Germaine Greer: 'A woman who walks away from a marriage in which she has invested all her emotional energy for years is doing something heroic’

Surely feminism has failed. Look about you. Semi-clad ladettes lying drunk in the gutters, little girls dressed in sugar pink from head to foot, padded bras for four-year-olds, WAGs and supermodels bumping British casualties in Afghanistan off the headlines. Obviously, feminism has fallen flat on its face. And I, as high priestess of that minority cult, must be deeply disappointed.Who am I to sit in judgment? An old woman who wrote a book 40 years ago? It wasn’t a very good book. I’ve written better ones since, but it was the best book I could write at the time. It wasn’t the book that made history; it was history that made the book. If women’s restlessness hadn’t been growing, if so many women hadn’t been sniffing the air for the scent of freedom, The Female Eunuch would have sunk without trace.It nearly did. The publishers had so little faith in it that they printed only 5,000 copies, and bound only 2,500 of them. They were sold out on the day of issue; the next 2,500 were bound and in bookstores three weeks later, and the same thing happened again.Why were the women of 1970 so dissatisfied? Their mothers had been perfectly happy with home duties, two and a half children, and what was left out of the pay packet after they had given the old man his beer and cigarette money, hadn’t they?Related LinksThey probably hadn’t, but in those days divorce was a disgraceful admission of failure, and it was only for the rich. The underlying fact is that the breadwinner’s wages would no longer cover the rising cost of living. Homes had to be modernised. Indoor loos, fitted carpets, vacuum cleaners, washing machines, all kinds of new consumer goods were now indispensable. The housewife’s workload didn’t diminish. She still did all the same things; she just did them more often.More and more married women were having to find some kind of work simply to finance the family debt. The work they found was mostly underpaid drudgery, with no possibility of promotion and no way of negotiating better pay or conditions.Most of the housewives of the Sixties had worked before they were married; they had got used to managing their own money, and having space and time and friends of their own. Marriage, too, often meant a steep drop in their quality of life. They told their daughters not to be in too much of a hurry to settle down. Have some fun first, because there’s not much fun after. Women workers didn’t often rebel against their employers. When they did, the labour unions ignored them. The women who worked for the labour unions suffered the same discrimination in pay levels and conditions as other women workers.A nonsensical notion, that women were entitled to “equal pay for work of equal value” led to the institutionalisation of inequality in the workplace — women’s work was classified as of lesser value, simply because it was women’s work. The unionists should have known that work has no intrinsic value; it is worth what you can force the employer to pay for it. Not a penny more, not a penny less. They could have unionised women, taught them the techniques of collective bargaining, but they didn’t.At exactly the same time as automation was threatening their own elite status, the unions allowed a vast pool of female non-union labour to come into existence. These were women who were hungry for crumbs. They would work twice as hard as men for half the pay. Nowadays we are apt to hear voices raised in lamentation for the demise of the proud labouring man. He has nobody to blame but himself.In the Sixties people worried about what might happen if women workers brought home more bacon than their men. It didn’t often happen, but more and more working women were becoming aware that they were giving more value for less money.They were still massively economically disadvantaged because they had no access to credit. A single woman couldn’t borrow enough money to start a business or buy a house and a married woman was still to all intents and purposes femme couverte, able to operate only as half of her husband’s.Banks were slow to wake up to the fact that women’s credit performance is much better than men’s, but they got there in the end. Now we have a worldwide system of microcredit, based on giving small loans to women, who won’t spend the money on prostitutes, booze, gambling and cigarettes.The growth of women’s economic independence might have felt gradual but in historic terms it was sudden. The results were and continue to be staggering. They could be summed up as the continuing collapse of the patriarchal family.In the bad old days the father was head of the family; what he said went. The kids were fed and out of the way before he got home. If punishment was needed, he administered it. His word was law.When I was doing a Granada TV show called Nice Time with Kenny Everett in the late Sixties, we’d ask silly questions of families, on the beach at Blackpool, say — nothing challenging just simple sums and stuff. If the old man wasn’t there, the women would answer; if he was sitting in the next deckchair they’d simper and pass the question on to him. Unbelievable? We got it on film.As women’s economic independence increased, their tolerance of marital infidelity, and of emotional and physical abuse, diminished. If you ever doubted that family stability depended on the oppression of women, you now have the proof. The proportion of divorces rises so inexorably that my figures are probably already out of date. In the developed world 40 per cent or more of marriages end in divorce, typically after seven or eight years, with a year or two to establish separation and then the actual divorce. Most of these divorces are initiated by wives. This is proper change. There’s no going back from here.A woman who walks away from a marriage in which she has invested all her emotional energy for years is doing something heroic. She knows that the status of her family will slide down two notches as soon as it becomes a single- parent family. She knows that though she might work all the hours that God sends, she will struggle. She will be unable to afford a good haircut, nice clothes, a late-model car or holidays. She will find it harder to find a job and even harder to keep it.Her ex-husband’s prospects of remarriage are nearly twice as good as hers, and — this is truly shocking — he will be wealthier after his divorce than he would have been if he had stayed married. If her children do well, she will get no praise. If they screw up, she will get all the blame. And yet she does it.She chooses an honourable life of hardship against servile acquiescence in a marriage that is rotten. I admire such women more than I can easily say.Disappointed? As if. Reality is what counts. Not Page Three, not the exploding world of pornography in cyberspace, not Katie Price.The media tend to think that the fantasies they peddle are realer than real. But in the real world, women have changed; bit by bit, they are growing stronger and braver, ready to begin the actual feminist revolution. The feminist revolution hasn’t failed, you see. It has only just begun.via