I’ve never read much by or about Camille Paglia before. But then I read this interview in the Wall Street Journal, and my head totally exploded.
But no subject gets her going more than when I ask if she really sees a connection between society’s attempts to paper over the biological distinction between men and women and the collapse of Western civilization.
She starts by pointing to the diminished status of military service. “The entire elite class now, in finance, in politics and so on, none of them have military service—hardly anyone, there are a few. But there is no prestige attached to it anymore. That is a recipe for disaster,” she says. “These people don’t think in military ways, so there’s this illusion out there that people are basically nice, people are basically kind, if we’re just nice and benevolent to everyone they’ll be nice too. They literally don’t have any sense of evil or criminality.”
The results, she says, can be seen in everything from the dysfunction in Washington (where politicians “lack practical skills of analysis and construction”) to what women wear. “So many women don’t realize how vulnerable they are by what they’re doing on the street,” she says, referring to women who wear sexy clothes.
When she has made this point in the past, Ms. Paglia—who dresses in androgynous jackets and slacks—has been told that she believes “women are at fault for their own victimization.” Nonsense, she says. “I believe that every person, male and female, needs to be in a protective mode at all times of alertness to potential danger. The world is full of potential attacks, potential disasters.” She calls it “street-smart feminism.”
Ms. Paglia argues that the softening of modern American society begins as early as kindergarten. “Primary-school education is a crock, basically. It’s oppressive to anyone with physical energy, especially guys,” she says, pointing to the most obvious example: the way many schools have cut recess. “They’re making a toxic environment for boys. Primary education does everything in its power to turn boys into neuters.”
I love this article. I love what she says about everything, basically, and the way she defends men without slamming women. I’m particularly taken with this line from her book Sexual Personae: “If civilization had been left in female hands, we would still be living in grass huts.”
I don’t think that’s the insult that it seems to be at first glance. If you think about the history of civilization, for centuries women in their childbearing years were wholly occupied with, you know, bearing children. We can wring our hands and whine about the injustice of it all (which I do on a regular basis, just so we’re clear), but biology is biology and having kids is exhausting, all-consuming work. It’s not that women aren’t capable of building grand civilizations…my theory is that they’re just too damn tired. There are phenomenal female artists and scientists and doctors, but I think we needed men to build a world in which there could be.
I’m not sure if that’s what Paglia is saying or not; I’ll have to read the whole book. I do know, though, that all this childbearing and raising is really exhausting work, and while there are a thousand things I’d like to do, I’m way too tired to do most of them right now. I only have time to write because my husband understands how important writing is to me and believes it’s a gift that shouldn’t be shelved until the kids are grown. He encourages me to leave the dishes for him and write in the evenings. He makes sure I have a working laptop and leaves open articles (like this one on Paglia!) that he thinks might interest me. He makes my writing a priority for our family. If he didn’t, I wouldn’t write.
The Ogre and I really work well together. It’s kind of a surprise to me, because I spent the beginning of our marriage engaged in a bitter power struggle against him. It was mostly one-sided and I’m pretty sure he was totally confused about the ways it played out. Like when I would refuse to get him a glass of water when I was getting myself one. (Patriarchal oppression, that’s why! He has his own legs, dammit!) Also, it was stupid. He’s actually the one in our relationship who is more willing to make sacrifices so I can write.
It’s just stupid, this battle of the sexes. And it’s even stupider that it has now devolved into an insistence that there is no difference between the sexes. I mean, come on. You know we’re really standing amidst the rubble of Western Civilization when our greatest thinkers are trying to insist that men and women are pretty much the same.