The Books: Vamps & Tramps; “No Law in the Arena,” by Camille Paglia


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.

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33 Responses to The Books: Vamps & Tramps; “No Law in the Arena,” by Camille Paglia

  1. carolyn clarke says:

    I had to laugh about this one. I know, that’s strange, given the subject matter, but this resonates with me in so many ways.
    // a semi-pudgy beefy guy//
    My first husband was the epitome of tall, dark, slim and handsome. He died of a drug overdose 18 months after I finally divorced him. I won’t go into the gory details because that is in the past, but my second husband who I’ve been with almost 30 years is the semi-pudgy beefy guy who is slightly shorter than me with a 54 in chest and was able to bench press me (more of a Amazon than a sylph) when we first met. Everyday isn’t perfect but most days are great. Don’t get be wrong, JA makes my ovaries quiver but so does Ty Olsson.

    //cops gave me two instructions for any dangerous situation//
    I worked for the NYCPD for 7 years when I was 19 years old. I initially worked in the Ninth Precinct on the lower east side when there was at least one homicide a week. I worked the same shifts as the guys did including the 12 midnight to 8 am shift which meant that I had to walk from my apartment on 7th street to the precinct on 5th street sometimes with no escort. Now, like I said, I’m built more like an Amazon but it was still scary sometimes. The advice that you got was the exact same advice I got from my guys who I loved. They had no use for a 19 year old, black female. As one explained to me, “you’re black, you’re young, you’re a woman but most of all, you’re a civilian”, but it was the best job I ever had. I learned so much. Although I would add one more rule that they taught me – Always, always trust your instincts. If the situation feels wrong, leave.

    Paglia might be dated in some respects, but she is right in that we as women have to take responsibility for OUR actions in this very unfair world. It would be nice if we could dress any way we want with no repercussions but the world isn’t like that and never will be. We can’t always rely on people to protect us because that also lessens our power. So if that means self defense courses or avoiding dangerous situations or traveling in packs (like my daughter did) or getting a big, nasty dog/(boy)friend/husband, so be it.

    • sheila says:

      Carolyn – I am so sorry about your first husband!

      //was able to bench press me (more of a Amazon than a sylph) when we first met. //


      and oh yeah, I wouldn’t turn JA down that’s for sure! I have eyes in my head and am human, after all!

      I love that you, too, had experience with thoughtful protective cops who were looking out for you. It was a great lesson for me, too.

      Trusting your instincts is essential. That’s what Gavin de Becker writes about in his GIFT OF FEAR. Women are afraid of seeming rude. But if you’re alone in an elevator and get a weird feeling, press the button and get off on another floor. Your life is in your own hands. Fear is your BEST guide to knowing if you are in the presence of a predator. It’s evolution. It’s on a deeper level than your conscious mind. We’re taught to ignore that part of ourselves, and be open to everyone. I try to always trust that gut-feeling. That’s what I pay attention to when I read a guy’s dating profile – even though I could be wrong. If I get a weird feeling, I move on, even if he looks like Ty Olsson. :)

      My friends and I always traveled in packs – dating back to college. We did it by instinct, not because anyone told us – but it’s really good advice. Safety in numbers, always! And always make sure you scan any room for the Exit signs. Then go ahead and have a good time. But know where you need to get to if you need to get out.

      / End lecture.

      • sheila says:

        Oh, and those cops in Chicago who taught me self-defense?

        Not once did they tell me to dress a different way. Not once did they say, “Maybe you shouldn’t wear that? Maybe don’t show so much cleavage” or whatever. They were practical men, they just wanted me to be smart and if I WAS going to be out dating and doing my thing and riding the L late at night … I should have some weapons in my arsenal.

        I appreciated their attitude.

  2. Love this.

    I’m particularly gratified by the point A-point B advice, which strikes me as basic. I’ve always thought of this as Never Get Into the Car (in the subwayless suburbs, that’s the biggest fear–Get in the car or I’ll shoot you. I’ve always hoped I’d have the sense to say Knock yourself out).

    Paglia annoys me, but that’s probably because I’m very proprietary about the Greek gods and don’t like it when people mess with them. For sure you’re both right about the difference between looking out for yourself and deserving whatever happens to you if you don’t. It’s so odd that people have trouble understanding this. Adults are responsible for their own behavior. If I skip down a dark street waving my money around and yelling “Check out this huge wad of cash!” and somebody mugs me, then I’m an idiot and the mugger is a thief. It’s not complicated.

    Anyway, thanks for this, and for the fabulous Dickens post.

    • sheila says:

      Jincy – yes, Never get in the car!!

      // I’ve always hoped I’d have the sense to say Knock yourself out //


      // that’s probably because I’m very proprietary about the Greek gods and don’t like it when people mess with them. //

      That is one of the best reasons I’ve ever heard to be annoyed with her!! Stop messing with the ancient deities, Camille. I’m warning you.

      I always think of that comparison with a mugging too. People (hopefully) know to put their wallets in a pocket inside their purse – or to not have their wallet hanging out of their back pocket – Nobody deserves to be stolen from, but be smart about it and at LEAST lessen the chances. Then you know you’ve at least done what you could.

      // For sure you’re both right about the difference between looking out for yourself and deserving whatever happens to you if you don’t. It’s so odd that people have trouble understanding this. //

      I know. With some people I think it’s willful and purposeful misunderstanding. Adding to the confusion and circularity of this debate on purpose.

  3. mutecypher says:


    Thanks for talking about this tough stuff in such a reasonable way. I will probably comment more later, but I wanted to just say that I really honor you for taking on so fraught and personal a topic.

    • sheila says:

      Aw, thanks. One hesitates to write this stuff due to the risk of abuse hurled at you yet again – for what? Being assaulted? It’s insane but there it is. But it’s not all that fraught to me – at least in my heart – because of that taking-responsibility thing.

      This is why … as silly as it sounds … seeing oneself as a survivor rather than a victim (that I go on and on about in the SPN posts – especially in terms of DW) is so important to me. I’ve had more good experiences than bad and all of my actual boyfriends have been super-nice, so that’s a good thing.

      But thanks!

  4. mutecypher says:

    That Steinem quote, oy. I saw Madeleine Albright’s comment about how there’s a special place in Hell for women who don’t help other women – hence Hillary must be supported if you’re a woman who fears Hell. The tribe must come first.

    I teach at a fairly pricey all girls private school. I see some of the things Camille is talking about here, but more often I see adults who enable this “my feelings must never be hurt” behavior. I don’t have as great a sense of annoyance at a kid complaining about a grade, kids complain. People complain. But you get more of it when that behavior gets the complainer what they want. It’s disappointing when the adults in the room don’t act like adults.

    Camille deals with college students , most of whom meet the age requirement for adulthood, so her criticisms are justly pointed at them. But they didn’t just magically get that way when they left home.

    • sheila says:

      // but more often I see adults who enable this “my feelings must never be hurt” behavior. //

      My sister, who teaches middle school in a public school, says the same thing.

      Her kids really work hard, they really try, some of the stories my sister tells are so moving. One really tough boy who had literally never read a book in full in his life was so turned on by The Outsiders that he stole my sister’s copy off her desk so that he could take it home and finish it that night. I have tears in my eyes just typing that out.

      (The school she teaches in is in a pretty poor area, and the kids are wild farm-kids or they come from bad backgrounds with loser parents who do Meth, and barely have jobs. So many of her kids discover the joy of reading in my sister’s class. But the parents have the same sense of entitlement, but the KIDS aren’t like that at all.)

  5. Rachel says:

    //Don’t be afraid to make a scene.//

    This is so true! Like you in the subway, I was once walking around Port Authority very late at night, high heels. drunk-ish, when I was approached by two men on either side of me. I had had a fight with someone, so I was in a bad mood and when they approached me I just started yelling at them. Not screaming to attract attention but yelling things like “Who do you think you are?” “Get the fuck away from me, assholes!” “You wanna mess with me!” And they ran away.

    • sheila says:

      // I was approached by two men on either side of me. //

      Oh boy. STAY BACK.

      Yeah, I think it’s so true. Men who want to harass count on women being afraid to make a scene. They don’t want the attention of the outside world.

      It’s amazing how quickly they flee into the night!

      Good for you!

      • sheila says:

        This is what they try to teach kids, too. Scream “THIS ISN’T MY MOM” if someone grabs them, or whatever. Very difficult to get kids to remember that – and it’s very difficult to remember it as an adult, if you’re feeling panicked and trapped.

        That’s why training/practice is really good. Get used to making that scene. Hopefully you won’t have to call upon it, but if you DO, it can be extremely effective.

  6. Rachel says:

    Yes, make a scene. I think this is a really important point to make with women who are all too often afraid to rock the boat or appear unfeminine.

    I have also NOT said no when I should have–not life threatening, but potentially soul destroying–so I’m rather proud of my scene making experience.

    • sheila says:

      Yes, I’m proud of you too.

      We’re so socialized to be ingratiating and “giving” to everyone and it can put us at risk.

  7. Regina Bartkoff says:


    I just got into a argument about the Gloria Steinem and Madeline Albright comments with a very, very good friend of mine. I pretty much said what you did. I feel really bad because I love this person and if I lose a friendship over this I will be devastated. I did react emotionally to those comments that I called “stupid”. She said how could I call these two brilliant women who did so much for women stupid. But I said those comments were stupid not them, or the things they did for us in the past. This is why more and more I stay away from political arguments, it, unfortunately, goes no where and it’s not worth it.
    Which goes back to, do we really have to agree with friends 100 percent and all the time?

    • sheila says:

      Ugh, Regina, I’m sorry you are going through that.

      I get it, to some degree: you can feel like women are under siege and we have to “stick together” and “stick up for our own”, blah blah, but that assumes that women are all the same, a monolith of identical interests … and I’ve never bought that. In fact, a lot of feminism’s recurring interest in marriage and male-female dynamics and child-rearing and division of labor has ZERO to do with my life, is extremely exclusionary towards anyone who doesn’t fit into the heteronormative (don’t like the word, but it fits) model.

      So of course: we all should pick and choose what we feel we agree on, and make up our own minds.

      Calling one comment of Gloria Steinem “stupid” does not wipe out her entire resume. (Although I still dislike her “take” on Marilyn Monroe.)

      It’s very disheartening.

      // Which goes back to, do we really have to agree with friends 100 percent and all the time? //

      I know! I probably wouldn’t be friends with a homophobe or a white supremacist – but I certainly disagree with my friends a lot of the time on pretty big issues – and they disagree with me. It’s common if you’re a grown-up. Wanting to line up in regimented rows where everyone swallows the party-line …

      Sheila just don’t play that way!

      Hopefully this dust-up with your friend will blow over!! I hope so.

  8. sphinx says:

    It’s a relief to see such a sensitive topic discussed so reasonably. I know what you mean about common-sense advice often being misconstrued as blaming the victim. I was called a “rape apologist” recently for pointing out the danger of a college freshman attending a frat party with a known reputation for “roofie-ing” girls’ drinks. In no way did I indicate that a rapist should not face responsibility for his actions if a girl chose to attend the party anyway and accept a drink from a stranger. A victim might behave unwisely, but pointing that out to avoid future occurrences does not remove the blame from an attacker — nor should it factor into any court decisions, of course. Many people seem to have trouble reconciling that in their minds.

    • sphinx says:

      And of course there’s the issue you –and Camille– brought up of young women who equate negative but basically consensual sexual experiences with rape. Given the number of real assaults that go unreported altogether, I kind of understand why some feminists bristle when people bring up false reports in discussions of rape, but it’s a very important topic that again, I’m glad to see discussed in such a sensible way. Not something you necessarily encounter too much in SJW corners of the internet, even when you agree with the argument at hand…

      • Rachel says:

        And in the 20 years since Paglia wrote that essay, the problem seems to be getting much, much worse: the Rolling Stone article, the piling on of Chrissie Hynde. You can’t discuss this topic reasonably in some forums without being attacked by an angry mob.

        • sheila says:

          Rachel –

          yes. Much much worse. It was starting back then – but now it is 100% toxic. That Rolling Stone article was devastating.

      • sheila says:

        // Given the number of real assaults that go unreported altogether, I kind of understand why some feminists bristle when people bring up false reports in discussions of rape, but it’s a very important topic //

        I so agree.

        Women are also capable of making mistakes sexually, and you have to suck it up and say, “Okay, wish I could scratch that one off the list, but oh well. Better luck next time.”

        I don’t put myself in that position anymore – I’m much older now, and picky, and protective, but it’s a good attitude to have – because again, it feels GOOD to take responsibility for yourself.

        There’s so much out there we can’t control.

        I did nothing to invite the sexual assault last year. Some guy literally jumped out of the shadows while I was walking down a crowded street.

        There’s nothing I can do about that. That kind of thing just waits for women, and you have to decide that the risks of going out in public outweigh the fear.

        But on dates? Or on hook-ups? There are some things I can do to control that situation. I can set boundaries strongly. I can say “No” really clearly (or “Yes” really clearly). I can do my own “vetting” so that I have at least some sense he is not a psychopath. And I can set my own terms for my behavior – because sex is chaotic (for all of us – it’s a strong strong primal drive) – and once you start going with it, it’s not easy to stop. So I don’t want to get to that point at all unless I am SURE I want to be there and go there.

        I just refuse to take that risk at this point in my life. It’s not worth it.

        It’s okay if other women don’t mind that risk. But for me, it’s not okay.

        It helps – at least with the attitude I have when I go out with someone.

    • sheila says:

      Sphinx –

      I thank you so much for your thoughtful comments – as well as your reasonable outlook and tone. I wrote this last week and sat on it for that long, wondering if I should even publish it. Would it be worth it?

      I know that there are others out there who feel like I do – most of my friends do as well – but it is such a RELIEF to talk about these things without the hysteria.

      Hysteria belongs in the Salem witch trials or the McCarthy hearings. Hysteria is not helping. In many ways, it HURTS. Collateral damage is that young men feel extremely angry and defensive because they are being blamed for things that they haven’t even done yet OR that they mis-read a dating/party situation and then found themselves in hot water. (A friend of mine told her son going into college to be really really careful in dating and hook-ups, because she understood how hysteria can operate and she didn’t want her nice kid to be accused of something just because he hooked up with someone – consensually – she has taught her son about consent – and the girl had second thoughts in the morning.)

      Rape is a serious issue and especially with the political rhetoric out there – often blatantly anti-woman (really?? In this day and age?) – it is easy to feel like women are under siege. And in a lot of ways, we are. Health care, birth control, whatever. But being “under siege” can also create hysteria – and whip up a frenzy where a little bit of common sense would really really help.

      I don’t know the solution.

      Telling young women to be responsible about who they are in the world and the choices they make seems to me to be commonsense. Being an adult means making smart choices – or at least trying to. And everyone screws up. I have many screw-ups in my own life, and I learned from them.

      I will always be thankful to the unknown frat boy who took me home from a party – this was in my freshman year of college – I was inexperienced sexually, had never had a drink, and so I was at this party and I got wasted – and THEN – my friends took off, and I stayed there by myself, dancing. Super stupid. I started making out with some guy. I have no idea, to this day, who he was, but in my memory he looked vaguely like Peter Horton. He couldn’t have been older than 19 years old. But somewhere he knew I was too drunk to do anything with – so he took me back to my dorm, walking me home, and actually brought me up to my room – tucked me in – and then left.

      That guy is still a hero to me. I could have lost my virginity that night – and barely remembered it. And I would have had SERIOUS regrets about that. Or, I could have been raped or gang-banged.

      AND I would never have reported it. I already know that. And if I had, I would have faced a barrage of criticism. “Why were you there by yourself?” “Why did you even make out with him?” “Why did you drink so much?”

      Anyway, yet again: I was LUCKY that Peter Horton had a moral compass so strong it was damn near heroic.

      It was another “lesson” moment for me. The next morning, even in my inexperience, I knew what a close call that had been. I actually was one of those people who treasured my virginity – I wasn’t looking to get rid of it at all. I was “waiting.” So if that was the case – and I knew it was – then I knew I needed to be more responsible with myself. And I was.

      There’s no “blame” in that story to my eyes. It’s just young people trying out their wings – and making messes – and trying to get out of it. The truth of the matter is that some girls ARE used/abused in such situations and it’s horrifying and I hope they can find ways to make peace with it. Having sex with a drunk passed-out girl is despicable inhuman behavior. But to place ALL the responsibility on teenage boys to know that …

      well, that’s patriarchal. That’s putting your own safety, your own well-being, as a girl, in the hands of men.

      I don’t understand why people don’t see this.

      I am mostly concerned because it leaves young women even more at risk, because they have somehow escaped responsibility for themselves. Somebody ELSE is in charge of the most basic aspects of their lives.

      Maybe that’s where the hysteria comes from??

      Paglia makes the point over and over (maybe too much, who knows) that this is mostly a middle-class white-girl thing. The girls who have been coddled so much that they are shocked – SHOCKED – that some people out there don’t care about them or want to hurt them.

      I can’t speak to that. I’m a middle-class white-girl and I wasn’t raised at all to feel that way about myself. So who knows.

      // A victim might behave unwisely, but pointing that out to avoid future occurrences does not remove the blame from an attacker — nor should it factor into any court decisions, of course. Many people seem to have trouble reconciling that in their minds. //

      I agree with all of this.

      Some of my own arguments here are the same ones used by prosecutors or male chauvinists – only twisted out of recognition. So because of that, I hesitate to even give “ammo” to the other side – but, in a way, that’s just aiding and abetting the enemy.

      • sheila says:

        A side note: there’s been all this recent outrage about cat-calls. It seems so stupid to me. And also evidence of GIGANTIC BLIND privilege that all of these American girls are whipping themselves into a frenzy about … being cat-called? Really?

        A film critic I know posts about it all the time. “Sick of this shit. Was cat-called today.” At the risk of sounding like “what were you wearing”: she dresses up every day. She wears vintage sundresses, two-toned 1920s dance shoes, she sometimes even carries a parasol. She is ADORABLE and she loves dressing up and she always looks beautiful.

        So … you dress like that to get attention, yes? ( Okay, you also dress like that to please yourself – but when I run into you at a screening and say, “Oh my God, you look so pretty” – which I DO – you smile and say, “Thank you so much!” – because I NOTICED the work you put into your outfit. You’re not dressing like that to be ignored. But in the mood of the day – me even saying this is a “what were you wearing, you deserved what you got” kind of thing – but that’s not it at all.

        So you dress in an attention-getting way and then bitch when someone pays attention. And some of it may be BAD attention – yes – but that’s the part of life you can’t control. You want to somehow … legislate out of existence … cat-calls? What are you, 8?

        Don’t you have anything better to do with the precious time that God gave you?

        And in the hysteria, the difference between some Joe Schmoe calling out “Nice tits” and a group of guys being threatening enough that you switch your regular walking pattern to avoid that block – is lost. I’ve had the “Nice tits” comment – or variations thereof – and sometimes it’s even funny and complimentary. A couple years ago, when I was really really LOW, some guy called out, “Hey, RED. SMILE.” And I have heard women complaining about men demanding that they smile, and they feel oppressed by it, and they interpret it as the patriarchy demanding that women be pliant and ingratiating and pleasing … but come ON, I think that’s over-thinking it. Sometimes they’re just trying to be NICE, for God’s sake.

        That guy shouting – calling me “red” and telling me to “smile” did me a favor that day. Because – at least the way I interpreted it – and it’s my right to do so – he saw a sad red-headed girl walking by, and he was trying to cheer me up. And I did smile at him and he smiled back. And it was nice.

        Yes: sometimes a cat-call is unpleasant and you don’t want to be overtly sexualized when you’re just running to the corner store. I get it. I don’t like that either. And yes, men don’t have to deal with this.

        But the outrage and the campaigns and the video compilations of cat-calls … and the cries for redress and change …

        I don’t know. I think women are better and stronger than that. I think the cat-call campaign made us all look dumb and “hysterical” and too sensitive to be out in the clamor of the world.

        • sheila says:

          One of the moments I loved in Magic Mike (the first one) was when Magic Mike took his young protege out to a bar the first time, and they circulated, handing out fliers for the strip show later, trying to get girls to come attend.

          The protege was too shy to approach two girls perched at the bar. Magic Mike pushed him to do it – “Go buy them a drink” “No, they look like they don’t want to be bothered” – and Mike laughs and says something like, “Look at how they’re dressed. They WANT you to pay attention to them.”

          His tone wasn’t “Look at how they’re dressed. They’re sluts. Go take advantage of it and shame/flatter them like some Pick-Up Artist.”

          He almost felt bad, as in: “Those two pretty girls got all dressed up to come out tonight and men are dropping the ball in not talking to them. Go tell them you NOTICED and you APPRECIATE the effort.”

          and the interaction ends up going great – and nobody shames the girls – and everybody flirts like crazy – and everyone walked away happy.

          It’s a sad commentary that Mike’s comment “LOOK at how they are dressed. They WANT you to notice” could seem radical. But it is. And so men – who are now terrified to even approach women because so many women are raging hysterical maniacs – stay away, and are fearful, and it comes out in hostile ways as opposed to kind and appreciative – and EVERYBODY loses.

          That’s one of the reasons why Magic Mike XXL was one of my favorite movies last year. It treated women seriously (as weird as that sounds), and it treated women’s pleasure seriously (not just sexual pleasure – but all-around) – and the men, while not abdicating their own power, courted that, supported that, and – as strippers – geared their entire lives towards making women smile … and so everything sort of shuffled into its proper place.

          A fantasy? I guess, a little.

          But not really. When I’ve been in Dublin, the guys there are much more willing to come barreling over to you, pouring compliments over your head. It can get annoying – especially if you just want to have a pint and read your book at the bar – but my God, I appreciate the effort. Go for it, boys. Because who knows, you MIGHT score, and you might NOT, but there’s no harm in trying.

          But all of this only works if women are able to distinguish between flirting (even aggressive flirting) and sexual assault. Someone “trying to pick you up” is not necessarily an insult, ladies. Just say, “No thanks” if you’re not into it, or pretend to make a phone call and leave. You are under no obligation to sit there and take it if you’re not into it – but blaming the guys for TRYING seems ridiculous.

          This is like going back to the Victorian-age, where a man had to present his references before being allowed to spend half-an-hour alone with a potential sweetheart.

        • sheila says:

          and I just have to add, because it’s important:

          People with serious triggers from childhood trauma and sexual abuse – have very different reactions to all of this stuff, threats on the street, strange men coming up to them. They perceive threats everywhere, for their own very valid survival reasons.

          A cat-call to someone like that can be as threatening as being grabbed in a dark alley. Or, at least, the reaction is the same.

          But for those of us without those Triggers …

          Well, I have a big issue with the way “trigger” has been co-opted by people who now use it to mean “anything that MIGHT be upsetting to me.”

          Triggers have been so helpful in treating those with serious PTSD. Back in the day, “shell-shock” was a known thing – and a new thing – and the medical people were aware of it, and did their best to treat it – but it helped ruin a generation of men.

          Now, with an understanding of how the brain contracts when it is traumatized – there are all kinds of treatment options available for people who suffer PTSD flashbacks, or who live in that state of hyper-vigilance.

          It’s understandable why people with PTSD or those with traumatic backgrounds see the entire world as a threatening hallucinatory monstrosity.

          But everybody else needs to at least TRY to calm the hell down about it. Don’t call for smelling salts if you’re cat-called. It makes you look silly and too-delicate to be out there amongst the English.

  9. carolyn clarke says:

    //calm the hell down!//

    That should be the motto for this entire century. Not just about trauma and sex and all kinds of “isms” but everything in between. Politics, the economy, the various and sundries wars. Okay, now it’s time for me to calm the hell down.

    Sheila, you’re providing a service of continuing the conversation because that’s really all we have. Talking is our gift and using our words is our obligation. This conversation started as a sideways discussion about women’s lib and power and responsibility, etc. And everything in this conversation is valid in my opinion. But you’ve also mentioned more than once about the men’s role in this and I appreciate that fact that you don’t blame all of them for the sordid few out there that are just plain bad/stupid/retarded. In my opinion, most men don’t hate women, most men are terrified of women because they don’t understand us and that which you do not understand, you fear. And, more importantly, they had never really been given a reason to try to understand. They held the power, they made the rules. But the rules are changing now in chaotic and unfathomable ways. The age of chivalry has been dead for centuries. What’s going to replace it?

    But I’m a very optimistic soul. I hope that all this conversation will result in better guidelines ( which is a very weak word but I can’t think of a better one right now) about relationships and power and sex and love. I think this is the storm before the calm. I don’t know when the calm is going to arrive but I think we need this insanity for a while to help flush out some of the crap.

    • sheila says:

      // But you’ve also mentioned more than once about the men’s role in this and I appreciate that fact that you don’t blame all of them for the sordid few out there that are just plain bad/stupid/retarded. //

      Carolyn – Part of the “hysteria” thing I buck so strongly against is its anti-male tendencies. Which, again, feels like a retreat to a Victorian attitude – a horror at male sexuality, a desire to “control” it by shaming men out of expressing it – to “protect” women from being “assaulted” and all the rest. So in that hysterical attitude there is NO difference between a guy trying to hit on a woman and a guy tying a woman to the railroad tracks in a silent movie. It’s the same amount of horror.

      I’m exaggerating – but honestly, not really.

      I grew up with good male role models – my dad, my uncles … and my boyfriends have been wonderful guys. I’m not attracted to guys who give off the whiff of “double standard” – or guys who harbor hostility to women. Hostility to women does have a scent! It even comes through in online dating profiles.

      But to loop ALL men in with that …

      silly. Counter-productive.

      Also not TRUE.

      My introduction to sex was not a good one. And I was traumatized for years – maybe still am? Who knows. But then came two boyfriends in my 20s – who were also in their 20s – who were awesome, and somehow helped me shuffle it all into place, but also gave me the space to figure it all out – with them. I was all messed up. They didn’t take advantage of that. Or use it. Or drop me when I got super-difficult. And I was always difficult. They were awesome guys – Honestly, if I hadn’t met either one of them, I’m not sure what my attitude would have been. If my 20s had been going from d-bag to d-bag to d-bag, if I had dated users and assholes … maybe my perspective now would be very different. I DIDN’T get traumatized over and over and over again … The pattern was broken.

      // I think this is the storm before the calm. I don’t know when the calm is going to arrive but I think we need this insanity for a while to help flush out some of the crap. //

      That’s what I hope, too. The “hysteria” thing in the late 19th century was so prevalent that people specialized in it, lectures were given on it, books and pamphlets written – it was treated as REAL. Some doctors even seemed to figure out that maybe if they helped women come, some of that stress would be lightened. So they’d masturbate their patients to orgasm and send them on their way. Because the husband was too threatened/scared/un-educated himself to know that women also had sexual responsiveness – or had no idea about women’s anatomy – or were so brainwashed themselves by the virgin/whore dichotomy that he couldn’t reconcile the image of his sweet bride with a woman who did that … The image of women making weekly appointments with doctors who would basically use vibrators on them to get them off … and then trotting off to do their grocery shopping …

      I mean, it’s tragic, but it’s also kind of awesome. I’m glad I didn’t live then – and I’m sure many of those doctors were creeps – but honestly, I think some of them were saviors, and open-minded. “These women need to be having orgasms. This is ridiculous. I know how to do it so what the hell, I’ll do it. If their husbands won’t, I will.”

      It’s like a dream-world night-mare.

      And it caught up many people in it, created industries and sub-industries, and was treated as a totally real phenomenon until …. it passed.

      Like a fever breaking.

      And it took some time. A generation and a half, really. Maybe even more.

      So I have hopes too that future generations will look back on this period – the 90s to the early ‘aughts – and think, “My Lord, those people were whipping themselves into a frenzy.”

  10. Desirae says:

    The Chrissie Hynde situation was the ugliest thing possible. Do I think that she was in any way responsible for her rape? I do not. Does it make me a little bit sad that she thinks she is? Yes. But those are the full extent of the feelings I get to have on the subject, because it didn’t happen to me. And who knows – maybe her reaction is a way to feel strong and in control again, which can be very important for victims of assault. The policing of her words was just a way for people to punish her for being the ‘wrong’ kind of victim.

    I agree that there can be some hysteria around this subject, but I also think men could stand to be a whole lot more self-policing than they are. Like, why do more men not step in and say knock it off to men who are harassing women? I was in a cab once – took it home after a bar night like a good girl – and when we reached my apartment building a couple of guys pulled the door open and starting harassing me. They kept saying I should go party with them; I kept saying I didn’t know them and to go away. The cabbie (who was a great big hulk of a man) sat there and did absolutely nothing. I should have reported that driver to his cab company for being useless but it didn’t occur to me at the time. I eventually had to shove my way past them.

    My parents are from a small town and my Dad said one of his biggest culture shocks when he went to the city was the way men would harass women on the street because nobody did that back home. When I asked him why he said, “because later on her brother would’ve shown up on your doorstep and punched you in the mouth, that’s why.” Because other men made that kind of behavior unacceptable, it didn’t happen.

    • sheila says:

      Desirae – Thank you for your thoughts!!

      // Does it make me a little bit sad that she thinks she is? Yes. //

      I do understand your attitude, I really do. I don’t find it sad – because I think she was taking responsibility for her part in it, for being cavalier about her own safety, and almost scornful towards her younger self. “Yeah, those guys are really gonna look out for your safety, Chrissie. Good move.” She’s so TOUGH, I don’t think she COULD have fit herself into the pre-molded narrative.

      // The policing of her words was just a way for people to punish her for being the ‘wrong’ kind of victim. //

      Yes. And it’s a TERRIBLE precedent. If you supposedly care about rape victims, then you care about them REGARDLESS of what words they use to describe their rape.

      I am perfectly capable of reconciling the two in my mind: I should not have been on that subway platform at 2:30 in the morning. I would not have “deserved” to get raped. But I can criticize myself for a poor choice without self-loathing. And I also have the awareness that if, God forbid, I had been raped – and I had gone to the police – I would have had to face a barrage of questions about what I was wearing and why I was out by myself on that platform so late at night. And it would have been TOTALLY unfair. So maybe all of that doesn’t make sense to an uncomprehending person looking on – like: “But you SAID you shouldn’t have been on that platform – why is it different when someone ELSE says it?” Well, it just fucking IS, that’s all.

      Maybe because the way it’s talked about removes the victim’s sense of “agency.” And when you think you have no agency in your own life – well, then you really are a victim. How terrifying to think you have zero control. So women have to work out for themselves how to navigate that and explain that for themselves.

      I read Chrissie’s words and thought, “Yes, sister, yes. That’s how I have felt. I get that.” I didn’t even realize how MUCH I got that until she was bold enough to say it.

      I guess one of the things it’s really important to remember for all of us is that this is such a personal issue. If some guy harasses me on a subway, I don’t have PTSD flashbacks. Other women do. Nobody is wrong. A guy friend of mine was complaining to me that he felt inhibited now about striking up a conversation with a strange woman. I tried to let him know WHY people were basically saying, “Tread carefully” – but he still felt resentful about it. I talk to strange men all the time – and if a guy says to me, on the subway, “What are you reading?” – if the mood is right and he seems truly interested – I’ll tell him and then we end up having a huge conversation as the subway hurtles us to our destination. I don’t then dis-embark with him and go fuck him in an alley, of course – although, honestly, I wouldn’t discount it if the vibe was right – but I don’t treat every single man as a potential threat. (This has, yes, gotten me into trouble, but I am willing to take that risk.)

      So I was saying to him, “Honey, listen. If you strike up a conversation with a woman – and you don’t know it, but she’s been raped, or she has an abusive background – she is going to experience you as a threat. DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY. She is not obliged to be obliging to you.”

      I still don’t think he “got” it. (He’s a very good friend of mine, and not a jerk – but he was trying to figure out how to meet women in NYC – and I get it, it’s a struggle, especially if you’re not 25 years old.)

      I also said, “Dude, don’t you realize that women can’t afford to wait around to see whether or not you are going to assault us? Why don’t you GET that? There is no way for me to tell, on sight, a man who will rape me and a man who won’t, and so women HAVE to be cautious. Come ON.”

      If you ask me, “What are you reading?”, I will hear you say, “What are you reading?” If you ask another woman “What are you reading?” she might hear, “This is just an excuse to penetrate your boundaries.” She’ll think, “If I give him an inch, he’ll take a mile.” Nobody is WRONG – it’s just that sex is personal, and everyone has a personal story about it … we need to make SPACE for that in our culture.

      // I also think men could stand to be a whole lot more self-policing than they are. //

      I agree with this! There’s that series of commercials showing guys looking on as a woman is harassed, or too drunk, or whatever – and deciding to step in. (Unfortunately, the 20-something Tumblr feminists seemed to perceive this as “patriarchal.” Honestly, it seems like some of these feminists are so anti-male that they don’t want them circulating at all, they never want them to speak, they never want to even SEE them. Perhaps an all-female compound in the middle of the woods would be a better environment for these people.)

      But I liked those commercials because it looked at male complicity in these moments – and it’s hard for men to stand up to each other. Imagine the push-back. It’s intimidating. But it’s the right thing to do. And it WORKS, more often than not. Men are showing off for other men, a lot of times … and if other men say, “You’re being a bully, I’m not impressed …” Maybe it will back-fire, but maybe it will change the converstion, too, diffuse it.

      // When I asked him why he said, “because later on her brother would’ve shown up on your doorstep and punched you in the mouth, that’s why.” Because other men made that kind of behavior unacceptable, it didn’t happen. //

      That’s fascinating. And really true. My brother would go ape-shit on any guy who harassed his sisters. I always felt safe when I was out with him. He had my back.

  11. sheila says:

    Desirae –

    Randomly, yesterday someone linked to this disturbing/effective PSA on Twitter about the need for people to “step in” if they see something sketchy/cruel going on.

    • sheila says:

      It’s not the one I remember initially – the one I mentioned in my first comment to you – it appears to be a new one, but I think it’s even more chillingly effective.

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