Scourge of ‘mainstream’ feminism, factory of gushing controversy, reference of pop thinkers such as Virginie Despentes , Susan Pinker and Claire Lehmann , arch nemesis of the ideas of Lacan , Derrida and Foucault , professor at the Philadelphia University of Art since 1984, essayist and talkative, Camille Paglia (Endicott, New York, 1947) discovered feminist activism in her last years of high school, even before the irruption of the second wave , when the United States was immersed in the fight for civil rights. Disciple of Harold Bloom , in 1990 she published’Sexual personae’ , an essay that reflects on sexuality and eroticism through the history, art, science and literature of Western culture, from Antiquity to the 19th century, and in which Paglia already defines the spearheads of his thought regarding the role of women in the private sphere – sex – and the public sphere – society.
Now, the publishing house Deusto reissues this essay in Spanish, at a time when movements such as #MeToo and feminist activism and LGTBI + have burst into the public debate, increasingly fierce.
Cover of ‘Sexual personae’.
Cover of ‘Sexual personae’.
QUESTION. Before Yale University decided to publish ‘Sexual personae’, seven publishers rejected his manuscript. Why?
REPLY. My book was rejected by seven publishers and five literary agents. It seemed that he was not going to live to see the published book, until the Yale University seal accepted it. Even so, it spent several years in production, because it was too long, longer than it is now, even because there were some chapters dedicated to Hollywood, but we decided to stop after the First World War.
Q. 30 years after its publication, ‘Sexual personae’ still raises blisters and you are still an uncomfortable character for many feminists. How has your relationship with that feminism changed since then?
A. I was a feminist even before second wave feminism began, when in 1966 Betty Friedan co-founded the National Association for Women, which was the first organization focused on women’s rights since women gained the right to freedom. I vote in 1920 in the United States and a little later in England. I was already there before that. I was a 16-year-old student who had been inspired by reading ‘The Second Sex’ by Simone de Beauvoir and I decided to write to ‘Newsweek’ magazine telling them about women’s rights. It was 1963 and I had already made public my request for equal opportunities between men and women. I was like the other feminists, who were swept up in the movement, but I went to the library and studied History, I studied Biology, I studied Anthropology and Archeology.
My points of view were not accepted because, automatically, the ideology took the measure of the movement and there began to be a current that today is getting worse, that of hatred towards man. And I think it’s terrible that older feminists are pushing younger feminists to resent men and view men as oppressors. Because, as I have shown in my research, it is precisely thanks to man – who has built civilization, modernization in the Industrial Revolution – that today’s woman has a job outside the home to be independent from a husband, a brother , a father.
Q. Thanks to the man?
A. Yes, it is men who are constantly preserving the physical environment that surrounds us, who provide us with the necessary comfort, convenience and time for us to write books, have jobs and more. Thanks to the man we have washing machines that take away all those tasks that we used to have to do. And that was one of the most controversial points of the publication of ‘Sexual personae’ in 1990. Also my position in favor of prostitution. And my interest in pornography. It is true that it was a period in which poststructuralism was growing strong in universities with the idea that history did not exist, but that they were all stories and that every story about history is a lie. History is cyclical and civilizations rise, climax, and decline.
Thanks to the man – who built civilization – today’s woman has a job to be independent
Q. But if in art, in literature and in history the majority voices have been male and women have barely had a representative role, isn’t that mutilated or incomplete narrative left?
R. When I was writing the book, there was a lot of debate about whether history was created by men and whether the reason that an artist like Michelangelo did not exist in women was the result of the social repression suffered by women, whom they turned away from their possible careers. I, as an Art student, totally disagree with this statement. I think there is no female Michelangelo for other reasons: there is no female Mozart because there is no female Jack the Ripper either. What I say in the book is that art, throughout history – although in civilizations like the Egyptian is destined to the glory of the pharaoh, or in the Renaissance, to the glory of the Church – the art of geniuses on the level of Michelangelo or Leonardo or Mozart is the result of despair and anxiety felt by men,
Because the masculine identity is very fragile; feminism has made the great mistake of assuming that men have true power and that women have nothing, but no! Men know that women have all the power. Because it is the woman who begets the man, and the man has marked in his memory his passage through the maternal womb, of being expelled from it. And for this reason he has an ambivalent feeling towards women, because he wants to return to the uterus, but at the same time he feels suffocated. That is why there is this tension between the sexes. That is why mothers, throughout history, have been aware of the fragility of their children’s masculinity. Men have to constantly demonstrate their masculinity, while women are women from the start of their menstruation. They don’t have to do anything else. They become women overnight. Whereas men, as anthropology has shown throughout the world, have always had to pass tests, a sign that tells them they are men. For example, Native Americans, when boys were 11 or 12 years old, they were sent into the woods or put in a hole, left there for a week, without food or water, and they had to survive to become men.
What I mean is that art itself is a deformation of normality, it is an obsession that destroys human relationships in the pursuit of creation. The reason there are no great women artists is because women are not crazy enough to mutilate their lives and sever every human relationship to create something larger than life. The idea that women have to teach men to be more compassionate, teach them to be more like us… No! Women, then, will be very unhappy if they keep trying to feminize men like this. All gay men know how to talk to women, because they are such great talkers, and they love to gossip. I don’t know where that comes from, but most of my friends are gay and I am more like a gay man than a conventional woman:
Camille Paglia. (Michael Lionstar)
Camille Paglia. (Michael Lionstar)
Q. Today, the so-called fourth wave of feminism demands legislative changes in pursuit of equality between the sexes and the eradication of violence against women. What are, in your opinion, the most objectionable aspects of this fourth wave?
A. In the nineties, feminist organizations were already very powerful, with Gloria Steinem and company, and they attacked me as soon as my book was published. Steinem called me a Nazi. It was ridiculous. When he went to give talks to the universities, they protested. But the media were very interested in me and they gave me the space to publicize my work: I appeared on programs, they considered that it was very funny and that it was not so horrible. The way that prevailing feminism has of destroying its opponent with me did not work, because I was very entertaining: the photographers would come and I would pose differently, with a sword or something – I have a lot of swords – as in the case of ‘Time ‘.
But what has happened over the last few decades, sadly, is that feminist organizations and their leaders, who had a long history of political activism, have totally disappeared and been replaced by social media and Twitter, and there is this kind of hysteria. caused by actresses, by people like Ashley Judd, people with serious psychological problems, who now wield enormous power and share their experience on Facebook for three years and have formed a wave of irrationality. Now it is almost impossible for people to think seriously about gender issues because of this hysteria generated by these marginal ‘celebrities’ like Ashley Judd or Rose McGowan and people like them. It’s a problem. Now, People who have sensible views on sexuality are being silenced and unable to participate in the public debate, which is dominated by the Twitter mafias. The same thing is happening in politics. Everything is chaotic.
Obviously, I think the #MeToo movement has been good in that it has inspired women to speak for themselves and realize that they have rights. But it also happens that now a man can be suddenly accused of something that supposedly happened 10, 20 or 30 years ago and without direct evidence. Because if there is a clear proof, of course it must be prosecuted, but democracy does not consist of someone coming out of nowhere and accusing you of something and causing you to lose your job, as is the case of Plácido Domingo, who is a great artist whom they have persecuted until they have vetoed him from Philadelphia and the San Francisco Opera.
Q. You also say that one of the aspects that bothers you the most is the blame of men for all the ills that women suffer …
R. The main problem is that it is the first time in history that men and women work side by side in the same spaces. Office space is very limited. Throughout history, there has been a world of men and a world of women. They were separated. During the day, the two sexes had little to do together. The men did their own jobs, their own chores and didn’t travel to go to work, it was a subsistence economy. If you had a gift, you used it as a craftsman, but most of the men worked in the fields. There was solidarity and it was a more or less sustainable way of life. Tough and difficult, but the family was a united nucleus. Older people lived in the same houses as their children, they were not taken to a residence. And the older women were the rulers. They knew everything about motherhood, about life. Young girls had no power. But all that pressure on working women in the Western world did not exist: they have to get up in the morning, deal with housework, go to a good, well-paid job and share space with men, they have to Going home … Much of the middle-class working women I know are extremely unhappy and blame the man. It’s not man’s fault! It is the fault of a new structure in which the woman to be independent has to earn her salary! It is a very stressful way of life. Whereas in earlier times women were in the kitchen, talking to each other, doing laundry … But all that pressure on working women in the Western world did not exist: they have to get up in the morning, deal with housework, go to a good, well-paid job and share space with men, they have to Going home … Much of the middle-class working women I know are extremely unhappy and blame the man. It’s not man’s fault! It is the fault of a new structure in which the woman to be independent has to earn her salary! It is a very stressful way of life. Whereas in earlier times women were in the kitchen, talking to each other, doing laundry … But all that pressure on working women in the Western world did not exist: they have to get up in the morning, deal with housework, go to a good, well-paid job and share space with men, they have to Going home … Much of the middle-class working women I know are extremely unhappy and blame the man. It’s not man’s fault! It is the fault of a new structure in which the woman to be independent has to earn her salary! It is a very stressful way of life. Whereas in earlier times women were in the kitchen, talking to each other, doing laundry … to go to a good paying job and share the space with men, they have to go home … Much of the middle class working women I know are extremely unhappy and blame it on the man. It’s not man’s fault! It is the fault of a new structure in which the woman to be independent has to earn her salary! It is a very stressful way of life. Whereas in earlier times women were in the kitchen, talking to each other, doing laundry … to go to a good paying job and share the space with men, they have to go home … Much of the middle class working women I know are extremely unhappy and blame it on the man. It’s not man’s fault! It is the fault of a new structure in which the woman to be independent has to earn her salary! It is a very stressful way of life. Whereas in earlier times women were in the kitchen, talking to each other, doing laundry … It is the fault of a new structure in which the woman to be independent has to earn her salary! It is a very stressful way of life. Whereas in earlier times women were in the kitchen, talking to each other, doing laundry … It is the fault of a new structure in which the woman to be independent has to earn her salary! It is a very stressful way of life. Whereas in earlier times women were in the kitchen, talking to each other, doing laundry …
Now, women are being asked – see, I’m delighted that he gave me this opportunity to live as an independent woman – too much. Men are also asked to do more than they do. But when the man does more, the woman complains! “You do it terrible!” or “you don’t know what you’re doing!” In the end, women end up doing everything because they don’t know how to do housework. All this resentment is very toxic. Even the sex itself has become a problem. Look, sex is a transaction between people. The man usually boasts a greater sexual interest than the woman feels. They simply think that they are being nice, but not that they are conveying a sexual message. Men usually misinterpret these messages, particularly in modern office environments, where women tend to show more meat. I love that women wear sexy clothes and I don’t want them to stop wearing them. I’m just saying that many women do not understand that if you expose your skin in this way, you expose yourself to be sending a message of a sexual nature. I’m not saying that men have the right to lay a hand on you, but sexual communication evolves and any item of clothing sends a sexual message.
Resentment between the sexes is very toxic. Sex has become a problem, but it is nothing more than a transaction between people
Q. India is a country with a very high rate of rape, and it is not a country where women go too bare, is it?
R. My God, what happens in India is terrible. No, what I’m talking about has nothing to do with that. I am referring to women in the Western office context. In India they have serious problems, starting from misogyny, but it is also the result of the lack of power of man in society. That is why they gather in groups and behave like animals. It’s atrocious! Where are the Western feminists in these cases? For years, they have ignored these things. But, back to the case, most of these rapes occur in rural settings and are the product of a dislocation of Indian society in general. Returning to the American girls, now they dress in clothes that expose their stomach, their calves, and do not see the sexual connotations. I think there are many problems of lack of communication between the sexes.
Q. So, what is your proposal adapted to today’s reality?
A. I call my feminism the feminism of the Amazons, which talks about the fact that every woman has the responsibility to protect her own dignity as a person. I encourage women to speak up for themselves and fight any insult to their dignity. Still, there is a work issue: women keep quiet because they don’t want to hurt their careers. Well sorry, so they have put their careers ahead of their responsibility to themselves as individuals until all the women have come together to create a scene of public humiliation for the man. I did the same thing at first, in college, until I realized it was excessive. It happened to me that a guy I didn’t know at all put her arm around me from behind to help me through a door or whatever and I said out loud: “Don’t touch me!” It was an excessive situation. I look back now and I realize. There was no need to humiliate the man. That is one example out of thousands. I do not allow public humiliation to interfere with principles. I hate this place we have come to where instead of encouraging women to speak for themselves, they are encouraged to go to an office, to Mommy and Daddy, to file a complaint. They ask the adult community to protect them. Well, no! Each woman is responsible for her own life. They ask the adult community to protect them. Well, no! Each woman is responsible for her own life. They ask the adult community to protect them. Well, no! Each woman is responsible for her own life.
Harvey Weinstein opened the door in a bathrobe and nothing else. And the girls came into the room!
P. But in cases like Harvey Weinstein we talk about alleged violations in some cases. There were also female workers who complained and quit their job or were fired. Or women who filed a complaint, but eventually reached a financial agreement with Weinstein’s company.
R.What is a scandal in Hollywood, which is nothing more than a small town in which everything is known, is that first-rate actresses, supposed feminists, like Meryl Streep, who called Weinstein “a God”, let a man like that would get away with it for years and years. Women like Tina Brown, who has been the director of ‘Vanity Fair’, of ‘Newsweek’, who has had a close relationship with Weinstein, said, when all this came to light, that “Weinstein had never tried to go overboard with her” . Of course not! Because Tina Brown is a personality. Has a character that does not accept nonsense. Her way of being communicates to those around her that she is in total control of her life. Harvey Weinstein, who is a stupid and ugly guy, chose naive girls that he could manipulate. We heard very similar testimonies from these women: they went to meetings in hotel rooms where Harvey Weinstein would open the door in a bathrobe and nothing else. And the girls came into the room!
Forgives? It’s stupid and I don’t care about these girls’ careers, but people don’t meet in hotel rooms – I don’t know if you can be so naive – and they don’t walk into a door where the one who opens you is in a bathrobe and nothing else. Sorry. That is a test to pass. That is the problem with #MeToo. We cannot pretend that a world is created that protects women from their own stupidity. We need women trained in my philosophy of Amazon feminism. Realize, the world is dangerous. There are predators out there, also in the wild. If women want to be free, if they want to be equal to men, they have to realize, just as men have, how dangerous the world we live in is. The world is not a paradise for white middle-class women. It’s more, working class women are much more aware of that. They are bourgeois errors. There are many middle class women who expect the world to be like a bourgeois salon. When I say this, people accuse me of blaming the victim, but it is not. I’m just saying that all human beings have to be responsible for what we do.
Camille Paglia. (Michael Lionstar)
Camille Paglia. (Michael Lionstar)
Q. In your college days, you designed guides to detect sexual harassment in the classroom …
R. I believe in these guides that explain to both workers and students or to the university itself what are the responsibilities and rights of each one. Now I think that things have gotten too radical, because there is an office for complaints of sexual harassment in each university and I do not like that now ’emails’ are sent or communications are sent that promote an atmosphere of hysteria and persecution, that encourage women to behave like paranoid. Anything that is sexual or minimally erotic is automatically censored. It’s a very Anglo-American thing. The European vision of sexuality has always been much more sophisticated – look at the arthouse films of Jeanne Moreau, Brigitte Bardot and Catherine Deneuve, who were my heroines – much more mature than the American one. Now, the #MeToo represents the Anglo-American Puritan vision of sexuality. Even France has fallen! France has also become contaminated with this hysteria around sex. The #MeToo is fine when it is rational, when it is irrational, it is a danger.
Q. In ‘Sexual personae’ you say that there should be no moral codes regarding sex. But aren’t other aspects of life regulated? Are not precisely those rules that make up civilization?
A. All cultures have different defined codes about sexuality. Some are explicit. Others are not said, but they are subliminal. I grew up in a time of great repression, you know? When I was a teenager, there was still the Catholic League of Decency, which told us which movies we could see and which we couldn’t. It is because of that repression that I was probably so interested in pornography and prostitution. Feminists said that pornography was not art and I said yes, that some of Donatello’s works, for example, could be considered pornography, and that was shocking to them. Even today, Donatello’s David would be controversial. They could even arrest the author, because he is a child in a sexual attitude.
Q. Are they not extreme examples?
R. I draw a very clear line between what is public and what is private. In the shared space, it is appropriate to create norms. Nobody has the right to display something pornographic in public space, especially near schools and stuff. Same with prostitution. In the private sphere, such rules should not exist. People should have access to whatever they want as long as sex is consensual. Obviously, I would object to the kidnapping of a child for the purpose of prostitution. That kind of things. I have always wanted to protect children. I am in favor of free expression, but I am also opposed to government interference in the private sphere.
Q. And when it is not so clear how far the public sphere and the private sphere go? For example, what do you think about the possibility for parents to veto content taught in classrooms on topics such as sexual relationships or sexual diversity? In Spain, it is a controversial issue right now. They call it the parental pin.
R. As a teacher, because I have been teaching for 48 years, I have a very strong opinion in this regard. All my career I have criticized my fellow liberals and progressives for meddling with ideological issues in class. It is scandalous and it is causing a worldwide setback of which we cannot imagine the consequences. Schools cannot promote ideological politics. There is no doubt that one of the reasons why the far right has spread so rapidly in many countries is because of this problem. I think that education should be exclusively about history, geography, art … Using classes to promote political and ideological points of view, such as gender, is a distortion of the purpose of education and I believe that parents are within their rights to protest. Using classes as a vehicle for political propaganda is terrible. I do not think it is a matter for schools to deal with the controversies of the moment. It is not the purpose of education. There should be neither an intrusion nor a politicization of education.
People who use the classroom as an instrument to achieve social change, I am sorry, it is ethically reprehensible. It is not your job. You have to leave it to your private sphere, on weekends and afternoons away from school. How dare they?! How dare they?! It is scandalous! What has happened with public education is a disaster. My students go to university without knowing anything! They don’t know anything about history, geography! All they have is their attitude, their political position, their desire to be part of a revolution. Schools have to be free from ideology. And look, I’m an atheist, but I think religions are an important source of information that young people should have. I believe that studies on major religions should be part of the curriculum.
P. You yourself suffered an attempted veto of your classes last year. There were calls for her expulsion from the University of Philadelphia for her views on homosexuality, transsexuality, or feminism.
R. When I teach, I can be very opinionated, but I never say that it is the absolute truth. I would never use classes to influence students. Last year, there was an incident, but the case was closed and the press made a very strong defense in favor of freedom of expression. I have no idea who the complainers were, but I’m sure they were people encouraged by off-campus activists who used social media to urge protests against my views. They tried to accuse me of insulting transgender people, but it is an absolute lie. There was no proof of what they said and the case was simply closed. The people who accused me hadn’t even read my book, and I don’t think they even knew that I had written any books. We live in a time when everyone wants to impose their point of view and I was lucky that the administration supported me. My views are very complex. What’s more, I identify as transgender, not as a woman or a man. I am just a teacher, but I do not impose my ideas in class. People get carried away by what social media says. If they had read my books, they would have known that my ideas are more complex than they blame me for.
“Using classes as a vehicle for political propaganda is terrible. It is not the business of schools to deal with the controversies of the moment”
Q. In ‘Sexual personae’ you state that, no matter how much culture and civilization try to dominate nature, biology always prevails. Also applying it to gender issues. But isn’t science precisely breaking down many of the limitations imposed by nature?
R. What I say in ‘Sexual personae’ is that civilization and society always create their own artificial space. That is the history of humanity. Nature is an overwhelming force. People who think they can change the nature of things in some way, ha! Look, I was about to enter Geology … The power of volcanoes, of the great glaciers that formerly covered a part of the United States, of hurricanes and tornadoes and earthquakes … I have tremendous respect for the power of nature. And when it comes to gender issues, every cell in the human body, except blood, is encoded with your gender. So when people unearth human remains of cavemen, with a piece of bone they can tell if those bones belong to a man or a woman. There is a limit to what you can change. In my work, I also talk about androgyny …
Q. What are the limits of science? A century ago, no one would have thought that we would reach the development that fields such as genetic engineering are experiencing, which can manipulate the human genome. We don’t know how far it could go …
R. I’m not so sure that the power of science is what you say in terms of the future of the human species. I am more concerned about the future of man related to alterations in the environment, the way in which plastics are appearing in water sources. I am an ecologist, I do not believe in climate warming, but I do believe that climate changes are intrinsic to the Earth. I am more afraid of the decline of our civilization, as happened to the Roman Empire. When societies become too complex and the bureaucracy grows, expands and becomes an inefficient parasite, societies become easier to destroy from the outside. I am also very concerned about the over-reliance on cyber technology by Western cultures. They depend on electricity and if the terrorists manage to develop the ability to shut down the electricity supply, everything would suddenly collapse. The fall would be very fast, as fast as an asteroid hitting Earth. There is also talk of a solar flare powerful enough to destroy cyber communications on Earth. People would be surprised at the speed with which our civilization would degenerate to barbarism. People would fight for food to feed their children. There would be crowds in the streets. This they know what it is who have gone through a war and know the fragility of society, which at the slightest change returns to a state of barbarism. People always focus on the negative aspects, but do not appreciate the benefits that society provides us.