Sam Dorman’s interview in the Washington Free Beacon:
Camille Paglia is a woman of seeming contradictions. She’s a lesbian who thinks homosexuality is not normal, a Democrat who often criticizes the party’s 2016 presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, a self-described “transgender being” who calls sex changes for children “abuse,” and a feminist who says abortion is “murder.”
Decades after she burst onto the scene with her best-selling book Sexual Personae, Paglia is back with a timely commentary on sex and gender. Her recent book Free Women, Free Men argues, among other things, that feminism is “stunting the maturation of both girls and boys” and that “if women seek freedom, they must let men too be free.”
Paglia talked to the Washington Free Beacon about a variety of topics including Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D., Mass.) alleged populism, Megyn Kelly’s performance as a moderator during the first Republican presidential primary debate, and whether misogyny played a role in Hillary Clinton’s failed 2016 presidential bid.
You say in your new book that feminism’s “sex war” has stunted the maturation of both girls and boys. What do you think is the end result of that?
Second-wave feminism went off the track when it started to demonize men and blame them for all the evils in human history. It’s a neurotic world-view that was formulated in too many cases by women (including Gloria Steinem and Kate Millett) with troubled childhoods in unstable homes. First-wave feminism, in contrast, focused on systemic social problems that kept women in secondary or dependent status. My favorite period in feminism has always been the 1920s and 1930s, when American women energized by winning the vote gained worldwide prominence for their professional achievements. My early role models, Amelia Earhart and Katharine Hepburn, were fierce individualists and competitors who liked and admired men and who never indulged in the tiresome, snippy rote male-bashing that we constantly hear from today’s feminists. I am an equal opportunity feminist who opposes special protections for women. What I am saying throughout my work is that girls who are indoctrinated to see men not as equals but as oppressors and rapists are condemned to remain in a permanently juvenile condition for life. They have surrendered their own personal agency to a poisonous creed that claims to empower women but has ended by infantilizing them. Similarly, boys will have no motivation to mature if their potential romantic partners remain emotionally insecure, fragile, and fearful, forever looking to parental proxies (like campus grievance committees or government regulators) to make the world safe for them.
What impact, if any, do you think Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016 had on feminism? Former Texas state senator Wendy Davis said Clinton faced a “misogynistic climate” during the election. Do you agree with this?
Misogyny played no significant role whatever in Hillary Clinton’s two defeats as a presidential candidate. This claim is such a crock! What a gross exploitation of feminism—in the service of an unaccomplished woman whose entire career was spent attached to her husband’s coat tails. Hillary was handed job after job but produced no tangible results in any of them—except of course for her destabilization of North Africa during her rocky tenure as secretary of state. And for all her lip service to women and children, what program serving their needs did Hillary ever conceive and promote? She routinely signed on to other people’s programs or legislative bills but spent the bulk of her time in fundraising and networking for her own personal ambitions. Beyond that, I fail to see how authentic feminism can ever be ascribed to a woman who turned a blind eye to the victims of her husband’s serial abuse and workplace seductions. The hypocrisy of feminist leaders was on full display during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, which incontrovertibly demonstrated Bill Clinton’s gross violation of basic sexual harassment policy. Although I had voted for him twice, I was the only feminist at the time who publicly condemned Clinton for his squalid and unethical behavior with an intern whose life (it is now clear) he ruined. Gloria Steinem’s slick casuistry during that shocking episode did severe damage to feminism, from which it has never fully recovered.
In 2016, you said Donald Trump had a “swaggering retro machismo” that would give “hives” to people like Gloria Steinem. How do you foresee a President Trump impacting gender relations and perceptions of men in America?
First of all, I must emphasize that I am a registered Democrat who voted for Bernie Sanders in the primaries and Jill Stein in the general election. Having said that, I will don my political analyst hat and say that Donald Trump’s retro style of confident masculinity (which dates from the Frank Sinatra/Hugh Hefner period) was surely a major factor in his victory and represents what was probably an inevitable and necessary course correction in American gender relations. The delirious excesses of unscientific campus gender theory, translated into intrusive government regulations by elite school graduates saturating the Obama administration, finally hit a wall with the electorate. The mainstream big-city media too have become strident echo chambers of campus gender dogma, as demonstrated by last year’s New York Times fiasco, where two wet-behind-the-ears reporters fell on their faces in trying to prosecute the Trump of his casino days as a vile sexist. I mercilessly mocked that vacuous article in my Salon.com column and stand by every word I wrote.
The Guardian asked in 2010 whether Nancy Pelosi was the most powerful woman in U.S. history. More than ten years after she became the first female Speaker of the House, how do you think Pelosi has furthered perceptions of women in positions of power and leadership?
Unlike Hillary Clinton, both Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi and Senator Dianne Feinstein owe their national prominence to their own skills, tenacity, and achievement in the political world. I have
repeatedly said that Feinstein, with her even temper, natural gravitas, and long experience with military affairs, should have been the first woman president. Pelosi, who emerged from a prominent political family in Maryland (her father was a U.S. Congressman and mayor of Baltimore, and her brother was also Baltimore mayor), has an amazing aptitude for deft insider maneuvering and bare-knuckles power plays, without ever losing that cool, unflappable persona, always so primly ladylike and stylish. She smiles and smiles—even as she shoves the stiletto in! Even when I’ve found her too predictably partisan, I have been continually impressed by her poise and aplomb. However, Pelosi herself, to some reports, has been frustrated by her difficulties in giving formal speeches, and perhaps this has held her back from running for president. The main point here is that we should have had our first woman president way back in the 1990s, but neither Pelosi nor Feinstein, the leading female candidates, chose to run, as even Elizabeth Dole bravely did. There is absolutely no mythical “misogyny” holding back American women from the presidency: for heaven’s sake, the U.S. has had women mayors, senators, and governors for decades now. But our money-grubbing presidential campaigns, which must cover an immense geography (far vaster than any European nation), are both too prolonged and too arduous for most women to want to tackle. Perhaps both Pelosi and Feinstein (unlike Hillary) are too happy and content in their personal relationships to want that kind of crazed derangement of their private lives.
Could you envision Elizabeth Warren running successfully as a populist candidate in 2020 against Donald Trump?
Elizabeth Warren, a smug Harvard professor, is no populist. She doesn’t have an iota of Bernie Sanders’ authentic empathic populism—but Sanders will be too old to run next time around. I tried to take Warren seriously during the run-up to the primaries, but her outrageous silence about Sanders’ candidacy when he was battling the corrupt Hillary machine made me see Warren as the facile opportunist that she is. She craftily hid from sight throughout the primaries—until Hillary won the nomination. Then all of a sudden, there was bouncy, grinning Warren, popping in and out of Hillary’s Washington mansion as vice-presidential possibilities were being vetted. What an arrant hypocrite! Warren stands for nothing but Warren. My eye is on the new senator from California, Kamala Harris, who seems to have far more character and substance than Warren. I hope to vote for Harris in the next presidential primary.
You say you were never encouraged by “misguided adults” to believe that you were actually a boy or “that medical interventions could bring that hidden truth to life.” Do we have an obligation to not participate in or encourage someone’s gender dysphoria in adulthood, or just childhood?
My lifelong gender dysphoria has certainly been a primary inspiration for my entire career as a researcher and writer. I have never for a moment felt female—but neither have I ever felt male either. I regard my ambiguous position between the sexes as a privilege that has given me special access to and insight into a broad range of human thought and response. If a third gender option (“Other”) were ever added to government documents, I would be happy to check it. However, I have never believed, and do not now, that society has any obligation to bend over backwards to accommodate my particular singularity of identity. I am very concerned about current gender theory rhetoric that convinces young people that if they feel uneasy about or alienated from their assignment to one sex, then they must take concrete steps, from hormone therapy to alarmingly irreversible surgery, to become the other sex. I find this an oddly simplistic and indeed reactionary response to what should be regarded as a golden opportunity for flexibility and fluidity. Furthermore, it is scientifically impossible to change sex. Except for very rare cases of intersex, which are developmental anomalies, every cell of the human body remains coded with one’s birth sex for life.
Beyond that, I believe that my art-based theory of “sexual personae” is far more expansive and truthful about human psychology than is current campus ideology: who we are or want to be exceeds mere gender, because every experimental persona that we devise contains elements of gesture, dress, and attitude rich with historical and cultural associations. (For Halloween in childhood, for example, I defiantly dressed as Robin Hood, a Roman soldier, a matador, Napoleon, and Hamlet.) Because of my own personal odyssey, I am horrified by the escalating prescription of puberty-blockers to children with gender dysphoria like my own: I consider this practice to be a criminal violation of human rights. Have the adults gone mad? Children are now being callously used for fashionable medical experiments with unknown long-term results.
In regard to the vexed issue of toilets and locker rooms, if private unisex facilities can be conveniently provided through simple relabeling, it would be humane to do so, but I fail to see why any school district, restaurant, or business should be legally obligated to go to excess expense (which ultimately penalizes the public) to serve such a minuscule proportion of the population, however loud their voices. And speaking of voices: as a libertarian, I oppose all intrusion by government into the realm of language, which belongs to the people and which evolves organically over time. Thus the term “Ms.” eventually became standard English, but another 1970s feminist hybrid, “womyn”, did not: the populace as a whole made that decision, as it always does with argot or slang filtering up from ethnic or avant-garde subgroups. The same principle applies to preferred transgender pronouns: they are a courtesy that we may choose to defer to, but in a modern democracy, no authority has the right to compel their usage…