Study Guide

Camille Paglia Introduction

Camille Paglia Introduction

Camille Paglia is the smart woman feminists love to hate. You won't find her work in a women's studies class—unless she's the designated enemy—and the National Organization for Women (NOW) doesn't include her as a member. As Gloria Steinem said of her, "Calling herself a feminist is sort of like a Nazi saying they're not anti-Semitic" (source).

Ouch.

Paglia's remarks on abortion, prostitution, high culture, Madonna, pornography, and Michel Foucault are the subject of entire conference panels, lengthy interviews, and articles in major publications followed by 500 reader comments. But if you think she cares, you're wrong.

Paglia says what she wants when she wants to, and that's pretty much all the time. Paglia's a pistol:

  • Educated at Yale
  • Looks good in tight leather pants
  • Was not afraid to do an intellectual head to head with Susan Sontag
  • Dismissed the ever-lovable Taylor Swift as a 1950s housewife

Paglia is a major combatant in the culture wars. Her academic study of the English literary canon made it to the New York Times bestseller list—which, trust us, never happens.

At least the time it came out, Sexual Personae was a bit of a scandal—or a "barn burner," as academics like to say—because Paglia looked at the history of Western literature through the lens of sexual decadence and the efforts of masculine (Apollonian) and feminine (Dionysian) forces to prevail over one another. Her close studies considered everything from Oscar Wilde and Edgar Allan Poe to Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville.

Paglia hates:

  • Political correctness
  • Humorless feminists
  • French theory

But none of her ideas heat up her critics like her thoughts on rape. Unlike feminists who see rape as a violent enactment of the radically skewed power relations in our culture, Paglia sees it as a biological act of male sexual desire—a sort of logical conclusion to the "boys will be boys" attitude.

It's worth it to watch her doing her thang, because she's unstoppable on just about any subject. Her debates and interviews are all over YouTube, so you don't have to look hard to get a taste of Paglia's attitude and ideas.

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