Author: Steven C Munson

Germaine Greer and the Emma Dilemma

Rescuing Jane Austen from Both Her Well-Meaning Admirers and Her Less Well-Meaning Political Critics In the commentaries devoted to Jane Austen this year on the two-hundredth anniversary of her death, the cultural basis of her importance as a historical figure and of her great appeal as a novelist was largely overlooked, neglected, or misunderstood. The best way to approach this question is by comparing Austen’s Emma with Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch. Though at first glance these two books, one a work of fiction, the other of non-fiction, but each influential in its own way, would seem to have little in common, the story of Austen’s heroine in fact anticipates the actual experience of many modern women, including Ms. Greer. To begin by clearing up one large misconception: Greer’s treatise is not only about women’s liberation. Greer herself emphasized this point in drawing a distinction between “reform” feminism and “revolutionary” feminism. Reform feminists believed women could gain the same legal and political rights, equality of opportunity in education and career choices, and sexual freedom that …

Beauty, Equality, and the Problem with Calling Everything ‘Sexist’

For the literary critic Katie Roiphe, the male sexual passivity depicted by contemporary male novelists masks a “sexism” that is “wilier and shrewder and harder to smoke out” than that of their literary predecessors. “What comes to mind,” she wrote, “is [Jonathan] Franzen’s description of one of his female characters in The Corrections:  ‘Denise at 32 was still beautiful.’ ” Now, for a man, fictional or real, to say of a woman that she is “still beautiful” at a certain age is without doubt to reveal a crass male sensibility and to express a trite sentiment. But such a statement – an aesthetic judgment, actually – is “sexist” only under the greatly expanded meaning this term has acquired since the revolution in consciousness of the 1960s and 1970s. At the heart of this revolution lies the myth of the “authentic self” – the largely or entirely mutable or malleable “self-realizing” person of indifferent gender. This myth was propounded by Charles Reich in The Greening of America, Germaine Greer in The Female Eunuch, Theodore Roszak in …