NEXT BOOK on the essays shelf:
Vamps & Tramps: New Essays, by Camille Paglia.
So I hesitated to even post this because it turned into a monster personal essay, but what the hell. I also hesitated to post all those Christopher Hitchens excerpts too, and they generated some awesome discussions. I don’t write about the culture wars here, or politics, or controversial topics. Or, I do, but it’s woven into other things. The Supernatural posts. The book excerpts. I have no desire to write about current events or hot controversial topics here. I like to talk about things I enjoy, not things that piss me off.
But like I said, what the hell.
In the early 90s, Camille Paglia gave a series of lectures at American campuses. It was those controversial lectures that helped Paglia make her way into the headlines where she always wanted to be. She had been sidelined and ignored by mainstream feminists, and described as “reactionary” and “dangerous,” even though she is RADICALLY left of center, she’s even left-er than most leftists on a lot of issues. The excerpt posted below, from her 1994 screed “No Law in the Arena” is just a tiny part of a raging whole.
When she was doing those lectures, the “date rape” issue had become an obsession at universities (I was in college at that time, so I know of what I speak.) The mood was, quite literally, hysterical, in the old-fashioned Victorian “hysterectomy” sense of the word. Paglia thought that these white middle-class Brown students screaming about date rape and feminism were “infantile personalities” (her words), and, even more disturbing to Paglia, they represented a retreat into a Victorian-era mindset where the world was just too dangerous for fragile-flower womanhood. (It goes along with her disgust at Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon. And I’ll tell you, I was with Paglia on the Dworkin/MacKinnon scorn, because I’m pro-pornography too – in principle. However, and this is a big however: Paglia wrote about Dworkin and MacKinnon in the mainly pre-Internet age, when pornography was mainly dirty magazines, some quite “out there”, for sure … but not the over-saturation we experience now with porn in the Internet age. Once upon a time, boys peeked at their dad’s Penthouse. And now? Different story, different landscape. David Foster Wallace wrote about this sea-change in his great essay about attending the Adult Video Awards ceremony in Las Vegas. I’m not pro-pornography enough to want our entire lives drenched in it, and our inter-personal relationships defined by it, or for women/young girls to feel like they have to act like a porn star in order to satisfy the young men who think it’s all real. So Paglia’s arguments are, in my opinion, somewhat out of date at this point. But Dworkin/MacKinnon were fascists and anti-freedom-of-speech as far as I’m concerned, and anti-SEX for their own personal reasons – which is, of course, their right to be so, but not when they’re trying to set the rules for the rest of us.)
Back to Paglia’s lectures: She talked about the date-rape hysteria, as she saw it, and, predictably, students wigged OUT. There was practically a riot when Paglia lectured at Brown and she had to be escorted around by bodyguards. Paglia felt (and feels) that rape is an abomination (anyone who doesn’t is not to be trusted, especially those who want to “debate” about consent. Look out. It’s an MRA person in disguise.) Paglia felt that broadening the concept of “rape” to include sex when everyone was drinking too much, or confusion in the heat of the moment on a date, or, worse, second thoughts the next morning … was ridiculous and dangerous. This is where the “he said she said” thing comes so devastatingly into play.
Paglia wanted women to take responsibility for themselves. This attitude has often been characterized as “blaming the victim” (it still is). The problem with talking about this – and I feel it even now – is that when women write like this, often the kinds of men who feel resentful and irritated use it in their OWN arsenal, and when they leave comments of support reveal their latent misogyny. This is a risk you have to take, but normally I don’t take that risk because I don’t want to hear it, and I don’t want to align myself with people who hate women. Obviously. So normally I avoid it, or I talk about it with my friends, and I have my Rules of Engagement. If I’m trolling one of the dating sites looking for a man I’m interested in, I have a bunch of red flags in terms of his profile. If a guy says anything along the lines of “Men and women are different,” boom – click to next guy. Very very bad sign. So much bad faith and bad behavior hide under the statement “Listen, men and women are different.” If he says he “doesn’t like drama” – boom – click on by. That means he has contempt for emotions, especially when it’s women having them. And maybe I’m wrong, right? Yup. But I click on past these comments because I learned the lessons the hard way and when it comes to my own personal safety, I have to police my own boundaries, and it’s not worth it to take a chance to subject myself to someone like that. That’s what some men don’t seem to understand, and resent. That women get to pick. Throughout history, it was WOMEN who did the picking. Because the risks are higher for women, in terms of pregnancy and all that. Men had to state their cases to women (or the woman’s fathers), submit their credentials, ask for permission. All patriarchal, yes, but it was an implicit acknowledgement that choosing a man (especially before women had any political power, could not own property, could not live alone, could not make a living) was one of the most important decisions a woman had to make. And so somehow, today, men are pissed off that women still maintain the right to choose, that we have criteria, or preferences. They feel we should consider them ALL. (I’ve experienced this on my own site. Long ago, I wrote a post about my ideal male body type: a semi-pudgy beefy guy. Bill Murray. Ty Olsson. Robert Mitchum. I’ve dated guys who weren’t that, but the body type that makes me go weak in the knees, is that softball-playing beer-drinking kind of body. And one guy-commeter said in response to the post, “So a thin guy like me wouldn’t have a shot with you?” I did not know this man. My site is not a dating site. I was not using this as a scanning-technique for potential mates in my audience. His comment was insane. I would never make a comment like that. I KNOW that not all men would prefer my zaftig body 1. because the entire culture tells me I’m not desirable and I fight against that internally all the time and 2. because I know I am not equally attracted to everyone, and so I assume and KNOW that the same is true for men. #1 is easy to combat because plenty of men look at me and go, “Hamma hamma mama you got what I like.” Everyone I date feels that way. Win-win situation. So a guy who thinks his ideal body-type involves a “thigh gap” is obviously not gonna go for me, but I don’t expect every man on the planet to “give me a shot” like that thin guy who was somehow put off that a random woman on the Internet MIGHT NOT find him attractive. Crazy. It happens all the time though, it’s very common.
The way that rape is discussed today is still dismayingly narrow, with a small group of people defining the words that you are supposed to use. Look at what just happened to tough-girl feminist icon Chrissie Hynde when she dared to tell the story of her own rape in terms that did not pass muster with the shrieking-hyena outrage brigade. Who are YOU to tell a rape victim HOW she is ALLOWED to talk about her own rape? How DARE you. I’m still pissed. So … Hynde saying, essentially, “What the hell was I doing going off by myself with a bunch of bikers? Did I honestly think I would be safe? I was young and stupid.” She didn’t say she “deserved” to be raped. But her relationship with herself is that she is an independent woman who can take responsibility for her mistakes. People FLIPPED. I actually found it personally upsetting and Muted those people on Twitter so I wouldn’t have to listen to their idiotic shrieks. How DARE people try to dictate to others HOW they talk about a horrifying personal experience? I will talk about my own horrible experiences in any language I damn well please. Go, Chrissie.
Some of my friends were promiscuous in college, and many of them had some truly traumatic experiences. My friend was called a “slut” all the time, and her name actually was on a bathroom wall in a list of “easy” girls, phone numbers included. It took years to un-do that shame. This is where the world is unfair: Boys are not “shamed” in the same way girls are, even when they, too, sleep with a bunch of people. But my friend’s attitude was (and still is) “Why did I sleep with all those guys when I was too drunk to know what I was doing.” This is not “slut-shaming.” This was not her internalizing the patriarchy or whatever. This is a woman taking responsibility for her own poor choices. This was a woman who realized the hard way that she had value, and that she had de-valued herSELF by taking a “Oh, whatever” view to who she slept with. She realized she had been irresponsible with herself, and that she was sleeping with guys merely because she didn’t know how to say No. She was sleeping with guys she had just met a couple hours before, huddled over the keg at some frat party. Now, if you want to do that, go for it, but realize it is a risk. I’ve done it. Not in college, I was a virgin throughout college, more’s the pity. I was the last virgin in my demographic on the Eastern Seaboard. My first boyfriend, when I was 16 years old and in high school, was 21 years old (Ye Gods) but I managed to not sleep with him, and to his credit, he never pressured me. We went to go see Marx Brothers movies and had pizza and made out. We’re still friends. But yeah, once I was a grownup, I met a guy in a bar once and we hit it off and I took him home 4 hours after we met, and it was awesome and he was great fun. Made me laugh too. We ended up going out for a bit, actually. I was lucky. So my friend, who was devastated by her experience her first couple years in college, pulled back and told herself she needed to choose better, be more choosy. She did, and now she’s been married for almost 20 years, and she found a nice guy who loves the CRAP out of her, and values every single thing about her.
It is impossible to have this discussion today in any rational way. It was starting to be impossible back then in the Paglia Lecture Years as well. Yes: consent is important. And wouldn’t it be lovely if every man in the world looked at a drunken woman half passed out on his bed and thought, “She is too drunk to consent.” These lessons must also be taught to young boys (but God, please, without shaming THEM for being sexual creatures, because that’s bad too). But we DON’T live in a world where every single person is lovely and thoughtful, and so women need to take care of themselves, and not expect drunk 19 year-olds to take care of them. You CAN’T do everything you want without consequences. Women don’t need to be “protected from” icky male sexuality. That’s Victorian-era thinking with twirling-mustache lascivious villains, and the view that women really should just stay home because the world is too rapacious for them to be safe “out there.” Also, it’s insulting to boys, because then their sexuality is seen as something gross, and also something they have no control over. Fuck THAT. And the atmosphere is so overblown with hysteria now that there is a total lack of proportion.
We need to be able to talk about these things in commonsense ways. We need to talk about consent and sexual responsibility.
I also believe that if you tell people that they are potential-walking-victims then that attitude seeps “into the air,” and it becomes the expected response, and people behave accordingly. This is what happened with the “hysteria” thing that was so prevalent in the Victorian age. You read some of the stories of those women and their maladies and think, “What the HELL was going on.” I think it was a reaction to being put so much on a pedestal that it was seen as un-feminine to … fart. Or whatever. The culture putting women in opposition to not only their own bodies, but their humanity. Hell, I’d wig out too if I thought my body was … wrong. Or that I was never supposed to have sexual feelings (when I do all the time). Or that any smells or imperfections were signs of something sinister and MUST be suppressed or the whole pedestal will crack. No wonder women cracked up, and STOPPED cracking up once they got some political power in the culture. And so women diagnosed with “hysteria” were often trotted out for other doctors – and the women “performed.” They knew what was expected of them, and they provided it. Joan Acocella wrote a really interesting book about Hysteria as well as the “multiple personality disorder” that came much later, I highly recommend the book, she’s a wonderful writer: Creating Hysteria: Women and Multiple Personality Disorder.
There are other examples of a mood/interest being “in the air” and people responding to it by behaving within a certain set of criteria. The now-debunked Satanic-cult craze of the 1980s. The concept of “false memories” being implanted by “therapists”, which is a “thing.” The brain is fluid and impressionable. The power of suggestion is a real thing. So over and over and over, women are informed that they are victims, that the world is a scary place, that all men are potential rapists … and we somehow think that young impressionable women are not going to absorb all that and start to behave accordingly? So now we have the outrageous situation of women reporting “sexual assaults” when all that happened was some drunk guy groped her and she had to push him off. And if they’re in college, and he’s 18 years old, and she pushes the envelope enough that it goes on his record, his name very well may end up on the Sex Offender Registry for all time, along with pedophiles and serial violent rapists. The Registry does not distinguish.
I understand that different people have different tolerances for that kind of behavior. Childhood trauma is forever, and the sense of threat is not easily extinguished. It’s a survival instinct. But that’s another thing that needs to be added: Different people have different responses to the same thing. (Cue Chrissie Hynde. That was HER response to being raped. It’s not the ONLY response to have, my God, I am angry that I even have to SAY that, but that’s where we stand now.)
I’ll say a couple things. (A couple??) The first time I saw an adult male penis it was against my will. So I’ll just leave that there. Not as presenting my resume or my bona fides, but just to show that everyone comes from somewhere, and everyone is formed by their experiences – but maybe not in the expected or “approved” ways. So. The context of the penis there was that it would be used against me, you get the drift? Moving on. I cannot tell you how many drunk guys I have had to fend off, sometimes having to resort to violence because when you don’t listen to my extremely clear “No”, well, it’s your funeral. I would suggest that women need to get used to screaming “NO.” And it takes practice. The word itself is not Magic. Behavior is way more compelling and intimidating. This is why self-defense classes should be compulsory, preferably in high school. You need to know how to be really clear in your behavior, you need to have things you can resort to if a guy pushes it too far or ignores your “No”, and you have to be willing to make a scene. This is what so many women – myself included – have been socialized out of, and you have to really TRAIN yourself to break that conditioning. Don’t rely on authority figures, and definitely don’t rely on the drunk guy you’ve somehow found yourself making out with and you want to get out of it to do it for you. Be willing to be seen as a bitch. Or a cocktease. Who gives a shit. Grab the reins and get the hell out of there. You still may be raped. This is a reality of women’s lives. But you aren’t a lamb to the slaughter and you shouldn’t walk around like that.
When I lived in Chicago, and was as wild as they come, I got a temp job with a security guard organization. I answered phones. It was an all-male office, and they all were police officers or former police officers. Big burly guys who guarded, say, Bono, when he did a concert in town, or were hired to be Michael Jordan’s bodyguards, or whatever. I still look back fondly at that job. I was a red-headed maniac answering their phones, and they all loved having me – a GIRL to break up the all-boy monotony – there. The amount of flirting that went on in that office would have gotten us all called into HR in a more upstanding situation. But it was all in good fun. Anyway, a couple of the guys talked about me behind my back. Not in a sinister way, but they got concerned, because I was clearly a social butterfly, and I wore mini-skirts and fish-nets on the train at 2 o’clock in the morning (as well as to the office. No dress code, because I only had to deal with the cops. It wasn’t a “front office” kind of business.) They knew I was out all the time, by myself, and they were worried and thought I needed to be better prepared. (They were right. A big gang of guys threatened to rape me on an L-platform late at night. I had to call a drag queen that I knew who lived close by to come and get me. Ain’t NOBODY tougher than a drag queen. He swooped onto the scene screaming bloody murder – the gang had dispersed by then, but he was ready to throw punches and stab the hopeful rapists in the eye with his stilettos. The whole thing ended up seeming humorous to me, and I made the mistake of telling my main flame – a big tough crotchety Chicago guy – the story. He didn’t find it funny at all and ended up yelling at me. “Why didn’t you fucking call me?” “I … didn’t think of it.” “GodDAMMIT.” “Sorry, I thought it was funny.” “Not one SECOND of that story is funny.” “I’m … sorry. It still seems funny.” “It’s not fucking funny.” It ruined our night, but I was flattered. That’s when I knew he cared about me. We were together for years.)
Anyway, one of those cops gave me two instructions for any dangerous situation I might find myself in. And I still remember these words and have called upon them:
1. “Don’t be afraid to make a scene.”
2. “Don’t ever let anyone move you from Point A to Point B. If there’s going to be a fight, have the fight at Point A. Girls don’t die at Point A. They die at Point B.”
Also he told me: “Girls think they should go for the nuts in a struggle. Don’t do that. Go for the eyes. People have a primal need to protect their eyes. It’s where they’re the most vulnerable.”
So. These are the tips that remain.
Once I found myself in the empty 125th Street subway station at 2:30 in the morning. I was dressed up, too, heels, short skirt, coming back from a party up in Inwood. So NONE of this was smart on my part. And a drunk guy came down into the subway, and things started getting hairy. He was threatening me and telling me he wanted my “juicy cunt” and it was half an hour until the next train came. Now: he may have just been having a little fun scaring me, or he was bored and I was the only one there, and he had no intention of actually doing the things he was telling me he wanted to do. But how am I supposed to know that? In a situation like that, you must assume the worst. I mean, don’t shoot the guy, but assume he means business, otherwise you’re a lamb to the slaughter.
In a split second, I made the decision that I was in a life or death situation. And if it wasn’t ACTUALLY life or death, if that guy was just “having fun” making me scared … well, that’s the way life goes out in the Gladiator Arena of the Big Bad World and guys who think it’s fun to threaten women deserve what they get. I can’t be expected to tell a rapist from your garden-variety harassing douchebag. The only way to know if a man is a rapist is to wait until he actually rapes you. This doesn’t mean assuming everyone is a rapist, although honestly: you need to be prepared, since people don’t walk around saying, “Hi, I rape women.” It’s a guessing game and I look at it as better safe than sorry.
That night in the subway station, I tolerated the abuse for a while because I was scared and nobody else was around and I didn’t know what to do, and I wanted to make a break for it, but he was blocking the stairway. I had the most intense fight/flight thing going on that I was paralyzed. But then I remembered my stern cop friend from years back, and so I began to make the biggest scene I have ever made in my life, before or since. It could have back-fired, but whatever, anything can back-fire. I started screaming at him, screaming the way I’ve rarely screamed in my life except when I’m on a roller-coaster. I don’t even remember what I screamed but it was along the lines of “STAY AWAY FROM ME. SHUT THE FUCK UP AND STAY AWAY FROM ME. STAY AWAY FROM ME.” I didn’t scream “HELP” because that felt too fearful, and I thought nobody was out there anyway, nobody could come and help. So I started screaming COMMANDS. “DON’T COME NEAR ME. STAY AWAY. I’M WARNING YOU. STAY AWAY.”
I would not have felt the need to make a scene if I was on that subway platform during rush hour and some guy was throwing sexual insults my way. Safety in numbers. It was him taking the opportunity of me being by myself, and nobody else around, that changed the dynamic AND my response to it.
Once, when I was hiking in Yellowstone, I witnessed a standoff between a wounded deer and a circling coyote. The deer, frozen stiff for about 5 minutes, finally made a gigantic move, stomping its front-feet, like it was about to charge the coyote, and the coyote cringed and slunk off into the brush. The deer was prey, but the deer had made enough of a display of its chutzpah, that I could almost see the coyote think, “Ah, it’s not gonna be worth it. Not in the mood for a big fight right now.”
So me screaming at that guy was definitely me being a wounded deer (prey) standing off against a coyote (predator). But whaddya know, it worked. I freaked him out so much he ran back up the steps and out of my life. Those cops back in Chicago had told me that most guys don’t want a woman who will make a scene. It’s the rare psychopath who gets OFF on pulling a screaming woman into the bushes. Most regular-old rapists can sniff out submissive women who will go with them quietly to Point B. That’s what they want. I counted on that attitude, took the risk, and it worked. I lived in fear he would come back before the next train came. But he didn’t. And in the interim, 2 or 3 other exhausted people came down into the station, so at LEAST I had SOME company. I shook – literally, my teeth chattered – all the long way home.
Now I am not idiot enough to tell this story as Prescriptive, or as anything more than a personal anecdote. Again, I was lucky. I know that the very same situation in so many women’s lives has resulted in violent assault. But at least I didn’t sit there taking his abuse. I let him know that if he wanted to attack me he would have to fight like hell for it. So I’m proud of myself for that.
And, just to add another twist: after the whole thing was over, one of the things I said to myself was: “Sheila. You had no business being on that subway station at 2 in the morning in a mini-skirt. You should have taken a cab. STOP BEING AN ASSHOLE.” Now. If one of the men reading me here – or any man for that matter – said that very same thing to me it would not go over well. Because those types of men who make those types of comments have a way of saying it where it IS “blaming the victim.” Or second-guessing a woman’s adult behavior and her decision-making risk-assessment abilities. “Wasn’t there another stairway in the station?” “Couldn’t you just have ignored him?” Yeah, because women who ignore violent language like that have such a better track record with remaining safe. Would a man be AS frightened as I was on that subway platform? Would a man have pictured himself naked with bloody genitals and a broken nose on the tile floor, not to mention the looming fear that that assault would result in a pregnancy? Is that what would flash into a man’s mind like it did mine (for very very very good reason?) If not, then shut your mouth, and LISTEN a little bit more when women tell you what it’s like for them.
But you can bet your ass that I’m practical enough that I knew I had been cavalier with my own safety, that I should have taken a cab, and that never again would I put myself in that position. And I didn’t. (I wouldn’t have “deserved” to be raped, you understand. This is the problem with the discourse now. It is so unbelievably set in stone that, in my opinion, it ends up silencing people. Like the shrieking-hyenas with Chrissie Hynde.) The problem with the “what was she wearing” conversation is that it has been co-opted by evil people who want to keep women down and who LOVE it when women are shamed for wanting to show cleavage or wear mini-skirts or have sex outside of marriage. “See, that’s what you get, slut.” However, ladies: be practical, look out for yourself, PROTECT yourself. In my opinion, it’s a more empowering attitude. I still might be assaulted, but at least I haven’t been careless about my own safety.
This was especially true in my 20s when I was in Chicago, where the ratio of men to women in that demographic was 10 to 1. You really had to look out for yourself, especially in the social scene I was in – theatre and improv – which was extremely Boy-Heavy. But it can happen anywhere. Once in Dublin, I literally had to run back to my B&B to get away from one guy who was, yes, chasing me. And the door to the B&B was locked after a certain hour and I had to frantically ring the doorbell to be let in. I was calling back at him, “No! I’m going home to bed! Leave me alone!” (ring ring ring ring doorbell. That poor Irish housekeeper having to come let in the crazy American.) He had been hanging on the fringes of my group during a party, and I paid him no mind, but when I left – he left shortly thereafter. There was once a wasted guy who would not leave me alone in Hoboken, and it got bad enough that I made a scene and slapped him – HARD – across the face, in front of all of his friends. It was the only way to make him stop. (I knew I had written about it, just tracked it down.Oh, and check out the last comment from someone on that post. This is what women have to deal with when they write honestly about their experiences.) I guess I could have left the line I was in, but fuck THAT. I needed a cab and I have just as much right to wait for a cab as any other citizen. I should not have to take my life into my hands while waiting for a cab. And that khaki-wearing white boy deserved what he got. I’ve had to shove guys off me at the end of dates. You know. It’s a hazard of social circulating. I was just sexually assaulted by a stranger last year. I had bruises on my breasts the next day. I punched him in the throat to get him off me. I have too many stories to even tell, and I am sure most women do. Even holed up in a religious compound all while wearing an Amish house-dress doesn’t protect women from sexual assault. That’s important to remember. I’ve also dated guys who would never behave like that, even the ones who were complete sexual BEASTS (in the best sense). I’ve never felt like all men were threatening, even though I have more than my share of evidence to the contrary. I am thankful to the men who use their strength wisely, who never would use it against me, and who loved women even though they might have thought we were cuckoo. They’d rather hang out with women than NOT hang out with women, and they didn’t have an entitled weirdo attitude, and blah blah blah. The scales balance out, somehow, in my mind.
Now. Finally. Back to Paglia? I think one of the problems in attitude is the sense that all of this is “unfair.” And yes, it IS unfair. But as long as we don’t live in a society that is all enlightened, then unfair-ness is the name of the game. Be smart. Don’t make mountains out of molehills. There is a difference between bad sex, unpleasant sexual experiences, and rape. Having second thoughts about having slept with someone does not equal rape. (It MIGHT, but this is not a black-and-white issue. It never is when it comes to sex, which is the most powerful and chaotic human drive that we have.)
I’m not even paraphrasing Paglia here. Just expressing my own experiences and also – back to Paglia – expressing how refreshing it felt, in the 90s, to read her columns about this, and feel empowered, rather than defeatist. It helped me be practical, it helped me sort out the unpleasant from the dangerous, and I have always tried to take responsibility for myself. Especially on dates. Especially on first dates. Go out for coffee on a first date, not drinks. Tell your friend that you’re going on a date with someone new, and tell your friend you will text them when you get home. And then text them when you get home. Or make sure to have a friend call you in the middle of the date, and have a little chat with said person, saying, “Okay, cool, I’ll call you when I get home.” If nothing else, you feel pro-active and in charge of your own safety, as much as is possible if you don’t live in a hermetically-sealed cult environment like the Moonies where all personal control is taken from you. You don’t KNOW the person you’re going out with. Don’t be coerced into doing something you don’t want to do. Understand that women sometimes DIE on first dates. This isn’t being alarmist. This is reality.
And men need to understand that this is the reality for women. And be not only cool with it, but sensitive to it. The best first dates I’ve had are with men who, honestly, make big displays out of how safe they are. THEY suggest meeting for coffee. They don’t push your boundaries ever. I have a great story about that, even though it doesn’t have to do with being on a date. It’s buried in this post about the rape scene in Deliverance about a moment at night when a jogger came bounding up behind me, and how he had a sensitivity to what I, a woman, must expect with a sound like that. THAT was a man who understood the social contract, and who didn’t RESENT the fact that women were sometimes afraid of men for very good reason, who accepted that as part of reality, and cared about me (whom he didn’t even know) enough to take care of it. It was probably self-preservation too. Hearing that sound coming towards me, I got ready to turn around and go for the eyes, as that cop had once upon a time taught me.
I don’t talk about rape in the way Paglia does, nor do I want to. I didn’t mean to write so much about my own experiences but it’s my blog and maybe some of you will read the whole thing, and see yourself in it, or learn something new. I won’t be told that my interpretation of my own experiences is not valid, or doesn’t fit properly into the accepted narrative, OR – from men – that I’m misinterpreting the whole thing and I really am a slut who deserved all this, and women are never allowed to make mistakes, and if they do make mistakes, well, then, they deserve what they get. I will not internalize ANY of those interpretations. I get to make up my own mind about how I see all of this. Paglia got so much flak for her views that many people wrote her off way back then. That’s their prerogative. Like I said 20,000 words ago, different people with different histories have different tolerances and reactions. “Triggers”, meaning the classic definition having to do with PTSD from wartime combat, child/domestic abuse or sexual assault, is a real thing and a major MAJOR advance in understanding the human mind.
But hysteria is not helpful. It reinforces the belief that women are too delicate to take care of themselves, that they must be shielded from the big bad dangerous world out there. It’s sexist. It’s patronizing.
So here’s an excerpt from Paglia’s enormous multi-part book-length essay where she criticizes … everything. American academia, once again. The hysteria on college campuses having to do with date rape. Prudish reactions to pornography and prostitution. Oh, and every other damn thing Paglia is furious about. And while I disagree with many of her statements and generalizations, I agree with many more. You just have to deal with that if you love Paglia.
I actually just got into a mini-fight on Facebook (breaking my own rules) on a thread having to do with Gloria Steinem’s recent comment that young women who want to vote for Bernie Sanders are only doing it to hang out with the boys. I thought her comment was not only outrageously simplistic but sexist as hell. Not to mention completely dismissive of the fact that young women who want to vote for Bernie may very well be doing so for their own complex reasons that have nothing to do with hanging out with boys. Really, Gloria? Really? Anyway, I was like, “I love her but I hate her when she gets like this. It’s her particular brand of Mean Girl feminism.” And a very well-known feminist film-critic said, “Criticizing Gloria Steinem is a new low.” (You know what I think is a new low, lady? You – with a huge platform – raging about Hateful Eight before you had even seen it. That’s what I think is a new low. I didn’t go after her in that way, though, because I have other shit to do.) I said, “I don’t agree with ANYONE 100 %. Any group who demands 100% agreement is totalitarian by definition. Disagreeing with Gloria Steinem because of this one stupid comment does not mark a ‘new low.’ It means I am an independent thinker.” Haranguer did not respond, and left the thread entirely (not because of me – there were many more like me.) It’s THAT attitude I can’t stand in this type of debate. It’s this “all or nothing” attitude that sidelined Paglia. I won’t have it, I tell you, I won’t have it!
Update: Gloria Steinem just apologized for her comment. Her apology reads as sincere to me, and even at the time, it seemed that her off-the-cuff comment was sloppy and she knew it. (It happens to everyone.) Compare to Madeline Albright who said (a couple of times) that there’s a special place in Hell for women who don’t vote for Hillary. Come ON, girls, can we stop doing this to each other? Yes? No? Okay then.
I’ll just quote Camille from the beginning of her essay and then (finally? Whatever. It’s my blog and I’ll write how much I want to) get to the excerpt.
What began as a useful sensitization of police officers, prosecutors and judges to the claims of authentic rape victims turned into a hallucinatory overextension of the definition of rape to cover every unpleasant or embarrassing sexual encounter… From the perspective of the future, this period of America will look like a reign of mass psychosis, like that of the Salem witch trials.
Ah, Camille. Always making friends.
To any woman out there who disagrees with any of these comments, I support you in the right of having your own interpretation of whatever has happened to you. I support you in your right to make your own decisions about who you want to vote for. I support free-thinking people, whatever that might look like. My relating my own stories – even with the strong language I use – is my way of owning my own narrative and how I see it and how I like to interpret it because it serves me to do so. And everyone on the planet has the right to do that for themselves. Sex is one of the most personal experiences any human being can have.
Excerpt from Vamps & Tramps: New Essays, by Camille Paglia. From “No Law in the Arena.”
Rape will not be understood until we revive the old concept of the barbaric, the uncivilized. The grotesque cliche “patriarchal” must go, or rather be returned to its proper original application to periods like Republican Rome or Victorian England. What feminists call patriarchy is simply civilization, an abstract system designed for men but augmented and now co-owned by women. Like a great temple, civilization is a gender-neutral structure that all should respect. Feminists who prate at patriarchy are self-exiled in grass huts.
Ideas of civilization and barbarism have become unfashionable because of their political misuse in the nineteenth century. The West has neither a monopoly on civilization nor the right or obligation to impose its culture on others. Nor, as Sexual Personae argues, are any of us as individuals completely civilized. However, it is equally wrong to dismiss all progressive theories of history, which is not just scattered bits of data upon which we impose wishful narratives. Societies do in fact evolve in economic and political complexity.
Even though we no longer wish to call one society “higher” or “more advanced” than another, it is unwise to equate tribal experience, with its regimentation by tradition and its suppression of the individual by the group, with life under industrial capitalism, which has produced liberalism and feminism. Law and order, which protect women, children, and the ill and elderly, are a function of hierarchy, another of the big bad words of feminism. Law and order were achieved only a century ago in the American West, which still lives on in our national mythology. Disintegration into banditry is always near at hand, as was shown in 1989 in the notorious case of the Central Park woman jogger – a savage attack significantly called “wilding” by its schoolboy perpetrators. Sex crime means back to nature.
When feminism rejected Freud twenty-five years ago, it edited out of its mental life the barbarities of the homicidal Oedipus psychodrama, which the annals of crime show is more than a metaphor. The irony is that Freud’s master paradigm of “family romance,” which structures our adult relationships in love and at work, has a special appropriateness to the current feminist debate. Too much of the date-rape and sexual harassment crisis claimed by white middle-class women is caused partly by their own mixed signals, which I have observed with increasing distress as a teacher for over two decades.
The predominance of modern sexual history is not patriarchy but the collapse of the old extended family into the nuclear family, an isolated unit that, in its present form, is claustrophobic and psychologically unstable. The nuclear family can work only in a pioneer situation, where the punishing physicality of farmwork keeps everyone occupied and spent from dawn to dusk. The middle-class nuclear family, where the parents are white-collar professionals who do brainwork, is seething with frustrations and tensions. Words are charged, and real authority lies elsewhere, in bosses on the job. Marooned in the suburbs or in barricaded urban apartments, upwardly mobile families are frantically over scheduled and geographically transient, with few ties to neighbors and little sustained contact with relatives.
Two parents alone cannot transmit all the wisdom of life to a child. Clan elders – grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins – performed this function once. Today, poor inner-city or rural children are more likely to benefit from the old extended family or from the surrogate family of long-trusted neighbors, since working-class people are less likely to make repeated moves for job promotions. The urban child sees the harshness of the street; the rural child witnesses the frightening operations of nature. Both have contact with an eternal reality denied the suburban middle-class child, who is cushioned from risk and fear and who is expected to conform to a code of genteel good manners and repressed body language that has changed startlingly little since the Victorian era.
The sex education of white middle-class girls is clearly deficient, since it produces young women unable to foresee trouble or to survive sexual misadventure or even raunchy language without crying to authority figures for help. A sense of privilege and entitlement, as well as ignorance of the dangers of life, has been institutionalized by American academe, with its summer-resort give-the-paying-customers-what-they-want mentality. Europe has thus far been relatively impervious to the date-rape hysteria, since its tortured political history makes sugary social fantasies of the American kind less possible. Fun-and-fashion teenage dating is not high on the list of priorities for nations which, in the lifetime of half their population, had firsthand knowledge of war, devastation, and economic collapse. The media-fuels disproportion and distortion of the date-rape debate are partially attributable to American arrogance and parochialism.
White middle-class girls at the elite colleges and universities seem to want the world handed to them on a platter. They have been sheltered, coddled, and flattered. Having taught at a wide variety of institutions over my ill-starred career, I have observed that working-class or lower-middle-class girls, who are from financially struggling families and who must take a patchwork of menial off-campus jobs to stay in school, are usually the least hospitable to feminist rhetoric. They see life as it is and fewer illusions about sex. It is affluent, upper-middle-class students who most spout the party line – as if the grisly hyperemotinalism of feminist jargon satisfies their hunger for meaningful experience outside their event-less upbringing. In the absence of war, invent one.