with a talent show host, a football team. Continue reading
Agustin’s now eight-year old book, Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry is perhaps better read as three different angles on the same subject rather than as a unified thesis. The first section is an attempt to critique popular conceptions of sex work as different from other forms of work, or migration as wholly distinct from tourism; the second section offers a genealogical argument of the ‘origins’ of the contemporary social (helper) sector through the enlightenment and industrial revolutionary periods. This leads into the final section: a criticism of the employees of contemporary NGOs that focus on prostitution and human trafficking.
In a rough attempt to unify these three themes, Agustin’s analysis is that contemporary conceptions and policies regarding prostitution serve the interests of state power as well as the individual egos of those who identify with the cause to ‘rescue’ sex workers. The former, which is little developed in the book, is about sovereignty and population ‘control’, the latter is about self-esteem and the exercise of agency of those who find their purpose in helping others. The irony, Agustin argues, is that these helpers achieve their goals but oppress those they (think) they are helping. Continue reading