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Is Germaine Greer:

A.) an intellectual far ahead of her time.
B.) a feminist who nobly breaks outmoded social dictates, or.
C.) a dirty old woman who should be sent swiftly on her way?

Such questions are being asked as word gets out about her new book, "The Beautiful Boy," which includes hundreds of photos of naked and semi-naked boys, and a lengthy essay on "why boys have always been the world's pin-ups." It won't be published until November, but it's already dusted-up controversy as people stampede to either attack or defend Greer's efforts.

The 64-year old author intends the book to be an appreciation of "the short-lived beauty of boys," but has recently admitted some will read it and call her a pedophile: "It's going to get me in a lot of trouble."

For Germaine Greer, getting into trouble is just part of the job. Afterall, she was the first woman of the 20th century to make controversy a career choice. She has always been one to shock.

While at college in the '50s, the student newspaper called her "Germaniac Queer" for her unusual appearance and personality. In the '60s she became involved in the British rock scene, and gained notoriety for espousing sexual promiscuity, pornography, and group sex. And since the publication of her first book in 1970, "The Female Eunuch," she has consistently made headlines around the world for her ideas on sex, politics and culture.

For William Feaver, the British art critic and biographer of Lucian Freud, Greer's shock tactics have become predictable.


"Germaine Greer is a big name with a big mouth," he recently said. "First she was the great female liberationist. Next, with "The Change," it was the menopause; then with "The Whole Woman," it was how tough motherhood is.

Now it’s her obsession with young boys."

And in a July edition of the Sydney Morning Herald, Australia's most prominent female columnist said Greer provokes controversy as a marketing ploy, using "the cheapest trick" to do so: Breaking taboo.

In her scathing piece about Greer's book, which she hadn't even seen, Miranda Devine wrote, "If there's a taboo left, she'll break it. And since one of the few remaining taboos in Western liberal democracies is pedophilia, that's the arena she's most recently entered," claiming that "the taboo against pedophilia is nothing to her."

"If the ultimate evolution of Western liberal democracy requires the removal of all taboos, the destruction of family life and religion, Greer's sanctioned pedophilia, sexualised children, and padded bras for eight-year-olds, then who wants it? I would rather wear a burqa than have my eight-year-old child become a sex object," she wrote.

To Ms. Devine's thinking, Greer's interest in young men is the sort of thing to bring about the end of Western civilization altogether.

The newspaper followed up on Devine's article with a somewhat lengthy letter from a reader, Georgia Lewis, who said Greer's books is "just the right tragic little marketing ploy."

"At worst, she is creepy," said Ms. Lewis. "Imagine if a 60-something male author wrote a book reclaiming the right of blokes to ogle 17-year-old nymphettes in knickers. He'd be called a dirty old man faster than you could say 'Bill Wyman.'"

But across the globe, New York novelist Bruce Benderson had a markedly different take on the matter.

"I highly doubt that Germaine Greer is molesting underage boys or proselytizing for that sort of behavior," he said.

The author of numerous books and essays exploring the wide range of male sexual experience, including "James Bidgood" (a biography of the great muscle magazine photographer of the '60s), Benderson disagrees with the charge that it's exploitive and even harmful to write about the sex lives and sexual beauty of young people.

Writing in her defense, he said, "Ms. Greer is merely pointing out that such beauty exists. Hers is the job of the artist, to reveal as clearly as possible what exists in nature and society, but not to take advantage of it."

According to Benderson, Greer is "perfectly correct" to represent the beauty of the male body in late adolescence and early adulthood, as "that brief moment is when the developing human body is most perfectly in balance. That is why Michelangelo's David represents a young man of sixteen or seventeen, rather than a man of thirty-five."

One expects Michelangelo to play a large role in Greer's book, as will all the masters of art history who've filled the world's museums with images of gorgeous young men. In December, Greer was clearly thrilled with the task of finding the best of these images.

"Finishing the current book is more difficult than it should be, because I just can't let it go. Working on it has been the best fun in the world, because it is a book of pictures of ravishing boys," she wrote in London's "Daily Telegraph."

"I know that the only people who are supposed to like looking at pictures of boys are a sub-group of gay men. Well, I'd like to reclaim for women the right to appreciate the short-lived beauty of boys, real boys, not simpering 30 year-olds with shaved chests. The real snag is that everywhere I turn I find new pictures of absolutely outrageously lovely boys, and it's too late to get them into the book. But I keep downloading them, scanning them and printing them, just in case, and just for fun."

A refreshing admission -- she looks at beautiful boys "just for fun." Her critics might say this is proof that she's really just a dirty old woman. But before labeling her as a pervert, flip through any fashion or entertainment magazine, take a look at the Abercomie & Fitch catalogue, or watch a few minutes of MTV; you'll soon realize that Germaine Greer's not the only person who enjoys looking at hot young dudes "for fun."

By the look of things, we're all a bit dirty.

The Beautiful Boy
Germaine Greer
Rizzoli; November, 2003; 256 pages.