Wherein I disrupt Camille Paglia’s column with lesbo stunts

Camille Paglia has always been a little batty — after all, she’s a self-identified feminist who has made her entire career out of raging against the feminist movement and generally promoting the subjugation of women. But her latest column in Salon is just… confusing. I know she’s always a bit disjointed and ranty and inconsistent — and perhaps more than anything, unbelievably narcissistic — but large sections of this just don’t make any sense.

So ok, maybe it’s not so different from her other columns after all. Still worth a mention, though, if only because my face just aged 10 years from reading it (I have a bad habit of furrowing my eyebrows when I’m trying to get through inane material). She starts off by going after Hillary Clinton, who she predictably says isn’t as good of a politician as everyone thinks, because she’s cold and aggressive and not as “warm” as Nancy Pelosi; and then she laments, “Why don’t we have a stronger Democratic female candidate?” Paglia thinks that “Dianne Feinstein, not Hillary Clinton, has already created the paradigm for a female commander in chief.” Because we can only have one!

After commenting on the handbags of Clinton’s campaign staffers, Paglia makes a quick slide into bizarre egomania. We learn that people worried about global warming are idiots who clearly don’t remember, I shit you not, Hurricane Camille in 1969. Because devastating hurricanes existed before Katrina, there is no global warming. We also learn the important tidbit that Paglia was traveling through Europe as a grad student when Camille hit. Because even global warming is pretty much about her.

Then she starts writing about Norman Mailer, which you know is going to be trouble:

Mailer’s “The Prisoner of Sex” (the original 1971 Harper’s essay, not the book) was an important statement about men’s sexual fears and desires. His jousting with Germaine Greer at the notorious Town Hall debate in New York that same year was a pivotal moment in the sex wars. I loved Greer and still do. And I also thought Jill Johnston (who disrupted the debate with lesbo stunts) was a cutting-edge thinker: I was devouring her Village Voice columns, which had evolved from dance reportage into provocative cultural commentary.

I excerpt that paragraph solely so we can all have a good laugh at the term “lesbo stunts,” and wonder what sort of stuntery is performed by lesbo stunt-women. (Extreme softball? Parachute-free muff-diving?)

Then it’s back to Camille:

Feminism would have been far stronger had it been able to absorb Mailer’s arguments about sex. If my own system seemed heterodox for so long, it’s because I appear to have been one of the few feminists who could appreciate and integrate all three thinkers — Mailer, Greer and Johnston. I’m sorry that Mailer, presumably cowed or pussy-whipped, abandoned the gender field. It would take Madonna, thanks to her influence on a generation of dissident young women, to bring authentically Dionysian ’60s feminism back from the dead. That pro-sex wing of feminism (to which I belong) has of course resoundingly triumphed, to the hissy consternation of the Puritans and the iconoclasts –those maleducated wordsmiths who don’t know how to respond to or “read” erotic imagery.

I’d rather not take feminist sex tips from a famously misogynist guy who got off on sexual violence, stabbed one of his many ex-wives, and had things like this to say:

I think when a woman goes through an abortion, even legalized abortion, she goes through hell. There’s no use hoping otherwise. For what is she doing? Sometimes she has to be saying to herself, “You’re killing the memory of a beautiful fuck.” I don’t think abortion is a great strain when the act was some miserable little screech, or some squeak oozed up through the trapdoor, a little rat which got in, a worm who slithered under the threshold. That sort of abortion costs a woman little more than discomfort. Unless there are medical consequences years later.

But if a woman has a great fuck, and then has to abort, it embitters her.

Call me crazy, but that doesn’t sound like the sex-positive feminism I know, and Normal Mailer is not a healthy sexual role model.

Then there’s more Camille:

Speaking of Madonna, one of the lousiest things Mailer ever wrote was his flimsy cover-story screed on her for Esquire in 1994. It was obvious Mailer knew absolutely nothing about Madonna and was just blowing smoke. I wonder if it’s this debacle that Woody Hochswender, who had worked at Esquire, is describing in a startling letter following Roger Kimball’s scathing Mailer critique, which is posted on that indispensable site, Arts & Letters Daily. Guess what — Esquire’s original proposal was for me to interview Madonna. Mailer was the sub!

When Madonna doesn’t want to meet with her, Camille “attributed Madonna’s skittishness at the time to her uncertainties about her education (she had dropped out of college after one semester to seek fame in New York).” Then somehow we get to Ellen, Natalie Wood (“Like Elizabeth Taylor, she was a child star who gracefully and seamlessly matured”), and a satirical play based on one of Camille’s books, which she seems to have brought up only to emphasize that it’s based on her work, and “I’m a character in it — a know-it-all psychotherapist sent as a deus ex machina by Hitchcock to straighten out Bodega Bay.”

And I’m feeling disoriented, and as if I can’t read anything else tonight without thinking, “But what does this have to do with Camille?”


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About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
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48 Responses to Wherein I disrupt Camille Paglia’s column with lesbo stunts

  1. brandann says:

    *still scratching my head*

    it’s like she just blathers on and on…but what is the point? my brain hurts…

  2. preying mantis says:

    “Sometimes she has to be saying to herself, “You’re killing the memory of a beautiful fuck.””

    Wow.

  3. The14thOpossum says:

    after reading that, my brain hurts

  4. Magis says:

    Ya know, when I see a big red button with a sign that says “Don’t push this button…” Well, I just gotta.

    So I read Camille’s article and now I feel like a well used ping pong ball. I shoulda just read Jill’s explanation and let it go at that. But nooooo…..

    In the future I promise to read no more Camille and avoid the near occassions of Camille. Amen.

  5. kali says:

    Just on what you’ve quoted, Mailer sounds crazier than Paglia. But both of them sound like they should be ranting at the wind on street corners, rather than being people whose names are taking up real estate in my head that would surely, in a rational universe, be occupied by writers with something worthwhile to say.

  6. livvysidhe says:

    I was having a bit of an existential crisis before I read this post. I skimmed Paglia on Salon, and the void grew darker. Fortunately, Jill revived my sense of purpose and meaning.

    …and wonder what sort of stuntery is performed by lesbo stunt-women. (Extreme softball? Parachute-free muff-diving?)

    I want a “Parachute-Free Muff Diving Team” t-shirt. Actually, forget about that. I want the parachute, too! That’s a REAL lesbo stunt.

    I wish it surprised me that Paglia would champion Mailer, but it doesn’t.

  7. zuzu says:

    Madonna probably avoided Paglia because Paglia was acting all stalkerish about Madonna.

  8. Hugo says:

    But if a woman has a great fuck, and then has to abort, it embitters her.

    There are no words. Oh Christ on a pogo stick, there are words:

    Inane, insensitive, and whatever is three degrees up from narcissistic and mired in excrement. The sheer effort to sound edgy and cool and insightful and oh-so-daring is painful. Camille, give it a rest. Please. A long, Oxycontin and vodka rest.

    As for lesbo stunts, I’m envisioning overall-clad acrobats, swinging on trapezes, throwing howling cats through the air.

  9. Thene says:

    When Madonna doesn’t want to meet with her, Camille “attributed Madonna’s skittishness at the time to her uncertainties about her education (she had dropped out of college after one semester to seek fame in New York

    Someone has class anxiety, and I don’t think it’s Madonna…

  10. anna says:

    All I need to know about Camille is that she said “If civilization had been left in female hands, we would still be living in grass huts,” and she wasn’t kidding. And people still call her a feminist.

  11. Would that I were still eligible to join some Parachute-Free Muff-Diving League. Thanks for the laugh!

    And re: Mailer, oddly enough I had just begun reading the memoir (ordered from Amazon the previous week) by his ex-wife Adele (the one he stabbed) the same day I learned he’d finally keeled over. I’d always meant to read Norman Mailer’s stuff, I just didn’t want to do it until I’d read her book first. And also, re-read Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics which was, I’m pretty sure, the first major feminist critique of Mailer’s work… (Mailer wrote The Prisoner of Sex largely in response to same) though it perhaps was not as entertaining as these “lesbo stunts” by Jill Johnston.

    And Paglia? I tried for years to summon enough interest in Sexual Personae, without luck. Maybe it would be good bathroom material?

  12. Orodemniades says:

    I thought Camille was a lesbian?

    And if she is, she should totally be kicked out of that club. Actually, I’d like to kick her out of the human genome club entirely, but I don’t think it’s possible.

  13. Mnemosyne says:

    Paglia thinks that “Dianne Feinstein, not Hillary Clinton, has already created the paradigm for a female commander in chief.”

    As someone who has lived in California for almost 20 years of my adult life and has seen much of Dianne Feinstein, I can only say … are you fucking kidding me? Feinstein, who’s never seen a boot she wouldn’t lick or a Republican she wouldn’t bend over for?

    I don’t like Hillary, but give me her as the CoC any day over Feinstein. At least I’d have some confidence that Hillary had made her own decision.

  14. Jeff Fecke says:

    That pro-sex wing of feminism (to which I belong)

    Ha! Oh, Camille Paglia, your hilarious, self-deprecating japes never get old!

    I mean, she was obviously joking about being sex-positive, right?

  15. rootlesscosmo says:

    Glad to see Victoria Marinelli citing Millett’s Sexual Politics which subjected Mailer, Henry Miller, and D.H. Lawrence (among others) to strong feminist criticism. Millett’s book deserves to be better known–if it were, maybe Nawmin wouldn’t have got a NY Times front page obit that ran over to two full pages inside, a sidebar of quotes etc.

  16. Red Queen says:

    I think Paglia is confusing “pro sex” with rape apologist.

    I tried to read Mailer once. It was a short story that started out describing a blonde with nipples that pointed east and west. I couldn’t get through it, the misogyny- it burned. I’ve avoided him like the plague ever since (I think I was 17 when I read that so 16 plus years of studious avoidance).

  17. micheyd says:

    Oh damn, Red Queen, you beat me to it. Pro-sex my arse…

    I also have no idea why Paglia is taken seriously either. Maybe it’s a combination of “ooh, i’m sooo controversial!” and populist anti-feminism with the thin veneer of intellectualism, but I just groan every time I hear she’s written something new.

  18. RodeoBob says:

    Yep, it’s classic Camille crap…

    Shameless name-dropping? Yup.

    Self-promotion, including at least one reference to “Sexual Personae”? Yup, plus a plug for one of her other books!

    Making claims to be liberal and/or a feminist? Yup.
    Bashing liberals and/or feminists? Yup.

    Advocating/plugging for Fox News/Rush Limbaugh/other conservative meida figures? Well, I suppose the name-dropping of the Drudge Report fits…

    Being critical of liberal politicians/political issues, but ignoring the conservative counter-point? Yup.

    To listen to her, you’d never know there were Republicans running for president too. California wildfires? Just an excuse to rail against leftists who talked about global warming. Sure, Fox News ran a story suggesting arab terrorists were behind the wildfires, but that’s not nearly as interesting as talking about hurricanes 40 or 60 years ago.

    Ten years ago, this kind of cruddy writing was ‘edgy’. Now I believe the proper internet response is “GYOFB”

  19. alsojill says:

    Note to self: do not read Camille Paglia.

    You know what really turns me off in all of this? Her praise of Germaine Greer. I still haven’t forgiven Greer for the utter crapitudinousness that is her scholarship in Slip-Shod Sibyls, and any mention of her just sends me to that dark place where I want to beat people about the head with their own massive, poorly-researched tomes.

    (Why, yes, Mailer IS on that list. It’s just a question of whether I not I could lift a book made of his collected works high enough to effectively drop it on him. Which is less fun to imagine now that he’s dead.)

  20. Gayle says:

    She’s still obsessing on Madonna? After all these years?

    I don’t blame Madonna for avoiding her. . .creepy!

    I think she calls herself a feminist to set herself up as a contrarian. She’s sooo not a feminist, it’s almost funny.

  21. MizDarwin says:

    Camille Paglia died in 1998. Anything currently published under her name is the work of a secret cabal of Lacanian psychoanalysts, computer programmers, and MRAs trying to create a text-generation program that can pass the Turing test. They are particularly keen to do so because they consistently fail said test in real life; i.e., they are unable to convince other people that they are human.

  22. Cara says:

    I know that I should be asking what the fuck is wrong with Camile Paglia, but really, what the fuck is (was) wrong with Normal Mailer?

  23. Cecily says:

    She’s so dreadful she can run a thinking person from “Who’s that?” to “I hate her so much” in one fifteen-sentence video clip. Really, my partner and I saw her in a documentary.

    Documentary: Paglia appears.
    Cecily: Shit, I hate CP so much.
    Partner: Who’s that?
    Paglia: raves for two sentences about how men rape civilization into being, more or less.
    Partner: Shit, I hate CP so much.

    Q.E.D.

  24. Tobes says:

    Parachute-free muff-diving

    Milk just squirted out of my nose. Seriously.

  25. Natalia says:

    The really sad thing about Camille is that I believe (I am a person of faith) that she’s a perfectly sane and even intelligent individual. But, like helpless kittens in a sack, the sanity and intelligence are drowned by her narcissism and bizarre insistence on arguing any old point as long as it might seem dimly “controversial.”

  26. Lizzie (greeneyed fem) says:

    As for lesbo stunts, I’m envisioning overall-clad acrobats, swinging on trapezes, throwing howling cats through the air.

    HAHAHAHAHA*snort*heeheeheeeeeee. I am in love with that visual.

  27. More on what a sick misogynist Norman Mailer was.

    The fawning after his death was disgusting.

  28. kate says:

    Penthouse magazine had similarly tried to bring Madonna and me together, as had HBO, which proposed filming a “My Dinner with André” scenario of the two of us chatting in a restaurant. But Madonna, no conversationalist, always refused. When Newsweek asked her in a 1992 cover story whether she would like to meet me, she said, “First, I’d like to see her across the room and then I’d like to decide whether I want to approach her.” and Camille still goes on rationalizing the snub.

    Paglia serves as a reminder of what money and class position can get one if they try hard enough. That is absolutely the lamest, most pathetic writing I’ve read in awhile. How much does she paid for that? I want to punch her.

    Thank you Victoria, I was wondering how to approach Mailer and I think I’ll follow your lead, didn’t even know his ex wrote a memoir.

  29. kate says:

    Sorry about the all-quotes, the cat walked over the keyboard.

  30. Holly says:

    It’s just like Paglia to glorify Norman Mailer. In case anyone’s not clear, The Prisoner of Sex was an early example of a long line of MRA screeds about “Men have feelings too! Men suffer because they want sex all the time and can’t have it! Stop attacking my manhood, nasty womens!” Mailer was a classic mid-century misogynist and a pretty brilliant wordsmith; his legacy would be entirely brighter if he had never said a single word about women. I don’t know why Paglia is complaining that nobody knows about Mailer anymore; at my college he’s a staple of 20th century lit. And if he’s become irrelevant to current thought… well, I think it’s clear from all the quotes whose fault that is.

    As for Jill Johnston, it really was a fairly amazing lesbo stunt (well, for the time). Here’s a description I found of her Abbie-Hoffman-style performance:

    At that point the scene and the film bursts open with Jill Johnston — in shades, sackcloth, and long shaggy hair — a) putting down the gorgeousness of Germaine Greer, b) loudly proclaiming: “All women are lesbians who don’t know it yet, just the way all men of course are homosexuals,” c) deploring the fact that Abraham, the begatter of sons and grandsons who all have names while his daughters and granddaughters do not, lived 350 years, d) talking on and on and on, nonstop, past 10 minutes, past 15 minutes, past Norman Mailer’s several polite entreaties until at last he loses his temper with: “Jill, either play with the team or pick up your marbles and get lost … ”

    Instead of picking up her marbles, Ms. Johnston rushes to the rear of the hall, picks up, literally, in her arms, a girlfriend waiting there for her, and falls with girlfriend to the floor of Town Hall to demonstrate for all the world to see what lesbians (in full clothing) like to do with one another. “We’re going down on Women’s Lib,” she cheerfully announces.

    I think Mailer also commented sarcastically that it wasn’t very ladylike of her. Which you know, is kind of funny, except apparently he was unable to hide his annoyance at being upstaged.

  31. D.N. Nation says:

    Cara-

    Norman Mailer loved him some violence, especially when it crossed demographic borders (man vs. woman, black vs. white, etc.).

  32. Theroigne says:

    Camille is a “lesbo stunt.”

  33. Betty Boondoggle says:

    The only thing I know about Mailer is that he was once a brief guest star on “Gilmore Girls”.

    And now that I’ve learned more about him, I wish that’s still all I knew about him.

    The thing that’s grossed me out are all the supposedly feminist men who got all “well he was a woman-hater, but please don’t ignore his genius!” after he kicked it.

  34. ekf says:

    HBO, which proposed filming a “My Dinner with André” scenario of the two of us chatting in a restaurant. But Madonna, no conversationalist, always refused.

    That’s hilarious! This is the same Madonna that did “Truth or Dare” and did a movie where she talked incessantly about herself, right? Awesome. Poor, deluded Camille, thinking that someday she’ll be able to starfuck her brightest star, Madonna.

    Paglia is irrelevant in every way, which would be much easier to take if only she’d realize that very simple fact.

  35. Meowser says:

    Paglia is irrelevant in every way, which would be much easier to take if only she’d realize that very simple fact.

    Never mind her recognizing it. If the people who cut the checks would just recognize it, that would work for me.

  36. Thomas, TSID says:

    Okay, I’ll bite: I always thought muff-diving with a parachute was a lot more challenging, depending of course on how much weight you hang from it.

    (The link does not depict use. For those unfamiliar, google for images of “parachute cbt”.)

    I can’t speak to extreme softball.

  37. EG says:

    Sometimes she has to be saying to herself, “You’re killing the memory of a beautiful fuck.

    Because nine months of unwanted physical ailments and distress followed by hours and hours of protracted agony is always the best way to commemorate good sex.

  38. meggygurl says:

    The only thing I know about Mailer is that he was once a brief guest star on “Gilmore Girls”.

    Who was he on GG? I don’t know anything about him either, and it seems my brain is happier for it.

  39. kate says:

    Thanks Holly for your description of Johnston and criticism of Mailer. I’ve learned more about Mailer from feminist blogs in one week than I knew in all the 43 years of my only partially educated life.

    I started reading, awhile ago, “The Naked and the Dead” having heard it was some great literature. I had to put it down before going too far beyond the first two pages. Reading sex from a man’s perspective, especially when the receiver is described as nothing more than a china vessel, gets old quickly.

    I agree with Meowser, who are the sheltered morons who keep Paglia published and paid? Why? Last I knew, literate women aren’t that rare. She’s a fool.

  40. alsojill says:

    Who was he on GG?

    Himself.

    He was eating in the Dragonfly Inn when Sookie realized she was pregnant for the second time. The episode is titled “Norman Mailer, I’m Pregnant!”

  41. ostrova says:

    Camille Paglia said women couldn’t make great art because we can’t commit rape. Norman Mailer announced “I am a White Negro.” Twin souls.

  42. Mnemosyne says:

    I know that I should be asking what the fuck is wrong with Camile Paglia, but really, what the fuck is (was) wrong with Normal Mailer?

    He was an upper-class Jewish man who spent his entire life trying to prove that he was actually a working-class WASP. Pretty much everything he did in his life was a performance to show that he was a tough guy, not the effete intellectual that he actually was.

    The Executioner’s Song is pretty good, though it’s best read in conjunction with Mikal Gilmore’s Shot In the Heart. Mailer was a crappy novelist but a decent journalist. Plus I suspect that, in Gary Gilmore, he found someone even more fucked up than he was, and it scared him a little.

  43. Isabel says:

    Madonna probably avoided Paglia because Paglia was acting all stalkerish about Madonna.

    OH MY GOD SERIOUSLY. Paglia is freaking obsessed with Madonna. We read an essay by her in my contemporary US history course in 11th grade and, honestly, the points she made about Madonna (of whom I am a fan) were pretty decent, but the essay suffered from two major drawbacks:
    1) her needless namecalling, like, Camille sweetie, your criticism of the mainstream feminist establishment (which often did, in my opinion, misinterpret Madonna, though they had their reasons for doing so) would carry a lot more weight if you didn’t comport yourself like a five-year-old in the process (“twits”? really?); and
    2) her BLATANTLY GIGANTIC CRUSH on Madonna, especially creepy drooling over Madonna’s erotic curves, like, ENOUGH ALREADY, WE GET THAT YOU THINK SHE IS HOT. It was weird and unprofessional and just… unnecessary. Ugh.

  44. Bitter Scribe says:

    How exactly does a rape apologist get tagged as a feminist?

  45. wriggles says:

    I enjoy reading Camille Paglia I like some of her phrase making, even if I don’t always agree with who she applies it to. She really makes me think and try to analyse what she is saying, she rarely winds me up if she does, I still am able to think about what she is getting at before I agree or disagree with it.
    I find her crush on Madonna to be quite touching actually, especially as I don’t get it, we are rarely at our best when those feelings are unrequited. I like the way she puts her judgement on the line by offering an alternative instead of just vitriol. I enjoy her energy as well, as for her ego we’ve all got one and I think frankly that a lot of us protest too much on that one. She doesn’t play the coquette pretending to a ‘niceness’ she clearly doesn’t feel. She seems to me to actually say something, I’ve yet to get the feeling that she rants pointlessly even if I disagree.

  46. Camille's Above Your Heads says:

    Ditto to #45 and then some. Camille came of age in a different era than most people reading her today. Although nominally belonging to a sexual minority, she insists on self-reliance which she learned pre-Stonewall, pre-NOW, pre-HRC — because it pre-existed all these “movement” organizations and pre-fabricated opinions and party lines that are current today.

  47. katlyn says:

    Camille Paglia said women couldn’t make great art because we can’t commit rape.

    Ostrova, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but when the fuck did she say that? I don’t think she could be any more atrocious.

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