Many, many years ago, I had the good fortune to meet the feminist academic Camille Paglia. I was making one of the many list shows I made back in the telly years – on Pop Princesses – and thought it might be a laugh to ask Professor Paglia what she thought of Britney Spears.
Bizarrely she said yes – I’m not even sure we paid her anything – and I remember interviewing her in a cramped room in a liberal arts college in Pennsylvania.
Intelligence shone like a beacon out of this fierce little woman, as it does out of the great Professor Greer, currently a bete noir for modern feminisms, after her comments about transgender people. I loved the way her she managed to be both incredibly knowledgeable and incredibly witty at the same time as she brought her wisdom to bear on Britney’s dance moves and love of school uniform.
Camille Paglia is no stranger to controversy and I was intrigued to come across this:
In this article she lays into 21st century feminism with brio – in particular the idea that there need to be ‘safe spaces’ on campus and that women somehow need to be protected from nasty words and nasty men.
In other words, if women are going to gain any ground, we need to be strong and not take on the role of victims, adopting as she rightly sees it, a Victorian fragility that neutralises any power we might have.
She also rightly points out that what women really need is support with childcare; either men need to accept that boring stuff like nappies and housework are their job too, or else childcare needs to be provided by the government or employers. The reality is that a combination is needed – or women should be supported as stay at home parents. The key word in all of this is ‘support’. Feminists in the 1970s realised this – check out, for example, the writing of Selma James.
I was delighted to read this as I have become increasingly alienated from both the style and substance of modern feminism. I don’t really think you could get anyone more feminist than me – I work full time and look after children, am assertive and politically engaged. I believe that such a thing as structural inequality exists – because women have children. Before I had children I saw feminism as pointless and believed that the battles had been won. Obviously that is absolutely not the case. I am teaching my boys to respect women’s work in all its forms – both outside and inside the home. I explain to them that as adults that they need to be able to look after themselves and share things like cooking, cleaning and earning with a partner.
All very obvious stuff, but I think that it is these very practical things that hold women back. Not any innate lack of intelligence or incompetence, but the fact that we have to do a double shift – work and clean up after people. We also do a lot of emotional labour – Christmas being one of those times of year when this is especially true. That is why so many women work part time when they have families, or choose jobs that fit round school holidays – I speak from experience as I did exactly this.
I loved the fact that Camille Paglia understands this. I love her pragmatism and the fact that she understands women’s strength. She rightly pooh poohs a feminism that obsesses over language and doesn’t get down to the nitty gritty of who changes the nappies and washes the sheets. She rightly understands that banning people who disagree with you from campuses – our old friend Milo Yiannopolous is frequently banned from campuses – only fuels your haters. Would Roosh V or half the online trolls who scream abuse at women have nearly as much power if women LAUGHED at them? And women’s laughter is a very, very powerful weapon….
Obviously it is more complex than that, but I applaud Professor Paglia for such a bold and ballsy (not quite sure what the female equivalent is..) piece of writing. She also points out a latent Puritanism in modern feminism and a fundamental problem with heterosexual sex. Which is probably typified by this:
As someone who sexually came of age in the late 20th century, the idea that you could somehow see a man wanting to give you sexual pleasure as oppressive is quite laughable. Does it really matter why? If it makes you cum (and they enjoy it) great! Obviously there are men who use sex to manipulate women, just as there are women who use sex to manipulate men and people who use money or guilt or violence to manipulate people – the list is endless. I hope Professor Paglia has read this piece because I know if she did, she would be pissing herself laughing. I know my initial reponse was to ridicule, until I took a step back and thought about how damaging this could be to a very young person, whose sense of self and knowledge of the world was limited. Reading this article would make you fearful and timid and surely that is not what women need to be if they are to succeed in a competitive and problematic world.
I basically reject any ideology that is based on fear and also one that creates unnecessary division. I believe in self acceptance and integration and above all in solidarity. To get anything done – in particular to achieve positive change – you have to work with all sorts of people. And you also have to get over yourself…often the hardest bit of all.