Camille Paglia's Free Women Free Men

Camille Paglia's Free Women Free Men: Sex, Gender, Feminism is a typically readable collection of chapters and essays spanning Paglia academic/public life from 1990 to the present (Paglia proves, as no one else does so well, that academic writing does not have to be indigestible). As an overview of her views, this is a great place to start! Readers may feel that they are being rather forcibly reminded of her seminal work Sexual Personae--but that is only because essays/articles/speeches appear back-to-back which in reality spanned years. (To be fair, Paglia may forcibly remind people of her seminal work within minutes of meeting them!)

The reader may also feel that Paglia is gleefully reliving her "glory days" in which she went head to head with some of the nastiest so-called feminists on record but that's because . . . she is! However, unlike the high schooler who can never break away from his or her "glory days" of football star/prom queen, Paglia is perfectly capable of tackling present-day issues. She occasionally come across as "oh, these kids these days," but I found that refreshing and real: as Paglia herself maintains, the wise older woman has a place in many societies. Stop trying to be 20, aging American women, and own your crone-dom.

Paglia, whom I encountered around the same time that I read All the Trouble in the World by P.J. O'Rourke and Kate Roiphe's The Morning After, has always represented for me a commonsense, grounded approach to the realities of being female. As Paglia declares (and I mention in my post about my mother's experience with the ERA), the face of 1980s feminism turned many young women--including myself--against feminism.  Paglia enabled me to find my way back, or at least to realize that my beliefs re: feminism could be more than what I'd heard and seen in the public arena: I could respect the tough feminism of my mother and grandmothers (that pioneer heritage!) while admiring expansive variations, such as lipstick feminism. I could be thankful for the modern era which widened my choices and freedoms without despising the great women of the past.

Despite my conservative upbringing--or perhaps because of it--and my own valued singleness, I could never conceive of supporting any ideology that despised sex, men, or the body. Like the Christian C.S. Lewis, I am a pagan at heart. Human nature is complicated! Families are complicated! People are complicated! Anything that avoids those realities or tries to blame them on a single system external to hormones and aging is seriously deficient.

In a footnote to my master's thesis, I stated, " If there is a place in this universe for a heterosexual, Mormon, Christian, non-Freudian, Anglo-Saxon version of Camille Paglia, I would happily take it."

While reading Free Women, Free Men, I remembered my statement. Is it truly possible to be the terribly bourgeois, terribly middle-class, morally conservative (albeit more politically libertarian than I was in my youth) Camille Paglia?

Not really. I am not edgy or psychologically-oriented enough to fill those shoes. However, there is a point of contact. Paglia, a pro-abortion advocate (a legal position I support on purely libertarian grounds since the woman "owns" the fetus), defends the pro-life position of my religion and others as having the moral high ground; she also admires and defends women who learn to maneuver within their societies. One of the first essays I read by Paglia extolled the mature behavior of a female tennis player with steely resolve. Paglia commended the woman's discipline, which she related back to the player's heterosexuality--by learning how to deal with men, she had learned how to master herself. I was grateful to Paglia for establishing an iconic image other than, on the one hand, the missish girl who is supposed to flirt and be pretty but not admit/own her own sexuality/earthiness and, on the other hand, the victimized girl whose lack of sexual commonsense leads her into remarkably stupid behavior.

I have gone on to admire conservative women who survive their cultures and make their marks from the inside. More than Anne Hutchinson, I admire Anne Bradstreet--that finesse of achieving one's goals WITHIN the orthodoxy rather than pouring scorn on the orthodoxy.

Well, except when the orthodoxy is comprised of lecturing, unappeasable, and joyless feminists: in that case, Paglia, scorn away!

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