I had a phone conversation in June, 2017 with American academic and social critic Camille Paglia (1947). She has been a professor at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, since 1984. To be clear. I love this woman, I’ve read her work. So this was not set up as a critical interview. But hey, it wasn’t exactly an interview either. She just took off like a rocket, and I was just lucky to be on the ride with her. The interview was first published on ThePostOnline on June 26th, 2017.
“My career was actually quite disastrous,” Camille Paglia tells me. She is the most fearless and notorious feminist in the United States. “A dissident feminist,” she says. It wasn’t until the nineties that she got a foothold (“I arrived at the scene”), with her controversial book ‘Sexual Personae’ – and her plea for ‘making strong women trough strong men’ was finally heard. But it was her controversial essay about popstar Madonna that made her famous. Before that she was constantly (“vicously”) attacked by ‘establishment feminists’ who rejected Paglia’s love for the Rolling Stones, fashion magazines and popular culture – because of course these things were all ‘sexist’. During the rise of Madonna the era of political correctness subsided – for a while.
But “the plague of political correctness is back,” she now writes in the preface of her collection of essays, articles and lectures ‘Free Women, Free Men’: “pieces that still resonate because they are not based on one theory but on broad scientific research and actual observations.” In my view, the book is primarily a much needed and passionate tribute to science, to freedom of speech (“the freedom to hate must be as much protected as the freedom to love”), and to empowering the individual.
Asking Camille Pagila questions about todays feminisme is not that simple. It is like trying to row against a stream . As soon as she has my attention she starts juggling her enthousiasm, her knowledge and passionate annoyance: “Oh please that’s ridiculous! Take a hike!”
I emailed her a few questions in the week before the interview: about the Dutch media landscape, about how to stand up for women’s rights – and in response, she sent me a Norwegian translation of one of her essays on art. “I don’t read Norwegian,” I responded.” “Oh, I don’t either,” she answered, “but those illustrations of Gustave Moreau’s 19th-century paintings, aren’t they just beautiful?” This woman takes great pleasure in sharing what strikes her as meaningful. And works around anything that is not exactly that.
You write in one of your essays in the book that it is your ‘mission to always be as painful as possible in every situation’. What purpose is behind this mission?
“I wrote this in the beginning of the nineties, when I became successful in feminist circles. I wanted to say that, because in times of political correctness every form of ideology freezes in time and space, people become very complacent – both on the left and on the right side of the political spectrum. Belief turns into dogma. You also see that in people who are very religious. I am an atheist myself, but I am very interested in religion as part of our culture.
But in the long history of religion it happened repeatedly that church doctrine became very ritualistic, formalistic, unthinking. There is no more connection to reality. What generally happens is a wave of reform, as in Protestantism, evangelical movements, where there was a return to emotion and passion, and so on. The same thing happened in our Western society. But the authentic, real revolution of the sixties got very frozen in place, very unthinking, okay? It seemed to be moving in the right direction in the nineties, when I became very well known. But the criticism of the government, which was normal in the 1950s and ’60s when I was in school, is not completely gone now, okay? Individuals are reduced to the group, victims and others are denied the right to question their ideology. It is repressive Stalinism, that goes too far. Much further than the stifling political correctness of the eighties.”
You describe this moving back and forth of periods of revolution and political correctness as a cycle. But is there a difference between the political correctness now and the political correctness of the 1980s that temporarily disappeared around the arrival of Madonna – as you write in your essay about her?
“About Madonna: she really was a revolutionary force. She has in a great way revealed the Puritan, stifling ideology of American feminism. She taught women how to be sexy and feminine and at the same time be completely in control. She was a real feminist. But now she is completely herself again, okay? She is a feminist orthodoxy! She complains about men – that they held her back, nonsens! And she pretends to be far less intelligent that she is. “
“Overall, I see how liberalism in the United States has become grotesque, mechanical and authoritarian at the moment. Journalists can become rich. Look, my worst enemies are these white, upper middle class women journalists in New York – often those who are standing in front of the cameras, on tv-shows and so on. They are unthinkingly, constantly complaining about men, about everything, they’re full of this bitter anti-male rhetoric, okay?
At the same time they dress sexy, okay? It makes absolutely no sense. There is a real irrationality in the way feminism treats sex. They deny, and I think it is very neurotic, that their fashion choices contain any erotic messages. They deny that clothing is a form of communication, that they are actually using – and I applaud that! – it to draw attention from both women and men. It is all neurosis. Every clothing choice you make is a form of communication in which you are conveying something, for example if you are sexually interested or not. These women don’t accept that the urban environment is dangerous, that the world is dangerous. I say: you are responsible for yourself. So I always complain that these bourgeois women have lost contact with reality.
Working class women always agree with me on this. They also usually have much louder voices, have a much more assertive attitude, and body language. These white, upper class, professional women, they want to be very pretty at work, in their high heels and short skirts. Which is fine, but be prepared for the sexual interest you are consciously drawing, okay? They are not honest with themselves. They won’t say: ‘Yes, I’m using my sexuality to get people’s attention, to get status in the world’, they don’t admit it. Instead they say they have a right to do whatever they want at any time. And nobody has a right to comment, or dare say anything, especially as a man. It is absolute madness and stupidity.”
If women would acknowledge this, wouldn’t it give them more power then they are getting now? And the men would feel acknowledges as well.
“Women have to learn to think for themselves. It is now the case that women can run to a committee. Because I believe in the power of the individual, I don’t like this strengthening of authority and oversight surveillance. Where people are running to an official, in a business of university to complain and demand that authority figures intervene in a private matter. I want sex to be free, to be the the free choice of individuals. My generation wanted to get the authorities, colleges and parents out of sex. This meant that the individual has the responsibility to make a determination.
Every moment of every day you determine how people are treating you. If a man does something to you that is unacceptable, or that you regard as tasteless, yoú must deal with it. (in a high voice:) ‘Oh no I feel terrible, I don’t know what to do, I kept it to myself for week or months. What do I do now?’ I say to those women: that is your own fault, it is up to you to develop an ability to say, even when it is your boss: no. Okay? Everyone is always testing everybody out, so it is your responsibility – and that is more important than any career advantage. Don’t convey that. People will respect it.
Women must decide how much they are willing to tolerate in their lives. You cannot expect to always be protected and be in a childlike position. With all these legislative and regulatory bodies in the bureaucracy of the world with pseudo parent figures – it’s infantile. Thát is what has happened to feminism. It used to be about empowering the individual, it is now about empowering these agencies and bureaucracies. It’s Stalinists.”
It’s not just the agencies, it’s women looking for support in other women while blaming others. In the Netherlands we had the situation where a female columnist, a biologist, published a petition in a large newspaper: a list of (mostly women) who called to put an end to ‘sexism and virtual rape’ on a right-wing blog, called ‘GeenStijl’ (NoStyle) – mostly read by young men. The complaint was specifically that’ sexism’ ‘got out of hand’ in the comments under the articles, and that the blog ‘objectifies’ women. The petition was meant to convince advertisers to break with the blog. What is your opinion about this?
“This concerns two issues. First of all about the comments under the articles on the blog. What those commenters are saying is what is being suppressed. And things that are being suppressed, purified and censored in a dominant culture take a different turn – it takes expression in this roiling mass, which is very much like Freud’s theory. The different parts of one’s personality is at issue here.
You have ‘ego’, ‘superego’ and the ‘id’. Your ego is your personality, that which everyone sees, your daytime self, who you are – in your work, your family life. Your superego is the part that towers above your ego, Freud calls that your internalized voice, the moral code, the voice of the parent. That is the voice that says: you shouldn’t do this, you shouldn’t do that. But the ‘id’, where all the suppression is boiling – the subconscious – is the part that we only know from our dreams, where immoral and amoral things happen. All your suppressed fantasies and wishes, okay?
It is like the basement of a house, where all kinds of dark things happen. And comedy! Comedy actually expresses the id. The things that are denied, that are taboo. That is where the ‘id’ is expressed. The comment section, okay, is very revelatory. There you are getting the anonymous voice saying what is not permitted to be said, in a society as a whole. If anyone wants to understand human psychology and human life, they should pay attention to the comment sections on the internet. That’s the truth!
Everytime an oppressive, puritan voice determines that we have to be decent and ‘good’ – because according to them people are decent and good – which is not true – then you get the contradiction and what is not permitted. When people are offended, by pornography or ‘the things that are said about women’ then that is an indication that something is wrong elsewhere. Because sex is the animal impulse in human beings. It transcends language and rules. ”
Our (former, ed.) female Minister of Education, Jet Bussemaker, also called for ‘treating women with respect’ as a result of the petition. It is good to be decent.
“She is speaking like a Victorian! That is the voice of the Victorian period, where you had bourgeois voices saying: ‘women must be proper, polite, neat, pure, spiritual beings’. In the household especially. Sex is for the prostitutes who visited the men at night. The works of Shakespeare were censored during that time, because there was to much improper sexual language in it. References to sex where removed. So at the time you could have a volume of Shakespeare in your library that wouldn’t be insulting to your wife and daughters. That is what decency means. It means purifying all the untidy truths about sex, and everything that reminds us of sex.
But in fact the women now are not sitting at home, being all pure and proper. Part of the protest against the blog was also showing some of their buts on instagram and facebook. So they seem to have double standards: The men are not allowed to objectify, but the women are allowed to go completely against this demand with their own behavior.
“(Laughs hard) That is insane! That makes women look stupid. Honestly. All this is demonstrating is that women can not think clearly, about themselves or about sex. Their inner minds are incoherent about sex.”
But these women say: ‘Showing my body on social media is my own choice, and if the guys from those blogs are fantasizing and writing about having sex with me in a ‘violent way’, they should not have that choice. And certainly not a platform to do so.
“Ridiculous. What they are asserting is their bourgeois privileges: ‘we can do whatever we want.’ They want to decide on matters of sex and love. Meanwhile, male sexuality is inherently different from female sexuality, a difference that has its roots in biology, a fact that has been erased in the discourse on gender and sexuality, okay?
You have all those women’s studies professors and gender studies and courses and what not, all over the world – they have no idea what they’re doing and no idea what they’re talking about, because they have not studied biology. They have deleted their curriculum fifty years ago. That is how I was thrown out of the women’s movement. I was a very dissident feminist, nobody wanted to listen to me. I kept saying: hormones are different in men and women, men have ten times as much male hormones as women. And nów – now that we have arrived at the whole transgender thing, the experts have suddenly discovered hormones, well thats obvious, okay? If you, like Chastity Bono (now Chaz Bono, ed.), the daughter of Cher, start injecting male hormones, she is going to change – physically and mentally.
But that’s what she/he wants right?
Yes, but all of a sudden these feminists and professors can acknowledge hormones when it comes to transgenderism, but they can’t acknowledge hormonal differences when it comes to men en women alike. Our whole system of desire is different!
I am the only one who did research on this. My first book Sexual Personae, which was very controversial in the nineties – and still is, is about getting the balance in those two things. Balance in the issues of biology and culture. Again, again and again cultures return to this division of male and female. Cultures across the world end up remarkably the same in terms of labor, definitions of male and female and so on. It is stupidity to say that gender is only socially constructed. Yes, culture is very important, but people are driven by those hormones, it ensures that many cultures are the same. In the midst of those lies, men are censored and obliged to suppress their natural tendencies.
Of course we have to demand civilised behaviour, and of course we can not tolerate rape, that is an outrage. But only a strong society prevents rape, not denying nature, or censoring words. But what I am also saying, with my book ‘Free Women Free Men’: we are reaching a point of equity with men. Women have the same opportunities as men. They can decide what they want to be in the workplace. So you would think that men can now also say what they want, because we as women are now strong enough to deal with that. But what feminisme has turned into now is that we control men, make them more like women. The more women do that, the less they want those men!
It only takes a natural disaster and they’ll be needed again, especially with all those women in their safe office jobs.
Is that what drives the men to the comment sections online?
“Yes. They go to the well, they are reconnecting with their historical role as a man. In the office, they always have to behave in a certain way, as Victiorian gentlemen.
What I am saying is that we did not ban that masculinity, that gross language, but that it went underground. It would be good if men retained their language. Male imagination has a right to be free. The commentary section is a free speech zone, okay? It is an arena of revelation. If women are offended by what they hear there, it is because of what happens in the office. Where language is so bourgeois and compelling, especially compared to the language of farmers, in the old days, the so-called ‘barn yard language’, back then even women spoke like that. Vitality and sex went together. ”
So most men behave nicely during office hours and at night they go up to their attacks (or basements) and leave sleazy comments, or spent time with other men in the virtual barn yard, but even then, they are being accused of ‘virtually raping’ women. We live in an age where words are now considered violence.
Yes, virtual rape, that is the other issue on the question. Rape is a very serious crime, but what are we talking about?! Sex is animal behaviour, it is below the level of language, as I said, okay? When you look at the new ‘verbal consent’ rule at American Universities, terrible. Sex is a non-verbal transaction. You can’t proces it verbally. But these feminists want to reduce everything to words.
Their chosen words.
“We now have feminism that should be a movement of freedom and empowerment, but it has become an instrument of repression. I always identify very strongly with people like Charles Baudelaire, Oscar Wilde, or those figures from the last century who were very anti-bourgeoisie. That minister of justice of yours is just a bourgeois voice, it has nothing to do with the liberation of women. It is repression, shutting down the mind. But your mind must be completely free – expression must be completely free. Women should read great literary works. Psycho by Alfred Hitchcock, for example, Dostoevsky, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, to understand something about men. Instead of: “We need to reform men.” Stop it. Feminists discourse of sex and gender has become hopelessly careless and naive, okay, it is a self-cannibalizing ideology without reference to important research on human nature and other cultures.
“There are a lot of neurotic women who have clung to that feminist discourse, take Emma Sulkowicz, a 21-year-old student at Columbia University who spent nearly a year on campus with a mattress under her arm because she had allegedly been raped in her own bed by a fellow student. She received an award from the ‘National Organization of Women‘ because she is a ‘hero’. It was sick and neurotic behavior. That woman lied and every attempt to find out what happened was thwarted by herself, her story was inaccurate. But neurotic behaviour is apparently celebrated. The only thing that it accomplishes is that it alienates men even more from women. We are back in the fifties! ”
I read in your book that you can ‘only create something by opposing something’. For example, Pablo Picasso artistically protested against the Victorian times. What can I oppose as a woman, without falling into the fallacy of being a neurotic feminist?
“I became a warrior – although of course I have a bit of a strange personality – you can also be a warrior, it is possible. But the big battle is with men, to be free. Why are there no big female artists? No woman really has her own style. Really artistic performances, such as those of Picasso, or Michelangelo stem from the inherent motive of men, who fight against the unbearableness of life – a condition which the artist wants to set right.
Men suffer under the power of women, a power that women do not understand. Men have to struggle for their identity, and while Simone de Beauvoir said ‘you have to become a woman’, I think: that is not true, you just have to become someone.