It’s always a joy to engage with the mind of Camille Paglia. At times, her theories diverge from my own. And yet, Paglia comes by her views honestly, and does not kowtow to ideologues. Thus, while there are few points where I agree with today’s aspiring Brown Shirts or Red Guards, I have no problem finding common ground with Paglia.
For example, about Hillary Clinton. I have occasionally remarked about this grotesque irony: this self-proclaimed champion of women’s rights worked long and hard to enable her husband’s preying on women.
Naturally, the media is all abuzz about whatever happened between the Trumps two and a half decades ago, but they have completely forgotten that Juanita Broaddrick went on NBC television for an hour to explain that Bill Clinton raped her. No one cared then and nearly no one cares now.
About Bill Clinton and feminism, Paglia says this:
The horrible truth is that the feminist establishment in the U.S., led by Gloria Steinem, did in fact apply a double standard to Bill Clinton’s behavior because he was a Democrat. The Democratic president and administration supported abortion rights, and therefore it didn’t matter what his personal behavior was.
And then there was Bill Clinton’s treatment of Monica Lewinsky, fully supported by the feminist establishment:
And the actual facts of the matter are that Bill Clinton was a serial abuser of working-class women–he had exploited that power differential even in Arkansas. And then in the case of Monica Lewinsky–I mean, the failure on the part of Gloria Steinem and company to protect her was an absolute disgrace in feminist history! What bigger power differential could there be than between the president of the United States and this poor innocent girl? Not only an intern but clearly a girl who had a kind of pleading, open look to her–somebody who was looking for a father figure.
America is at once completely open and honest about sexuality and on the other hand, utterly naïve about it. The nation embraces the amateurish decadence portrayed in Fifty Shades of Grey as risqué, but has not even noticed that Bill Clinton, Paglia correctly points out, did not even treat Monica Lewinsky with the respect one accords to a proper mistress. He used her and threw her away:
It was frat house stuff! And Monica got nothing out of it. Bill Clinton used her. Hillary was away or inattentive, and he used Monica in the White House–and in the suite of the Oval Office, of all places. He couldn’t have taken her on some fancy trip? She never got the perks of being a mistress; she was there solely to service him. And her life was completely destroyed by the publicity that followed. The Clinton’s are responsible for the destruction of Monica Lewinsky! They probably hoped that she would just go on and have a job, get married, have children, and disappear, but instead she’s like this walking ghoul.
By Paglia’s analysis feminism has lost its bearings. It no longer defends women. It has sacrificed women’s lives on the altar of its ideology.
Paglia believes that the problem lies in our generalized ignorance, especially of psychology. Here, dare I say, our views diverge. Paglia is more Freudian than I so she suggests that bad behavior has infantile antecedents. She wants to explain it as a function of bad upbringing. No one is going to deny that childhood development exercises an influence on people. One is going to question whether any insight into such development will have any effect whatever on the behavior.
For now, we will allow her to present her view:
We’re in a period right now where nobody asks any questions about psychology. No one has any feeling for human motivation. No one talks about sexuality in terms of emotional needs and symbolism and the legacy of childhood. Sexuality has been politicized–“Don’t ask any questions!” “No discussion!” “Gay is exactly equivalent to straight!” And thus in this period of psychological blindness or inertness, our art has become dull. There’s nothing interesting being written–in fiction or plays or movies. Everything is boring because of our failure to ask psychological questions.
For my part I believe that the fault lies with ideological tyrannies that do not allow anyone to deviate from the party line. In truth, we blind ourselves to reality and refuse to allow it to intrude on our beliefs.
Trying to explain Clinton and Cosby, Paglia offers the kind of psychological explanation that has often been used to rationalize their behavior. You see, these men are not responsible for their actions; their mothers made them do it.
It has something to do with their early sense of being smothered by female power–and this pathetic, abusive and criminal behavior is the result of their sense of inadequacy.
And she adds:
We are formed by all kinds of strange or vague memories from childhood. That kind of understanding is needed to see that Cosby was involved in a symbiotic, push-pull thing with his wife, where he went out and did these awful things to assert his own independence. But for that, he required the women to be inert. He needed them to be dead! Cosby is actually a necrophiliac–a style that was popular in the late Victorian period in the nineteenth-century.
I don’t know that we need any special psychological explanations for this, but I do find it astute to note that Cosby’s rapes resemble necrophilia. Whether or not this was caused by a smothering mother, I am fully confident that if Cosby had acquired this insight it would have had no effect on his behavior.
Paglia uses the same psychological explanation for Bill Clinton:
And it’s the same thing with Bill Clinton: to find the answer, you have to look at his relationship to his flamboyant mother. He felt smothered by her in some way. But let’s be clear–I’m not trying to blame the mother! What I’m saying is that male sexuality is extremely complicated, and the formation of male identity is very tentative and sensitive–but feminist rhetoric doesn’t allow for it. This is why women are having so much trouble dealing with men in the feminist era. They don’t understand men, and they demonize men. They accord to men far more power than men actually have in sex. Women control the sexual world in ways that most feminists simply don’t understand.
Paglia makes an important point here. Beyond the fact that she is blaming mothers, she is correct to say that feminism has failed to understand sexual dynamics. It has refused to see that when it comes to romance women have home field advantage. Feminism sees men as predators (unless they are named Bill Clinton) and women as victims. Thus, it does not allow women to take charge of their romantic lives and to exercise a form of power that they have always had.
But, feminism has reduced the importance and the relevance of motherhood, thus disempowering women in another way. It has placed too much emphasis on not conceiving children. It has suggested that motherhood is a conspiracy designed to keep women out of the workplace and to prevent them from finding the fulfillment that they can only gain by living as though they were men.
So feminism has reduced the cultural importance of motherhood:
The erasure of motherhood from feminist rhetoric has led us to this current politicization of sex talk, which doesn’t allow women to recognize their immense power vis-à-vis men. When motherhood was more at the center of culture, you had mothers who understood the fragility of boys and the boy’s need for nurturance and for confidence to overcome his weaknesses.
And this problem has had an interesting impact on relationships between men and women. Young women who have become convinced that they are just as manly as their men want their men to be just as womanly as they are. They do not understand that the sexes are different and they expect to communicate with their husbands the same way they communicate with their girlfriends.
In Paglia’s words:
The heterosexual professional woman, emerging with her shiny Ivy League degree, wants to communicate with her husband exactly the way she communicates with her friends–as in “Sex and the City.” That show really caught the animated way that women actually talk with each other. But that’s not a style that straight men can do! Gay men can do it, sure–but not straight men! Guess what–women are different than men! When will feminism wake up to this basic reality? Women relate differently to each other than they do to men. And straight men do not have the same communication skills or values as women–their brains are different!
Wherever I go to speak, whether it’s Brazil or Italy or Norway, I find that upper-middle-class professional women are very unhappy. This is a global problem! And it’s coming from the fact that women are expecting men to provide them with the same kind of emotional and conversational support and intimacy that they get from their women friends. And when they don’t get it, they’re full of resentment and bitterness. It’s tragic!
Finally, Paglia has a few choice words for Emma Sulkowicz, aka the mattress girl. You recall that Sulkowicz was so convinced that she had been raped and that her rapist was getting away with it that she spent a semester carrying a mattress around campus, up to and including carrying it to the podium when she received her degree.
One must add here, because one has mentioned it before, that Sulkowicz is the daughter of psychoanalysts, of people who presumably are fully cognizant of the Freudian narrative that pretends to explain human behavior:
I call it “mattress feminism.” Perpetually lugging around your bad memories–never evolving or moving on! It’s like a parody of the worst aspects of that kind of grievance-oriented feminism. I called my feminism “Amazon feminism” or “street-smart feminism,” where you remain vigilant, learn how to defend yourself, and take responsibility for the choices you make. If something bad happens, you learn from it. You become stronger and move on. But hauling a mattress around on campus? Columbia, one of the great Ivy League schools with a tremendous history of scholarship, utterly disgraced itself in how it handled that case. It enabled this protracted masochistic exercise where a young woman trapped herself in her own bad memories and publicly labeled herself as a victim, which will now be her identity forever.
Paglia’s points are well taken. As I have often mentioned, victims of trauma should not advertise their victimhood. They should try to put the experience behind them, to get beyond it, to overcome its toxic effects. By letting herself be identified as the mattress girl, Sulkowicz has, as Paglia notes, identified herself in public as the victim. It will now be her identity forever.
Worse yet, as I noted on the blog, she made a pornographic video of the event in question… one in which she played herself. Perhaps she wanted to martyr herself for the cause du jour, but Paglia is more correct and compassionate to worry about the after-effects of this effort at public self-redefinition.