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Sunday, 26 January 2014

Wife-beating in 1665? Whatever would Germaine Greer think?

I first read Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch back in the 1970's when her views  were seen as explosive, but I wonder what she would make of a 17th century law book on women's rights that is up for auction next month?

The improbably tittled 'A Treatise of Spousals or Marriage Contracts' advises scholars that 'A Baron may beat his wife,' which proves  how far Women's Liberation has come in the last four hundred years. Just why a man of title should have this 'privilege' is not, however, made  clear from the brief excerpts I have seen. Interestingly however, topics covered include  women's  rights on what we now regard as modern-day issues such as divorce, polygamy and rape.

 This unlikely tome, whose chapters include What Persons Women may not Marry and Of Wooing,  is one of several rare and historic European Law books from the Los Angeles County Law Library collection, which will be sold by Bonhams on March 5.

 Germaine Greer, still vociferous today, was a feminist and  anarchist and an active contributor as 'Dr G' to London Oz magazine, published by fellow Australian Richard Neville. In the early 1970's,  while women were expected to work and be educated, it was considered more important that they marry and become housewives. Women were also paid less than men for the same work, and denied many opportunities because they were women.

According to Australia's State Library of Victoria, 'The Female Eunuch  challenged a woman's traditional role in society, and provided an important framework for the feminist movement. It called on women to reject their traditional roles in the home, and explore ways to break out of the mould that society had imposed on them. It also encouraged women to question the power of traditional authority figures –  and to explore their own sexuality:
Women have somehow been [...] cut off from their capacity for action. It's a process that sacrifices vigour for delicacy and succulence, and one that's got to be changed.
– Germaine Greer, New York Times, 22 March 1971
There had been other books published on Women's Liberation – most famously Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex and Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique – but Greer's book was written with a naughty sense of humour and a directness that the others lacked. This witty honesty made the book accessible to a very wide readership, and was perhaps the reason for the book's enormous success.
Greer hoped that her book would inspire women to see themselves as powerful when it came to their own roles and sexuality. In many ways she was successful. The Female Eunuch certainly did push the Women's Liberation Movement forward, and it became one of the world's most influential books on the subject.'

Newspaper article about Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch.




Another Guernseyman said...

I'd really like to know why Barons could be wife-beaters! Sometimes I wonder where on earth you find all this esoteric information.

Guernsey Girl said...

This story came from The Times. But I love searching out the unusual - it must be the journalist in me!

Guernsey Girl said...

This story came from The Times. But I love searching out the unusual - it must be the journalist in me!