In October of 2012, Salon veteran, art historian, culture critic, and provocateur Camille Paglia returned to Salon for an interview in which she raved about Bravo’s Real Housewives series because, to her, the episodes were “authentic old-time soap opera,” a television genre she once adored and has since pronounced “dead.”
Hailing Real Housewives as “archetypal bitch fests,” Paglia said she had read that Gloria Steinem hates Real Housewives of New Jersey, and was ready to protest the show.
“Well, there’s the big difference between Steinem and me,” Paglia said. “She sees the show as a distortion of women, while I see it as a revelation of the deep truth about female sexuality.”
Right there is the proof of why feminism has faded. Those second-wave feminists had a utopian view of women — they constantly asserted that anything negative about women is a projection by men. That’s not what I see on “Real Housewives”! It’s like the Discovery Channel — sending a camera to the African savannah to watch the cheetahs stalking the gazelles! What you’re seeing is the primal battles going on among women. Men are marginalized on these shows — they’re eye candy, to use Obama’s phrase, on the borderlines of the ferocity of female sexuality.
In a recent Wall Street Journal interview, Paglia, now 66, demonstrated that she has not strayed from her role as the self-described “notorious Amazon feminist” who is quick to lambaste the movement and its orthodoxy.
Paglia also remains an enigma to many Americans who are exposed mostly to the “utopian” feminists in Washington, D.C. she more or less rails against.
Bari Weiss of the WSJ, who interviewed Paglia, said of the experience:
Talking to her is like a mental CrossFit workout. One moment she’s praising pop star Rihanna (“a true artist”), then blasting ObamaCare (“a monstrosity,” though she voted for the president), global warming (“a religious dogma”), and the idea that all gay people are born gay (“the biggest canard,” yet she herself is a lesbian).
Weiss observed, however, that the topic that gets the greatest rise out of Paglia is how attempts to dismiss the biological differences between men and women have influenced the collapse of Western civilization.
The diminished status of military service is only the start of the decline of the culture, according to Paglia.
“The entire elite class now, in finance, in politics and so on, none of them have military service–hardly anyone, there are a few. But there is no prestige attached to it anymore. That is a recipe for disaster,” she says. “These people don’t think in military ways, so there’s this illusion out there that people are basically nice, people are basically kind, if we’re just nice and benevolent to everyone they’ll be nice too. They literally don’t have any sense of evil or criminality.”
Consequently, cultural decline can be seen everywhere, from dysfunctional Washington to women’s fashion in its overemphasis on sexiness.
Weiss points out that Paglia, who dresses in androgynous style, has been told that she believes “women are at fault for their own victimization.”
Not so, says Paglia, as she explains her concept of “street-smart feminism.”
“I believe that every person, male and female, needs to be in a protective mode at all times of alertness to potential danger. The world is full of potential attacks, potential disasters.”
Paglia disparages the mushiness that has become rampant in American culture, beginning as early as kindergarten.
“Primary-school education is a crock, basically. It’s oppressive to anyone with physical energy, especially guys,” she says, and observes how difficult it is for boys in schools that have discontinued recess.
“They’re making a toxic environment for boys. Primary education does everything in its power to turn boys into neuters.”
Paglia is especially tuned in to this situation now that she is raising her 11 year-old son with her ex-partner, artist and teacher Alison Maddex, who lives nearby. Paglia sees that “female values,” such as sensitivity, socialization, and cooperation, are fostered and put up on a pedestal in schools over creative energy and the teaching of hard facts.
She notes that it only gets worse in colleges and universities.
“This PC gender politics thing–the way gender is being taught in the universities–in a very anti-male way, it’s all about neutralization of maleness,” Paglia told Weiss. “Masculinity is just becoming something that is imitated from the movies. There’s nothing left. There’s no room for anything manly right now.”
Paglia, though, is not merely feeling sorry for men. The point is that the belittling of masculinity is causing women to suffer as well, leaving them to become “clones” that are destined for “Pilates for the next 30 years.”
The result has been disastrous for American society, she argues.
“Our culture doesn’t allow women to know how to be womanly,” adding that online pornography is increasingly the only place where men and women in our sexless culture tap into “primal energy” in a way they can’t in real life.
The question, however, is whether American culture can rebound. For Paglia, a big part of the cure is returning to an emphasis on industrial brawn and what were once traditional male trades such as construction, electricity, and plumbing.
“Michelle Obama’s going on: ‘Everybody must have college.’ Why? Why? What is the reason why everyone has to go to college? Especially when college is so utterly meaningless right now, it has no core curriculum” and “people end up saddled with huge debts,” argues Paglia, who believes the drive for universal college is “social snobbery on the part of a lot of upper-middle-class families who want the sticker in the window.”
Paglia’s ideal feminist role models were women like Amelia Earhart and Katharine Hepburn who were independent, savvy, and capable of competing with men without emasculating them. She parted ways in the late 1960’s with the utopian feminists who did not share “her vision of ‘equal-opportunity feminism’ that demands a level playing field without demanding special quotas or protections for women.”
Still the “Amazon feminist,” Paglia remains critical of Steinem, Naomi Wolf, and Susan Faludi for a brand of feminism that views gender as nothing more than a social construct.
Similarly, Paglia is critical of the National Organization for Women (NOW) for making abortion the outstanding women’s issue. By denying the role of nature in women’s lives, she says, these types of feminists have made the movement “antiseptic” so they could protect their conventional lifestyles, believing that they “have it all.”
Despite her criticism of the feminists who would deny the biological distinction between the sexes, Paglia thinks the movement can be saved if feminists would abandon the “nanny state” mentality that grew into political correctness.
According to Weiss, Paglia says the women’s movement needs to get back to “serious matters, like rape in India and honor killings in the Muslim world, that are more of an outrage than some woman going on a date on the Brown University campus.”