Camille Paglia on Rob Ford, Rihanna and rape culture

Toronto is 'being absorbed in the psychodrama of an adolescent personality'

Camille Paglia was in Toronto this week for the Munk Debate (Be it Resolved: Men are Obsolete). The dissident feminist championed the reign of man alongside British journalist Caitlin Moran.

Opponents Hanna Rosin and Maureen Dowd didn’t laud the obsolescence of men, or lord it over anyone, they merely acknowledged it. (Rosin cited stats from her bestseller The End of Men and made the very astute observation that men–à la Anthony Weiner–are now as meticulous about personal body hair upkeep as women.)

Everyone was thoughtful and hilarious but it was obvious they didn’t really disagree. Each woman seemed to affirm Rosin’s thesis that a changing economy is leaving working-class men behind. Each woman tried to work a nuanced argument into the framework of a sensational, facetious debate topic. I had a feeling the same might be so when I sat down with Paglia. The Glittering Images author and long-time university professor had nothing particularly damning to say about her opponents’ perspective, though she did have something to say about Rob Ford.

Do you agree with Hanna Rosin’s thesis in The End of Men, that women are now the dominating sex?

A: She’s absolutely right about this transition from the old manufacturing economy to a white-collar economy [and the negative consequences this has on men], but I think her book is a bit unfair to working-class men. I listen to a lot of sports radio—the only place in the world where you can hear working- class voices—and I feel there’s a disconnect in the way I understand working-class men and the way they’re portrayed in The End of Men and Susan Faludi’s Stiffed. My grandfather worked in a shoe factory—he was an Italian immigrant. My father was the first to go to college in the family. There’s a directness and a robustness about working-class men–a vitality and authenticity that is not coming across in these feminist books. The more women succeed and rise up into positions of power, the more remote they become from actual masculine energy. I’m concerned as a college teacher about the romantic and sexual futures of highly successful career women.


A: Women are being told “you are future leaders.” Meanwhile, we are more than our jobs. One reason Sex and the City was such an enormous hit is that it expressed something that feminism won’t admit: we don’t know what we want. We don’t know if we want children or not. My generation produced the sexual revolution and your generation is stuck figuring out how it’s going to work. I want young women when they’re 14 to start thinking about what they want over the course of their lives. I think it’s criminal—child abuse—that they’re not told to do this [in school]. Right now it’s just sex education and putting condoms on bananas. Girls should be asked to think about what they want in their lives when they’re 50, 60 and 70.What’s been imposed on women is a male model of professional study and achievement.

What’s the solution?

A: If colleges and universities are really concerned about women’s rights, then they must adjust to a far more flexible structure to allow young women students to take leaves of absence if they want to have children early. Schools should say, “you can be married and have children. We’ll have daycare centres for you. You can take 10 years to finish your degree—husbands, too.” The presence of married women and men in the classroom would revolutionize gender studies. It would bring reality into the classroom.

What are your thoughts on the phenomenon of “rape culture” as it’s reported in the media and talked about on college campuses today?

A: It’s ridiculous.  The one place we should be worried about is India. Why American feminists haven’t mobilized against gang rapes in India is an absolute outrage. This obsession with rape [in North America] is neurotic. There are attacks on men also. This privileging of the female victim is a distortion. To see the world in terms of rape is absurd. Throughout history there have been atrocities of every kind. Throughout history honourable men don’t rape.

Can we teach men not to rape, as some argue?

A: You can try to teach people to make ethical judgments. Telling a rapist not to rape? [Laughs] A liberal ideology is out there that people are basically good. It’s a bourgeois version of reality—this idea that the whole world should be like a bourgeois living room and anyone who doesn’t belong, you can retrain. No you can’t! I was raised in the Italian working-class way, which is “watch out!” The world is a dangerous place. It’s up to you to protect yourself, not just from rape, but from anything. The lack of imagination for criminality amazes me. There are people who are evil. The problem here is the inability of women to project themselves into the minds of men. Feminists say [proper, mocking tone] “women have the right to do whatever they want.” Of course we have the right to do whatever we want–to be jogging with earphones on with our breasts going like this [simulates breasts bouncing]. Yes you have the right to but it’s also stupid! I see with the eyes of the criminal. I must have a criminal mind.

Are there any worthwhile voices in feminism today?

A: Feminism is dead. The movement is absolutely dead. The women’s movement tried to suppress dissident voices for way too long. There’s no room for dissent. It’s just like Mean Girls. If they had listened to me they could have gotten the ship steered in the right direction. My wing of feminism—the pro-sex wing—was silenced. I was practically lynched for endorsing The Rolling Stones. Susan Faludi is still saying I’m not a feminist. Who made her pope? Feminist ideology is like a new religion for a lot of neurotic women. You can’t talk to them about anything.

Have you seen that new lesbian movie, Blue is the Warmest Color?

A: No I haven’t. But I adored Desert Hearts—starring one of your fine Canadian actresses. I think that all movies made by lesbians for lesbians have been really dreary with no sense of style. Lesbians are boring. It was a lot more interesting when lesbianism was evil and perverse. Now everything is so accepting and all the heat has gone out. It’s all about Ellen Degeneres and Portia De Rossi. It’s banal.

What do you think the best show on television right now?

A: Real Housewives! My favourite is Housewives of Orange County, but I watch all of them [every series within the franchise]. It’s the only thing I watch on TV besides Turner Classic Movies. I feel Real Housewives captures in a very intensified degree, the way women are with each other. Never before has the camera captured this so accurately.

Beyonce or Rihanna?

A: Rihanna! I am everywhere about Rihanna. I am an enormous Rihanna fan. La Republica contacted me and they wanted me to write a story on Angelina Jolie and I said “I love her but she hasn’t done anything for years. How about Rihanna?” So I’ve written this whole thing about Rihanna and it’s about to come out. I adore her. She is so sexy. And she’s obviously bisexual. I think she’s involved with Melissa Forde. They’re always holding hands. I think Pour it up is truly artistic. I played it in my class. It’s a true work of art. Lady Gaga doesn’t even know what art is compared to Rihanna.

Any thoughts on Toronto Mayor Rob Ford?

A:  Once you have become the centre of a conflict in a complex governmental enterprise you have the obligation to resign. Why are all the energies of one of the world’s great cities being absorbed in the psychodrama of an adolescent personality? I think an honourable man would resign. It’s like a reality show. I think it’s terrible for the city of Toronto and Canada. I’ve heard some anti-Canadian things [in the States], some mocking things about Canada. I don’t think people are saying, ‘oh what a wonderful rollicking place! What a fun place!’ There’s a sense of ‘how is this happening in a major city’? It seems like chaos, like a reductive lowering. It’s very debasing.

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