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September 10, 2007 | by  | in Books | [ssba]

The Whole Woman

Germaine Greer writes chillingly of the assumptions that feminists must all be pro-abortion, associating such support with the trend towards cosmetic surgery and acceptance of other surgical procedures, instead of promoting women’s agency over their bodies; we aggressively treat women’s cancers, for instance, but very little funding is going into preventative cancer research.

Cosmetic surgery is a default expectation for a high proportion of young American women, rather than any acceptance of the natural variance in body types, leading to corrective surgery later in life, and in some cases silicon toxicity causing major whole body system diseases.

Mutilation of women’s bodies, rather than attitudinal changes in society to facilitate an increase in the general self-esteem of women in society, is the norm which is promoted by the health practitioners, ‘the market’, and indeed, by women themselves.

These, of course, are contentious statements to make, and she goes on to talk about the routine mutilations that occur when women submit to gynaecological procedures, from cervical cancer smears all the way to childbirth and IVF treatment.

Rather than changing the way we treat young, healthy women with active fertility, she points out that the flaws in societal relations that have lead to the (then) current epidemics of Chlamydia, pelvic inflammatory disease, endometriosis, and other fertility-sapping infections, mostly asymptomatic in men, and transmitted sexually. Her comparisons between the British NHS system and the American social security health provision are interesting, while somewhat irrelevant to the NZ health provision policy for women; although our model for health policy has swung more towards the American experience in the past decade.

Her perspectives are still grounded in her participation in the baby-boomer generation, that ‘lucky generation’ who grew up in a time of groundbreaking change. She quite soberly catalogues the fall-out for her generation from some of that change, and looks at how younger generations of women have mitigated the changes in their own peers. Her analysis is still set in her very upper-middle-class perspective; co-incidentally, I read a quote attributed to her in the Weekend DomPost of Aug 25, saying: “I quite like driving around Cambridge with very loud, very obscene Eminem playing. It is not what people expect.” Well, certainly not in one of the most prestigious university towns in the English-speaking world…

From the time she left her native Australia, Greer has moved in higher circles, and it affects the way she writes about women’s issues, where she is mostly colour-blind, and has little insight into the lower socio-demographics. Despite this, I found much that made me pause for thought, and having a month to work through this book was nearly not enough, as it needed a day or so to digest each densely written chapter, if not longer with some of the more gruelling. I recommend this book, but it is not for the politically faint-hearted, or the squeamish, as she can be very clinically explicit about disease processes.

GERMAINE GREER
published Doubleday Books, 1999

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