The Obstacle Race by Germaine Greer

Next up in my week-long recommendation of books in celebration of International Women’s Day – the wonderful field of Art.

Let me start off by saying that I appreciate Germaine Greer has demonstrated some contentious views – that a daughter kissing her father goodnight contributes to the sexualization of girls, that transgender women are not real women, and that female genital mutilation is in some way an expression of cultural autonomy. However, even if I don’t agree with all of her views, I think we still need a Germaine Greer – a woman with a gargantuan brain who will not stop (eloquently) mouthing off despite her increasing years. I love the breadth of the books she has written and this 1979 tome is one of my favourites.

The Obstacle Race is an exploration of women artists and why there are so few of them – or at least so few of them recorded. Greer addresses the social and economic barriers that women artists had to surmount in order to create, and the hitherto underappreciated contemporaneous success of those female artists we are aware of. The most interesting part for me was Greer’s assertion that the true scale of female art is unknown, due to the loss of artworks through the centuries, the lack of recognition of traditionally ‘female’ art genres (e.g. those centred on the domestic sphere, such as nuns’ illustrations of religious texts) and the misattribution (to male artists, or more major female ones) of those artworks that did survive. It is both exciting to think about these unknown female artists, and sad to think we may never know their names.

Therefore this is a thorough and readable analysis that will provide a useful tool when challenged with the ‘well of course women are less artistically skilled than men, look at how many male artists there are compared to women’ crap.

On a lighter note – please see below Greer’s VT for her 2005 appearance on Celebrity Big Brother UK. I recall my sense of shock of seeing her enter the Big Brother house, and am still undecided about whether it was a good move for her. However, I love the fact she roots for the older ladies in this VT and talks about potentially copping off. You can’t keep a good Germaine down – or quiet. And look at her lovely bookcases (not a euphemism)!

Susanna and the Elders, Artemisia Gentileschi, 1610


A Corner of the Artist’s Room in Paris, Gwen J0hn, 1907-9


Casting of the Net, Suzanne Valadon, 1914




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