Welcome to Harpy Seminar, a regular feature we plan to have at regular intervals, unless we get too busy to have it at regular intervals, in which case it shall appear whenever we have time and inclination for it. Each Seminar begins with a question or prompt, which we discuss amongst ourselves, then edit the highlights of our conversation into a post. Please feel free to join in in the comments!
PhDork: This is among the most emailed op-eds from the Times. I hope because people are sending it around going “Do you believe she’s still banging this sad old essentialist drum?” and not “Yup, it’s the feminists fault!”
I remember before I’d read Paglia I thought she was this high-profile academic that did gender stuff, and boy, I better get my hands on it! So I buy Sexual Personae, start reading, and am like “You’re kidding, right?” I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt, but got through maybe 100 pages before completely tossing it.
Everything that’s wrong with that book is wrong here, but this is even worse, in that there are mammoth problems in such a short piece. Help me shred this cranky, janky piece of writing from a soi-disant “public intellectual.”
SarahMC: “But to what extent do these complaints about sexual apathy reflect a medical reality, and how much do they actually emanate from the anxious, overachieving, white upper middle class?”
I was with her up until “anxious.” After that I have no idea what she’s talking about. People don’t have sex because everyone is so androgynous, who are they supposed to fuck?! And of course, overfamiliarity kills (white middle class) Americans’ sex drives: women are repellent creatures. No man would want to spend time with one if he really got to know one.
Like you, Dork, I wish I could see how readers are reacting to the article. There aren’t comments on this piece.
Pilgrim Soul: I really couldn’t read the whole thing – it’s so florid and full of bullshit – but mostly I want to know why the Times published it.
PhDork: Pageviews, I suppose. Isn’t that why Salon keeps her on? She’s a shit-stirrer. Emphasis on “shit.”
BeckySharper: Here’s another one: “In the discreet white-collar realm, men and women are interchangeable, doing the same, mind-based work. Physicality is suppressed; voices are lowered and gestures curtailed in sanitized office space. Men must neuter themselves, while ambitious women postpone procreation.”
By “neuter themselves” I assume she means “not sexually harass their colleagues” or “have female bosses.” This reminds me of Helen Gurley Brown’s retro laments about how it’s such a shame there’s no sexiness in the workplace anymore. None of these women seem to understand the concept of “hostile workplace.”
Pilgrim Soul: I don’t even agree that white-collar men are neutered. I saw that passage and thought, “spoken like someone who has never set foot in the ‘white-collar realm,’” which is not discreet, and in which men in no way neuter themselves. Upper class white men are always too busy proving their dicks are waaaaaayyy bigger than the schoolyard said they were to bother “neutering” themselves.
I could show you a list of ways in which dicks have been waved in my presence during my time in a white-collar environment.
BeckySharper: “Androgyny is bewitching in art, but in real life it can lead to stagnation and boredom, which no pill can cure.”
Since when does workplace or social equality equal “androgyny?” I’m a middle-class white professional woman but somehow I manage to maintain my gender and sexual identity (and get laid on the regular). Give me a fucking break.
PhDork: (For the record, I find androgyny absurdly sexy. Waaaaay more so than cartoonish gender stereotypes.)
BeckySharper: Camille’s also contradicting the shit out of herself. She wants us to believe the problem here is that these days women aren’t womanly (i.e. submissive) enough and men aren’t manly enough (i.e. dominant.) Which is EXACTLY the kind of Victorian prudery she seems to blame for cutting off the sexytimes to begin with. So…the answer to prudery and rigid gender roles is…a return to prudery and rigid gender roles?
PhDork: Exactly. If she’d just cop to the fact that “bourgeois propriety” and “Victorian prudery” are code-words for PATRIARCHAL BULLSHIT, maybe we could just all hold hands and get along.
SarahMC: And she assumes any woman with a low sex drive must be white–that women like Beyonce are all having a lot of great sex. That goes without saying because they’re women of color.
BeckySharper: Yeah, there’s a lot of hating on the body type she perceives as “white” i.e. tensed, lean and muscular. But it doesn’t make sense within the context of her argument; since only an incredibly small percentage of women have this body type. Saying the reason women can’t get it up is because they’re all skinny and boyish is simply NOT REALITY. Plus she’s digging up the tired old racist stereotype of non-white women are more sexually available than white women–again, a stereotype that exemplifies exactly the kind of Victorian prudery she claims to be denouncing.
SarahMC: Paglia turns what could have been a decent exploration of the issues surrounding “women’s Viagra” into a call for a return to stricter gender roles and imitating so-called black sexuality.
PhDork: Its remarkable, given what a dog’s breakfast this essay is, that she fails to consider some things, though.
BeckySharper: We cannot talk about contemporary eroticism or sexual culture without talking about porn. Unless one is Camille Paglia, apparently. Feminists, sociologists, cultural critics, the medical establishment, etc. have talked ENDLESSLY about how porn has eroticized and glorified certain body types and behaviors, and how that has affected sexual behavior, gender relations and modern ideas of sexiness. But not Camille. Maybe she doesn’t have hi-speed internet? Or a DVD player? Or know anyone under 60? Instead, it’s 100% old-school sexist alarmism: when the social playing field is leveled and women aren’t traditionally submissive, the natural order is destroyed! No sexytimes for anyone! Plagues and Rapture! Dogs and cats, living together!
Readers, what’s your favorite part? Her essentialist “vive la difference!” crowing? The pillorying of feminism for killing The Sexxor? The grotesque slavering over those sexy dark-skinned people and their erotic, t/humping music and seductive oriental spirituality? There’s enough here to go around!