Society and Culture, Education

Comet Camille Paglia comes to AU and talks gender

Image Credit: Michael Lionstar

Image Credit: Michael Lionstar

Last week I attended a debate at American University between dissident feminist Camille Paglia and AU gender scholar Jane Flax. The topic: “Gender Roles: Nature or Nurture?” Flax gave a polite and respectable defense of an exhausted idea: “gender is a social construction.” But Paglia stole the show. She deftly reminded the audience that Mother Nature tends to get the final word—and is not a feminist. I watched the faces of astonished and fascinated undergraduates as Paglia shattered the sacred icons of contemporary gender studies. By the end of the evening, even three sullen hipsters sitting next to me seemed to be won over.

Paglia, a professor of humanities, is that rare intellectual who knows and loves high culture but also appreciates rock stars, drag queens, and soap operas. She has written brilliantly on art history, poetry, film, as well as sex and pop culture. When London’s Victoria & Albert Museum launched its record-breaking show of David Bowie’s costumes (now touring the world), it of course asked Paglia to write the catalog essay on Bowie and gender. She describes herself as a pro-sex, pro-porn, pro-beauty feminist. She is also an openly gay woman who loves men and who deems women’s studies intellectually bankrupt. My favorite Pagliaism: “Leaving sex to feminists is like letting your dog vacation at the taxidermist.”

One critic referred to Paglia’s first book Sexual Personae as “a red comet in a smog-filled sky.” That is an equally good description of the author herself, and it was thrilling to catch a glimpse of her at American University last week.

Paglia’s complete opening remarks are attached below. Here are a few high points:

On women’s studies:

Women’s studies programs were rushed into existence in the 1970s partly because of national pressure to add more women to faculties that were often embarrassingly all-male.  Administrators diverting funds to these new programs were less concerned with maintaining scholarly rigor than with solving a prickly public relations problem.  Hence women’s studies was from the start flash-frozen at that early stage of ideology. . . . No deviation was permitted from the party line, which was that all gender differences are due to patriarchy, with its monolithic enslavement and abuse of women by men. . . .                                           

 On passive male academics:

Male academics, sensing which way the wind was blowing, were reluctant to challenge the new power structure and shrank back out of fear of being labeled sexist and retrograde.   History will not be kind to their timidity and cowardice.

Boys in school:

Our present system of primary and secondary education should be stringently reviewed for its confinement of boys to a prison-like setting that curtails their energy and requires ideological renunciation of male traits.  By the time young middleclass men emerge from college these days, they have been smoothed and ground down to obedient clones.  The elite universities have become police states where an army of deans, sub-deans and faculty committees monitor and sanction male undergraduate speech and behavior if it violates the establishment feminist code.  The now routine surveillance of students’ dating lives on American campuses would be unthinkable in Europe.  Campus gender theorists can merrily wave their anti-male flag, when every man within ten miles has fled underground.

The hazards of gender-neutralized men:

Extravaganzas of gender experimentation sometimes precede cultural collapse, as they certainly did in Weimar Germany.  Like late Rome, America too is an empire distracted by games and leisure pursuits.  Now as then, there are forces aligning outside the borders, scattered fanatical hordes where the cult of heroic masculinity still has tremendous force.  I close with this question:  is a nation whose elite education is increasingly predicated on the neutralization of gender prepared to defend itself against that growing challenge?

Full text of Paglia’s opening remarks here.

39 thoughts on “Comet Camille Paglia comes to AU and talks gender

    • An excellent address by CP. Reading some of the comments I am not sure individuals have read the full transcript and instead are choosing to base their arguments/thoughts on takeouts, shame. Back to reading I go.

  1. 100% nonsense. According to her own words:
    “Extravaganzas of gender experimentation sometimes precede cultural collapse, as they certainly did in Weimar Germany.”

    (I wouldn’t be so certain about Weimar Germany, but even if she’s right,) What follows from this is that nurture, not nature, had the last word, in that it succeeded in altering (or “collapsing”) a culture by changing gender behaviors. If nature were always the stronger side, it would be impossible to alter gender behaviours and “collapse a culture” through nurture-level interventions in this way.

    Way to go blowing up your entire argument by providing examples that contradict it directly, m(r)s. Paglia!

    • I’m not sure I see how that contradicts her argument; she says that “gender” is a function of nature and we ignore it or fight against it at our peril. She goes on to say that previous efforts to fight against nature have been harmful. Where’s the contradiction?

      • The contradiction is between that and this: “She deftly reminded the audience that Mother Nature tends to get the final word”. If nurture can “collapse a culture”, then nurture gets the final word, not nature.

        • Nurture is not the same for all people. There are always those who do not conform to cultural norms of the times but who choose to respect nature and to live according to it’s laws. They are not only the survivors but the victors. They are always the victors.

        • The point was that via collapse, nature had the final word.
          Your interpretation would consider suicide to be a winning argument since you get the last word.

          • That’s stupid, you’re just defining “collapse” as something that’s always due to nature regardless of its actual proximate causes which may differ from case to case and may sometimes be artificial (a.k.a. “nurture”).

    • I disagree. The debate is not that nature is necessarily the “stronger” side. The basic foundation of the argument stems from the need in our society to protect certain prejudices that we have learned from experience and providence; to leave such an infrastructure of our society to the passions and controls of modern movements, the one’s that move to alter those fundamental connections we have to our fellow humans, neglects that those humans who will direct such social movements operate within the constraints of nature. In other words, though these movements may precede a social collapse, the collapse is brought on by individuals thinking they can control our social conditions in a determined way; and it is nature who returns to send those haughty fools back towards the chaotic abyss from which we rose.

      • That says nothing about an absolute superiority of “natural” over “engineered” cultures, it just says a particular type of “engineered” culture tends to be particularly vulnerable to (especially physical) attacks by “natural” cultures (where males are more aggressive). I wouldn’t be too proud of a culture that’s only “superior” when it comes to violent conflict, nor so readily dismissive of the general idea of trying to engineer a better culture that can hopefully be less aggression-centered.

        • She does not say that she is proud of a culture that is violent, but rather that violent masculin cultures threaten a culture that gives up on masculinity. In no way is she glorifying the violent musculine cultures that are threatening our neutered society. There is a possibility of a more musculine culture without undue violence by the way. There is a possibility of a balance that allows us to be musculine without unnecessary violence, but when we need violence for self defense (and war is violence) we must be ready.

    • Well put. I also think that Ms. Paglia seems somewhat hypocritical. On the one hand, mother nature is not a feminist, etc. On the other hand, Ms. Paglia, who is female, chooses the life of a public intellectual– which is, historically, a masculine role.

    • She meant to say that exuberant gender experimentations are the symptom of a dying society. Whether it’s true or not is debatable, but it doesn’t contradict her previous arguments.

  2. ” The elite universities have become police states where an army of deans, sub-deans and faculty committees monitor and sanction male undergraduate speech and behavior if it violates the establishment feminist code.” It’s not just boys, but male faculty, too:

    WEISSBERG: Standing Up to the PC Bullies l January 27, 2011

    KISSEL: Roosevelt University Professor Fired after Telling Joke in Class l January 18, 2011

  3. Most males aren’t that influenced by the campus police state. Camile speaks as if the men come out of the colleges neutered. Of course, that’s rubbish.

    In the competitive real world, there isn’t much space for feminism, other than the costs it imposes on organizations with regard to legal compliance with laws based on it. Feminist regulations which aren’t in the category of crimes aren’t any different than the myriad of other regulations that Statism imposes upon the productive sectors. These costs are ultimately born by the consumers and reduce the standard of living in the society.

    The real feminists in society are male Academics, who have a loathing for males who succeed in the private sector, on the athletic fields, and so forth. Academia is a bullpen or merely a bench on the sidelines of the playing fields of life, where every now and then one is called up to be let into the game of life.

    In a free society, people are compensated by other humans, essentially consumers, according to how they are valued in satisfying their needs. and desires This is done through the apparatus of a marketplace that is not under dictatorial manipulation. Academics are basically resentful of the status in this spontaneous order, so thereby seek control through other means. They seek to regulate the consumers and dictate to them what their needs should be or regulate the producers who work to satisfy them. Of course, everyone plays both sides of the equation.

    It’s interesting that only women seem to be allowed to speak of gender, and especially women who aren’t sexually attracted to men. In some ways, doesn’t that make them just like men? Thus they compete with men for women. They have more in common with men than women.

    But the root of the problem are the male academics who have become women.

      • I’m sure you want your products from Amazon so stop shaming blue collar workers with your classicist B.S. Seriously who cares where they work. Their points should stand on their own.

  4. Our son pointed out to me that men have changed. We were visiting a suburban shopping center, and I commented about a man who crossed the street in front of us. I commented that I thought it was a guy, but it was hard to tell.
    Our son made the comment, “Mom, that’s a metrosexual, and that is how they look.” I remember in the 60′s when our dads complained about the young men’s long hair, but this has gone far beyond just long hair. Now make up, feminine clothing, and purses complete the metrosexual outfit.
    Our son saw it coming when he was at the university 10 years ago. Now it is in full flower, and it is not a pretty sight.

  5. Michelle Obama famously boasted in a speech to schoolgirls, that whenever she and Barrack have a dispute, he always apologizes first.
    Can you imagine Hillary saying this about Bill? Or Bill about Hillary? Or, for that matter, Barrack about Michelle?
    The fact there was no uproar among men– same as would have been among women, had he said it about her– indicates that American men have been beta-ized.

    • Don’t be the first to apologize in a marital dispute, or you will be something called a “beta,” which is bad because of reasons. Glad the internet is here to give me relationship advice.

  6. To be fair, this constitutes reasonably compelling proof that “sullen hipsters” are easily swayed by things (here, bursts of language) full of flash and absent substance.

  7. An interesting article, but the remarks on American masculinity are not accurate. “Our present system of primary and secondary education should be stringently reviewed for its confinement of boys to a prison-like setting that curtails their energy and requires ideological renunciation of male traits.” In fact, anyone who has actually observed boys in grade school and high school will see a system that produces legions of basketball and football players. Renunciation of male traits? –Not so much. Many of our guys get to college wanting to be either professional football players or prison guards. More focus on education and less focus on sports would help many of these students, especially since very few of them actually make it to be professional athletes.

    • When you have schools administering drugs to males at a rate three times the rate of what is reported in the normal population, and eight times relative to the female student population for the purpose of ‘helping them with their problems’, it would seem that there is a concerted effort to take the edge off male society.

      Closest thing to chemical castration we have going.

    • “a system that produces legions of basketball and football players” Yeah, in fact it’s a legion of players who have no fathers, another area where male traits are devalued. John, I don’t know where you live but we are in California, and Paglia is on the money here. The boys come out of school as giggling zombies glued to their smartphones…exactly like the girls…but even more unsure of themselves. Paglia touched a lot of nerves with her remarks but was basically right on everything. Oh, and her reference to Weimar Germany was actually in keeping (not contradictory) with the idea that “nature gets the last word” as the world watched the Nazis easily move the Weimar liberals out of the way.

      • I have family in California and have seen kids coming out of high school there. California produces a lot of male student-athletes.

    • That is not true. I work in a high school and it is true that teachers blindly rehash the same rhetoric that was fed them by the feminist movement. Sports is supposed to be played for good health, teenage boys have a lot of youthful energy, they enjoy it and it builds teamwork. If they dream of being famous, that is another topic, and the media and professional sports has a lot to do with fueling that desire. Actually, being on a professional sports team would be considered yin anyway, and not really masculine, because the player is wearing a uniform, subordinate, and using his body to make money.

  8. Thank you for writing about Camille Paglia’s debate at American University. She no longer gets the extravagant media attention that once surrounded her, but her brilliance, courage, and wit still cause me to be impressed and inspired. Having worked in the groves of academe, I know too well how the femminist agenda and political correctness have permeated and poisoned higher education in America.

    • Someone can be opposed to political correctness but also not for restoring traditional gender roles, which do not treat women as equal to men.

  9. It’s fascinating how willing people are to believe pretty much whatever you tell them about universities/history/etc. as long as it supports their preconceived notions.

  10. Whether you agree with her premise or not I have found her to be consistent in her views, and her writing is often fun but with a very sharp and focused point. Unlike many in the feminist movement she is willing to take on transgressions regardless of the perpetrator, something missing from the so-called feminist leadership.

    If feminists really care about women and girls around the world then why the deafening silence when our government helps bring to power The Muslim Brotherhood (Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Sudan), who wants to install strict Sharia law (placing women in a 3rd class existence at best). Answer? Because it is being done by Hillary Clinton and President Obama. So much for standing for your cause.

  11. WOW, well said. They will come after you with the long knives….. you have undercut the very discipline…. if you can call it that … of gender studies. I went to college in the early 70s and while I like many other women felt the bias… but nothing is served by inflicting on others the pain that has been inflicted on you. When I was accepted at one of the top university MBA programs in the mid 70s…. which I had busted ass to get into… I wondered for a time if I was an affirmative action admission and it was only after learning a male college classmate of mine with slightly lower grades was also admitted that I accepted that perhaps I had been accepted based on my efforts and was accepted to fill a slot. It is a terrible feeling to think that after all the hard work you are admitted because of your sex. We need to get back to a merit based system. We tend to complain about the conservatives being preoccupied by sex, for example the content of movies etc…. but when you focus in on gender to the virtual exclusion of all else you are as puritanical as others who blush at the mention of sex. So lets all just get over it.

  12. If gender is a social construct, and girls play with dolls and like pretty things because society made them feel that way and love such things, then femininity is socially imposed on the minds of girls.

    But if homo boys are born homo, and if homo boys NATURALLY feel feminine and that fact accounts for their love of dolls, dresses, and pretty things, then it means feminine traits are natural and inborn.

    PC tells us that femininity among girls is socially imposed, but effeminacy among homo boys is inborn.

    How is it that females are made to feel ‘female-ish’ by society, but homos are BORN with femaleness even though they are born with male bodies?

    • You’re confusing gender constructs with sexual attraction. “Female-ness” as we know it is largely a cultural construct. Sexual attraction is the result of a combination of genetic and environmental causes (no, it’s not 100% genetic). Not everyone who exhibits “female-ness” is necessarily sexually attracted to males, nor does everyone who is sexually attracted to males behave “effeminately”.

  13. Wow, Paglia going for the ‘male blogsphere’ and all that apologist tedium re: the repression of men “curtails their energy and requires ideological renunciation of male traits. By the time young middleclass men emerge from college these days, they have been smoothed and ground down to obedient clones.” Not even worth a comment.

    Worst was her Weimar misfire. A real bad attempt at connecting more ‘male repression’, dare I say in a very dangerous idea of lustmord (sex) crimes against women after WW1, as an excuse for “cultural collapse” ala “gender experimentation”. Nasty Paglia. When actually a economic/social collapse leads to minorities being used as a scapegoats. This would go back to your revered catholicism and/or male superstitious traits of looking for blame. Because of that Weimar was a perfect prelude to National Socialism. Paglia studied art, should be aware of the Nazi “Degenerate Weimar” art exhibitions etc.

    Anyways, she is looking for a beef. I hope someone steps up to the occasion.

  14. Feminized men and radicalized feminist women can’t hear what Paglia has to say. They play word games as if that disproves her main points. The propaganda against men and boys was something I observed coming out of high school (drafted into the army while my twin sister was not) and then in college in the 70′s, and in the work world and on the streets ever since. Many feminist tell men to study feminist works but when asked, they have not read any books by dissident feminist or by those who care equally about both genders and find many lies and myths in feminist “scholarship.”

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