Camille Paglia on Hugh Hefner: Retrograde But Sophisticated

Retrograde But Sophisticated

“It’s complicated.”

It may  feel wishy-washy and dissatisfying, but  often that’s the best way to categorize things that are neither purely good or purely evil.

Such is the legacy of Playboy founder, Hugh Hefner.

“It’s complicated.” Often that’s the best way to categorize things that are neither purely good or purely evil.

With everything that’s been written since his death, it doesn’t seem there’s much left to say. Many have told sad, depraved stories from inside the Playboy Mansion, none of which can be defended. Others point to Hefner’s erudition, timeliness and pioneering of an international lifestyle brand.

Yet the most interesting thing I’ve read about Hefner comes courtesy of Camille Paglia, author and provocateur, who is known for her counter-intuitive takes on feminism.

Paglia doesn’t blindly defend Hefner. She refers to him as “dated” and “retrograde,” but applauds his cheery, courtly  view of sex as opposed to the current dominance of hardcore porn and hook-up culture.

She also opines on the decline of sexual polarity – a subject this blog often touches upon.

“The unhappy truth is that the more the sexes have blended, the less each sex is interested in the other. So we’re now in a period of sexual boredom and inertia, complaint and dissatisfaction, which is one of the main reasons young men have gone over to pornography. Porn has become a necessary escape by the sexual imagination from the banality of our everyday lives, where the sexes are now routinely mixed in the workplace.

With the sexes so bored with each other, all that’s left are these feminist witch-hunts. That’s where the energy is! And meanwhile, men are shrinking. I see men turning away from women and simply being content with the world of fantasy because women have become too thin-skinned, resentful and high-maintenance.

Paglia doesn’t let men off the hook. She astutely points out that the art of chivalry and seduction is pretty much on a respirator.

The art of chivalry and seduction is pretty much on a respirator.

“Truly sophisticated seducers knew that women have to be courted and that women love an ambiance, setting a stage. Today, alas, too many young women feel they have to provide quick sex or they’ll lose social status. If a guy can’t get sex from them, he’ll get it from someone else. There’s a general bleak atmosphere of grudging compliance.

Today’s hook-up culture, which is the ultimate product of my generation’s sexual revolution, seems markedly disillusioning in how it has reduced sex to male needs, to the general male desire for wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am efficiency, with no commitment afterwards. We’re in a period of great sexual confusion and rancor right now. The sexes are very wary of each other. There’s no pressure on men to marry because they can get sex very easily in other ways.

The sizzle of sex seems gone. What Hefner’s death forces us to recognize is that there is very little glamour and certainly no mystery or intrigue left to sex for most young people. Which means young women do not know how to become women. And sex has become just another physical urge that can be satisfied like putting coins into a Coke machine.”

She also has some harsh words for feminism, which seem tone-deaf given the apocalyptic Weinstein sexual harassment scandal.

This may be one reason for the ferocious pressure by so many current feminists to reinforce the Stalinist mechanisms, the pernicious PC rules that have invaded colleges everywhere. Feminists want supervision and surveillance of dating life on campus to punish men if something goes wrong and the girl doesn’t like what happened. I am very concerned that what young women are saying through this strident feminist rhetoric is that they feel incapable of conducting independent sex lives. They require adult intrusion and supervision and penalizing of men who go astray. But if feminism means anything, it should be encouraging young women to take control of every aspect of their sex lives, including their own impulses, conflicts, and disappointments. That’s what’s tragic about all this. Young women don’t seem to realize that in demanding adult inquiry into and adjudication of their sex lives, they are forfeiting their own freedom and agency.

Young women are being taught that men have all the power and have used it throughout history to oppress women. Women don’t seem to realize how much power they have to crush men! Strong women have always known how to control men. Oscar Wilde said women are complex and men are simple. Is it society or is it nature that is unjust? This was the big question that I proposed in  Sexual Personae, where I argued that our biggest oppressor is actually nature, not society. I continue to feel that my pro-sex wing of feminism, which does not see sexual imagery or men in general as the enemy, has the best and healthiest message for young women.

I see Paglia’s point; the problem is the attacking language associated with it.

So let’s agree on this:

  • Men and women are more the same than ever before and it’s hurt the dating dynamic.
  • Men should be more courtly and chivalrous to women.
  • There is no male defense of sexual assault or harrassment.
  • Women  could benefit by embracing the feminine, eschewing victimhood, and not lumping all men in with the worst of men.

As Paglia says, “Sex is not a tragedy, it’s a comedy!” Amen to that.

Your thoughts,  as always, are greatly appreciated in the comments below.

Join our conversation (55 Comments).
Click Here To Leave Your Comment Below.


  1. 1


    The entire interview was an interesting read. Some things I could agree with, others not so much. She made a particular statement that I’m curious about. Maybe in her other works she provided more detail.   “In general, French women – the educated, middle-class French women, I mean – seem to have a feminine composure, a distinct sense of themselves as women, which I think women in America have gradually lost as they have won job equality in our high-pressure career system.”   Does anyone know if she articulated this particular view in another interview? I am trying to get a feel for how she defines, “a distinct sense of themselves as women”.

  2. 2
    Emily, the original

    I love Camille Paglia. Her articles about Madonna and Elizabeth Taylor are really interesting.
    My favorite quote from a previous interview:  
    “I was horrified, horrified by the pink pussy hats,” she said; the pink pussy hats were “a major embarrassment to contemporary feminism.”
      “I want dignity and authority for women. My code is Amazonism. I want weapons.”

    1. 2.1

      The Pussyhat Project is a social movement focused on raising awareness about women’s issues and advancing human rights by promoting dialogue and innovation through the arts, education and intellectual discourse. If Paglia is horrified by that, she is an  embarrassment to all those seeking rights for women. I find Paglia disgusting.

      1. 2.1.1

        I don’t think Paglia is against the goals of the Pussyhat Project; I think she finds the hats themselves to be tacky and embarrassing.

      2. 2.1.2

        Yes!   If you don’t like the pink hat, by all means don’t wear one!   If you don’t want to march with women wearing pink hat, don’t.   Fight the the fight your own way.   As for myself, I don’t want Amazonian weapons.   I want dialogue and mutual understanding, not warfare.

        1. Persephone

          GoWithTheFlow:   Best comment yet!   Dialogue and mutual understanding.   Such a novel concept. In other words, Make love, not war!   Yes!

  3. 3

    Hugh Hefner seems like the guy you warn women about- the perpetual Peter Pan who is hiding a number of issues and insecurities behind a Casanova-like approach.   I’m still not sure what the appeal is here.   Can’t men figure out that women like to be romanced, while still appreciating that they are human beings and equals? People want romance and they also want equality.   That might be confusing, but hey, people are complicated.

    1. 3.1
      Androgynous/Just Saying/xxxxxx

      The whole romance thing for women boils down to a man of higher value than herself, performing acts to demonstrate his passion for her. Like chivalry, it flows from the stronger party to a weaker party. Romance and chivalry from men just does not make sense when the man and the woman are of equal social and economic stature, or when the woman has higher value than the man.   An act of romance and chivalry from a weaker party to a stronger party is called Tribute.

      1. 3.1.1

        I’m not sure who is in charge of assigning worth to people or how you decide that the man is “higher worth”. Political, moral, and spiritual equality of the sexes does not necessary change what constitutes romance for women.   If you think women are of less worth, of course you are allowed, but contempt is not a good starting point for a relationship.

      2. 3.1.2

        Are you being sarcastic?   If not google “chivalry” and you’ll discover that the word chivalry comes from a medieval knight’s code of conduct to his feudal lord.   Chivalric romances often involved a knight and a (higher ranking) princess or noblewoman.   Anyway I’m not sure if romance “makes sense” or not but if makes women happy why not be romantic, at least sometimes?

        1. Persephone

          You can call it chivalry, or you can call it good manners, but when my man grabbed my bag and open the door for me, I knew he was a quality individual worthy of investing in.   He doesn’t have a chip on his shoulder toward women.   I would do anything for him after he displayed these kinds of manners. This is what separates the wheat from the chaff.

  4. 4



    I completely agree with Paglia about feminism, and completely disagree with you, and am not afraid of saying it. I don’t think anything in her language was attacking – she was merely expressing an opinion which is different from the prevailing one which we see everywhere. I have no doubt at all that genuine sexual harassment and abuse takes place, of course it does, the politically correct ideas which are being forced down our throats are not helpful. These horrendous regulations that certain groups want to bring in about what you can and can’t say, can and can’t do, do far more to confuse and divide us from each other than they do to address any real concerns. And they blur the polarity between men and women even more, which is exactly what they are meant to do, further confusing and dividing men and women from each other.


    Come to a third world country, women of America and Britain – one wracked by war, poverty, and crime – and then tell me if it’s still a real problem that a man you worked with once hugged you. I am so sick of the narcissism and victimhood which I see every time I read a story coming out of the west about sexual harassment and gender, I could actually physically vomit. People being so injured and hurt and triggered because someone said something that they didn’t like. Twenty years from now, when you’ve moved on in life, is it really going to matter that some man told you you had a nice bum? If you don’t like it, tell him to stop it or address it with his superior. Do we really need the nanny state intervening in every part of our lives? Policing our every move? Is that what we want? Because that is where this is heading. Paglia is absolutely right – if feminism has accomplished anything, it should be to make women empowered adults capable of managing our own destiny, not fragile wallflowers collapsing into a puddle because someone made an off-colour joke. In South Africa, I assure you, our levels of sexual harassment are  much  higher. I feel uncomfortable on a daily basis, as I have spoken about on this blog. But I would never want the state to intervene in this (nor do I think they are likely to here – our president has six wives. Our government would just laugh at you if you said you wanted to report a man because he stared at you over his computer in the office). If I feel uncomfortable enough, I am not afraid to address it. I talk to the man in question, or whoever else might be able to help, and if that doesn’t work, I move. If someone is actually dangerous, I go to the police. I would never want the state telling women or men what they can and can’t say or do on a micro-level, or people being sacked from their jobs because someone else took offence at what they’d said. It’s pure madness.


    I’ve said and thought it so many times before – despite the problems in my own country, South Africa (and there are many), I am so grateful that none of this gender politics nonsense has touched us here. Men are still men here – they know how to be masculine, and they know how to be gentlemen. So much of the progressive nonsense and hookup culture has not caught on here. Men and women tease each other, flirt and dating happens much more organically and desirably. All these rules that I see coming out of dating in the US only seem to serve to confuse. I think the politically correct agenda which is being forwarded as a result of all these sexual harassment cases is pernicious and extremely dangerous to freedom.

    1. 4.1

      Clare said:   “Twenty years from now, when you’ve moved on in life, is it really going to matter that some man told you you had a nice bum? If you don’t like it, tell him to stop it or address it with his superior.”  

      My head is reeling!   Yes, they said I had a nice rear, but they made orgasm sounds over the intercom on night shift–knowing it was directed at me.   I never told the boss, for fear of my job.   It was a little funny, while at the same time I knew I better not laugh at it. They could laugh and get by with it, but if I laughed I would be written up as going along with sexual harassment.   I was the first woman to do many of the jobs there, and often the only female  on site with  hundreds of men at work at the same time as me, on night shift. 80% behaved themselves.   20% were the problem. One came to my house and knocked on the door.   I was groggy, awakened from daytime sleep while on night shift, so I opened the door.   He busted the security chain and came in.   It was horrible. It was my “punishment” for working a man’s job. If I had called the police I would have lost an $80,000 a year job. I was fired, basically for being sexually harassed, but they drummed up stupid things on me.   I was more than competent in my job, but they forced me to work 70 hours a week.   That is 30 hours overtime in one week, to try to beat me down so that I would quit.   One day they slid the overtime notice under a pile of papers. I didn’t see it. So I was fired. It was intentional. Oooooh, yeah such “playing the victim” ain’t I.   Sure. Oooooh, aren’t I so sensitive for complaining that they said I had a nice rear.   Sorry, but here’s a lot more to it than that Clare. Twenty years later I am still making substantially less income.    

      1. 4.1.1


        What happened to you was disgraceful, and I certainly don’t think you were “playing the victim.” I wasn’t referring to genuine cases of bullying and harassment such as yours in my comment.

        This of course is the problem with this issue. Genuine instances of abuse of power and intimidation and genuinely aggressive sexual harassment are conflated with nonsense like telling a certain kind of joke, or harmless flirting, or looking at someone for too long over the coffee machine.

        We’ve got to grow up and distinguish between a situation where a woman is being genuinely victimized in an unacceptable manner, and those instances where a woman is able to stand up for herself and simply tell the man to get a life. The degree  does  matter.

        What I object to is this thinking that every woman is a wilting wallflower who cannot be exposed to anything, no matter how slight, for fear of her getting triggered. What the eff does being triggered have to do with the price of eggs? Some groups are wanting to criminalize banter, or asking someone out for a drink, or complimenting someone on what they’re wearing (and I don’t mean in a predatory way, but simply saying “nice shirt you’ve got on there”). This is the madness  I  was referring to.

        1. Persephone

            Clare, you said, Some groups are wanting to criminalize banter, or asking someone out for a drink, or complimenting someone on what they’re wearing…..

          Mmmmm, no. You’re beleaving their BS, which is made in order to keep their power system in   place.   What happens is some cad with bad behavior–or a group of them, because they often run in packs–tries to minimize their horrible behavior. But they’ve got witnesses they say. Management even goes along with it, wink, wink. After horrible behavior didplayed the say, “All he said is she had a nice dress.” Then the woman gets eventually fired as a troublemaker.

        2. Clare


          I’m just going to have to respectfully disagree.

  5. 5

    I am trying to get a feel for how she defines, “a distinct sense of themselves as women”.

    I don’t know how familiar you are with France but a major cultural difference between France and the US is that ambitious Americans tend to make careerism and the workplace the center of life, and everything in children’s education and upbringing is increasingly focused on getting them into elite colleges and grooming them for successful careers.   So you see a lot of Americans (especially on the coasts) never making friends with anyone except their coworkers, talking about nothing at parties but work, and (notoriously) treating dates like job interviews where they ask a bunch of boring questions and brag about their accomplishments.   In France there is a legally enforced 35 hour work week with lots of three day weekends and holidays.   Most office workers spend the entire month of August on vacation.   Hobbies, personal passions, your favorite books and movies etc. are considered more interesting and amusing topics of conversation than endless shop talk.   Flirting is part of the general social fabric.   It’s hard to explain if you’ve never seen it in action, but if you haven’t been to France I suggest you go.   It’s eye-opening in many ways.

  6. 6

    Men and women are more the same than ever before and it’s hurt the dating dynamic

    Interesting observation.   American society, at least, used to think that women should be less superficial, more accepting, nurturing and submissive in their relationships (of all kinds) with men.   And definitely virginity in the unmarried and fidelity in the married was promoted far more as a virtue for females.   And relentlessly socialized girls in this direction and shamed girls who didn’t get with the program.   Egotism, selfishness, workaholism, prioritizing one’s sexual pleasure above anyone else’s feelings (including their own children’s) were all treated far more lightly by the general culture when men did these things.   Curiously many people also believed that women naturally had all of the traits I mentioned in the second sentence.     Now the larger American society doesn’t consistently socialize either gender to keep their egos in check, and we’re seeing that plenty of women are just as innately superficial, self-absorbed and controlling as the worst of men.   As unfair as the old way was it did enable men and women to get along with each other in a half-way functional manner.   I’m not saying I’d want to go back to the 50s at all.   But now, as you say, we have a lot of egotistical men and women who want to live life entirely on their own terms and have a cool, fun, self-confident partner along for the ride but life just doesn’t work like that.   The only way to live with a hard core control freak is to defer to him/her on everything and even if such people realize that no one with a spine can live with them very few egotists find doormats to be intriguing or exciting.   This is more problematic for female narcissists, who tend to find resigned passivity in men to be particularly intolerable.   Such egotists of both sexes, at least these days, tend to spend years in drama filled relationships, effectively alienating anyone worthy of respect.   Eventually, with bitterness and resentment they decide that they won’t “settle” for the doormats who fit their personalities but are usually less than thrilling company.

    1. 6.1


      I find what you say so interesting. It’s something I’ve thought myself many times.

      It makes me think of my mother, who was a fairly hardcore second-wave feminist – extremely independent, career-driven and protective over her rights to equality as a woman. She is a very dominating, assertive person who can’t bear criticism, and so in that sense, she is a bit narcissistic. She doesn’t seem to realize how much she emasculates my stepdad, however, who, for all his flaws, is, I think, absolutely saintly in how he puts up with her. My mom doesn’t really grasp or appreciate how much she asks of someone who lives with her, and she does not appreciate how long-suffering my stepdad is or respect him for it.

      My mom herself loves the company of people who are strong, vivacious and opinionated, but I don’t think she has ever put two and two together that such a person could never live with her or put up with her for the long term. It’s extraordinary really. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s just a female thing. I think very type A, difficult people in generally seem to lack self-awareness. For all their intelligence, they’ve never actually sat down and thought about whether the people they truly find attractive would be able to put up with them.

  7. 7

    I think the US (and to a lesser degree other Anglosphere countries) has an unique blend of Puritanism and feminism, a combination of the white-knighting of the conservative Protestant right with the “you go grrrl” progressivism of the feminist left. So women are supposed to be at the same time empowered, strong and independent but so fragile and delicate that a sexual joke or image can traumatize them forever. A sort of Wonder Woman and a blushing Victorian maiden in the same person. This sort of combination is non-existent in other parts of the world. I think Camille Paglia is a great critic and observer of this sexual/social dynamic.

    1. 7.1

      Epic comment Theodora.

    2. 7.2

      I am reminded of the Roy Moore supporters in Alabama with this comment.   My blood is boiling right about now. Theodora is a woman’s name, so i assume you are a women, theodora.   Obviously you have been sheltered. I do not   know of any woman who is fragile as you suggest.   There is usually much more there than a mere sexual joke.   What about ongoing sexual jokes so that orgasm sounds are broadcast over the intercom nightly? Combined with a host of other things, such as bullying?

  8. 8

    Paglia grosses me out.  Paglia does not think rape culture is real.   She  said that rape is intrinsic to men’s nature, and they cannot change that. She says women get raped because they wear short skirts. My head is spinning because Paglia  actually saying that men are intrinsically violent and that can never ever change, and  there comment is being heralded as a very serious idea about gender and sexual violence. She will not make up her mind how she identifies, either, so there is a lot to be unsettled about her. Is she genderqueer?   Trans? Lesb? Okay, then, I am actually okay with non-traditional gender identifications, but pick one!

    Being critical of feminism does not make one a men’s rights advo.   It makes her an idiot.   Feminism helps advance men, too.


    1. 8.1
      Emily, the original


      She will not make up her mind how she identifies, either, so there is a lot to be unsettled about her. Is she genderqueer?   Trans? Lesb? Okay, then, I am actually okay with non-traditional gender identifications, but pick one!

      Why is she required to identify? You’re the one who’s unsettled by it. Not her. She’s not required to provide a narrative of her life.

      1. 8.1.1

        Emily, There’s a lot to be unsettled with her. She’s very much aligned with Milo yiannopoulos and the extreme right-wing BS crazy movement, whose goal is to try to stamp out feminism. And she does provide narratives of who she identifies with. She’s trying to be unsettling on purpose, just like Milo. She’s terribly critical of the demeanor of every type of women that she wants to categorize. She’s not criticizing these women for their opinions mind you but for just who they are in the way they are. She’s the one who’s on settled by every type of female that exists, except for the women that she glorifies, the select boisterous few. Such as Mammy in Gone With the Wind hollering out the window at Scarlett. Right. She glorifies strong slave women.

        1. Kitty

          Strong, domineering women are definitely Paglia’s “type”; this is a recurring theme in writing and she is definitely overly harsh with women who don’t measure up to her exacting Amazonian standards.   I don’t like her politics either but I do like her opus “Sexual Personae”.   If literary criticism isn’t your thing I wouldn’t try to wade through the whole book, but the first chapter expresses her nuanced view of the world far more deeply and more profoundly than do her sensationalistic interviews and journalism articles.

        2. GoWiththeFlow


          If you ever want to read a great take down of Paglia, google Molly Ivins on Camille Paglia.   Ivins wrote it in 1991 after Sexual Personae was published.   It’s epic!


          Why does Paglia’s identity matter?   Because it speaks to her frame of reference when she decides what’s right and wrong.   As a woman who does not have sexual or romantic relationships with men, Paglia may have the perspective of someone from the outside looking in.   But, unlike Gloria Steinem, whom she criticized in the interview, Paglia does not have the insight or knowledge that comes from a lifetime of pursuing and being in intimate relationships with men.

        3. Emily, the original


          I don’t care how she identifies. She’s her own person in a world full of lemmings, and that takes balls.

        4. GoWiththeFlow


          I don’t care how Paglia identifies either.   Just like I don’t care that Dan Savage is gay.   A lot of his relationship advice is good and many of his observations are spot on.   But he does miss the mark sometimes.

          Evan has a post on Savage’s views  on how heterosexual couples may do well to adopt the practice of some gay couples where sexual infidelity is tolerated or accepted and not seen as an existential threat to the core relationship.   What is missing from that piece is  a deep understanding that heterosexual relationships are different from relationships between two gay men because there is a woman involved and the structure of the relationship will have to reflect her desires, fears, and priorities a well as the man’s.   And women often have different desires, fears and priorities than men do.   Does that fact that Savage is gay, and therefore is not involved with women in an intimate sexual and romantic way affect his ability to understand women and their relationships with men?   Quite possibly, yes.   We all have our limits.

          So when Paglia pops off that women’s choice of clothing causes   be date rape, I’m really going to stop listening to what she has to say.   As Molly Ivins said “Paglia’s view of sex – that it is irrational, violent, immoral, and wounding – is so glum that one hesitates to suggest that it might be instead, well, a lot of fun, and maybe even affectionate and loving.”   Paglia thinks men are intrinsically violent and cannot change.   Maybe her thinking on this is influenced but the fact that she has never had a loving intimate relationship with a man where the sex was fun, loving, and a moment of shared joy.

          “She’s her own person in a world full of lemmings, and that takes balls.”

          Just because someone is not a lemming doesn’t mean they are a leader and should be followed.

        5. Jeremy

          @GWTF, agreed, but that is something of a double-edged sword.   True, she lacks the perspective of someone who has relationships with men….but she has the perspective of someone who isn’t blinded by past experiences with men.   In other words, while her sexuality removes a certain perspective, it adds another one.   Is she balanced?   No.   But her writing helps counterbalance the unbalanced works of others.


          I think there is such a thing as a happy medium between Paglia’s Ayn Rand-like perspective and Naomi Wolf’s total female-centric views.   And the latter is much more in vogue today.   You’ve mentioned in the past that you enjoyed Stephanie Coontz’s “A History Of Marriage.”   Honestly, when I finished that book I wanted to throw it across the room.   Because what started off as a great history of marriage eventually came to the final chapter about contemporary marriage….and dropped the ball completely IMHO.   Coontz spent a chapter describing how these days women need marriage less, leave marriages more, and are generally much happier than in the past.   And men?   Well, they must be happier because they are murdered less by their wives.   Seriously, nothing at all about men and marriage.   Male happiness?   Marriage as pertaining to men in the modern era?   Not very important to this historian of marriage, I guess.   Coontz suffers from the same blindness I accuse Naomi Wolf of – female-centrism.   Lack of perspective.   Yet her work was hailed by many who, I suppose, either missed the bias of it or liked the bias as a counter-weight to opposite biases they perceive in culture.


          There are feminist writers who I believe are balanced.   I very much like Christina Hoff Summers, though hard-core feminists have accused her of being a sell-out.   She wants equality and fairness for women….but also sees that the challenges men face are no less important, though they are not the same and not often seen by women.

        6. Emily, the original


          She doesn’t have to be a straight woman to write something like this about Elizabeth Taylor:
          She wields the sexual power that feminism cannot explain and has tried to destroy. Through stars like Taylor, we sense the world-disordering impact of legendary women like Delilah, Salome, and Helen of Troy. Feminism has tried to dismiss the femme fatale as a misogynist libel, a hoary cliche. But the femme fatale expresses women’s ancient and eternal control of the sexual realm.
          I think that Elizabeth Taylor is actually a greater actress than Meryl Streep, despite Streep’s command of a certain kind of technical skill.
          To me, Elizabeth Taylor’s importance as an actress was that she represented a kind of womanliness that is now completely impossible to find on the U.S. or U.K. screen. It was rooted in hormonal reality — the vitality of nature. She was single-handedly a living rebuke to postmodernism and post-structuralism, which maintain that gender is merely a social construct. Let me give you an example. Lisa Cholodenko’s “The Kids Are All Right” is a truly wonderful film, but Julianne Moore and Annette Bening — who is fabulous in it and should have won the Oscar for her portrayal of a prototypical contemporary American career woman — were painfully scrawny to look at on the screen. This is the standard starvation look that is now projected by Hollywood women stars — a skeletal, Pilates-honed, anorexic silhouette, which has nothing to do with females as most of the world understands them. There’s something almost android about the depictions of women currently being projected by Hollywood.
          If Gwyneth Paltrow were growing up in the 1930s, she would have been treated as a hopelessly gawky wallflower who would be mortified by her lanky figure. But everything about her is being pushed on to American young women as the ultimate ideal. Now Elizabeth Taylor’s persona was at first a continuation of Ava Gardner’s. They had a natural lustiness and spontaneity, an animal magnetism, though both Ava and Elizabeth at the beginning of their careers didn’t have command of basic technical skills, particularly dialogue. That’s what people laud Meryl Streep for —  “Oh, her accents are so great; oh, her articulation is so perfect.” But she doesn’t really live in her characters, she merely costumes them. Meryl Streep is always doing drag. But it’s so superficial. It all comes from the brain, not the heart or body.

        7. GoWiththeFlow


          I agree that the majority of writers on the human condition do bring their own unique worldview to their work, and their gender is one of the filters through which the material passes.   My point to  Emily is that a person’s sexual identity affects a person’s outlook on life as well.   That can give a person with an in the minority sexual identity a unique  perspective that can lead to a new understanding of society and relationships.   But at the same time it can be very limiting in that the observer can lack a deep understanding of the inner workings and experiences of the majority of the population.

          Interestingly, I was first introduced to Paglia’s writings in a college class on critical thinking.   In that class we had to read many different perspectives on a given set of issues.   A few people in the class really liked Paglia’s viewpoint, a few did not  (me), the majority just didn’t connect with it enough to have a strong opinion.   Her verbose writing style was a problem for many in the last group.

          In a comment on another recent blog post, you say that one area you agree with Paglia on is that regarding the #MeToo movement, women have to start asserting themselves and saying no when they mean no.   I agree with both you and Paglia here.   Where I disagree, and what Paglia is dead wrong on, is her assertion that feminism “makes excuses” for women.   Um, what?   No it doesn’t. A lot of feminist thought and writing centers around women finding their voices and expressing themselves.   Feminism is most assuredly against the “always be nice” socialization that girls are subjected to in our society.

          If you read the individual stories of harassment and assault in the media now a common theme is that, after the initial shock dissipates, the women try to rebuff or exit the interaction in a way that won’t upset the harasser, or the people around them.   That’s a toxic outgrowth of “be nice” training.   Feminism didn’t cause this. Feminism tries to explain it and remedy it.

          Ultimately very few writers on the subject of male-female interactions and social roles are able to deeply understand and express both the female and male side of the argument.   Two that you have mentioned, Warren Farrell and Christina Hoff Summers, can do it.   So can David Buss and Helen Fisher in their respective fields of study.   Then again, when I pick up a book, I expect I’m getting the author’s viewpoint, not a point , counterpoint presentation.   That’s why, in social sciences, as was encouraged in my old college class,   it’s important to seek out differing perspectives.

        8. GoWiththeFlow


          I never said someone had to be a straight woman to have sentiment opinions on women.   What I said is that Paglia’s  sexual orientation gives her a blind spot when it comes to understanding relationships between men and women.   Paglia also has a very masculine personality.   That too colors how she sees the world.

          Moving on, that whole screed is nonsense.   That sexuality and sexual expression have been enduringly static across cultures throughout thousands of years.   Hollywood doesn’t foist beauty  standards on an unwilling public.   It reflects the standards as they change and profits from doing this.   It isn’t referred to as giving people what they want for nothing.

          How humans express their femininity or masculinity and interact with one another has changed through out history.   One book I read lately was on sexuality in European medieval times.   Back in those days, women were considered lustful base creatures who were distracting men from the important work of securing the safety of the realm and promoting Christianity.   You can see echoes of this line of thought in the manosphere where the Red Pill guys describe women as being driven by their “primal” lizard brains.   Another example is how ruling class men dressed and behaved in the 15th and 16th centuries.   Powdered faces, curled and styled wigs, hose and high heels.   They dressed in what would be considered an extremely feminine way nowadays.

          Also B.S.–that there is some central feminist thought factory in NYC that cranks out the official party line that all feminists must adhere to.   Some feminists (as well as some regressive traditionalists) do find the femme fatale persona to be misogynistic and problematic.   Many don’t.   What Paglia fails to acknowledge is that feminism is an umbrella under which there is a lot of disagreement and factions.   What she does is to pick the line of feminist sub-thought that is the opposite of hers, then assigns that school of thought to all feminists that she is the brave warrior fighting against.

          And is Paglia trying to make a statement about sexuality and society or does she want to be a film and acting critic here?   At the end it sure does sound like the latter.

        9. Persephone

          Emily The Original, and your response to Go With The Flow:
          As far as Paglia’s thoughts on Elizabeth Taylor versus Meryl Streep, there’s some things that I think she is missing. Elizabeth Taylor was earlier than Meryl Streep. Elizabeth Taylor came onto screen after the end of World War II. During World War II, the role of women in society changed, because of the male labor shortage. That’s when they had Rosie the Riveter all over the place, encouraging women to get in the factories and help America with the war effort. When the man came home from war, women were encouraged to be good little housewives quit their jobs, make room so that the man can have jobs, and make babies, and be sexy little feminine things that were helpless, letting the men do all the important stuff in life. Meryl Streep came on screen a little bit later, when some folks were fed up with that 50s female persona, and were rolling their eyes at it. World events shape actresses quite a bit

        10. Emily, the original


          She wields the sexual power that feminism cannot explain and has tried to destroy. … But the femme fatale expresses women’s ancient and eternal control of the sexual realm. …To me, Elizabeth Taylor’s importance as an actress was that she represented a kind of womanliness that is now completely impossible to find on the U.S. or U.K. screen. It was rooted in hormonal reality – the vitality of nature.

          You missed the point. Her point is about women having sexual power.

          In her essay about Hugh Hefner, she talks about there being a lack of sexual charge between men and women the more the sexes become alike. It’s true. I was just on a college campus for months, watching the young men and women interact … or should I say not interact. I’m not sure they even noticed one another. Women looking like they fell out of bed; men checked out and not present. It was sad.

        11. GoWiththeFlow


          Yes real world events shape art.   Hollywood responds to changes in the culture.   It doesn’t make the change.

          Also, on another post I just responded to someone about obesity and overweight as it affects attractiveness.   That and talking about The Beauty Myth on this thread reminded me how there is a subset of feminists who’s primary issue is body image and their primary struggle is fighting against what they see as cruel and impossible beauty standards, especially when it comes to weight.

          These feminists actually use the same argument   Paglia does about Hollywood and the media showcasing “scrawny” models that supposedly oppress women.   Concurrently under the heading of body positivity or fat acceptance, they have also embraced the persona of the femme fatale or the vamp to express how they are truly THE image of feminine beauty that has been historically true.

          Their arguments run into the same problems Paglia’s do.   That the image of the ideal woman (or man for that matter) is different across cultures and changes over time.   Also that at any given time in any given culture, there will be variance in both how women express their sexuality and in what male preferences are.

          Ultimately I find that Paglia’s binary, either or thinking to be very limiting and not reflective of the variety that exists in human sexual behavior.

        12. Jeremy

          GWTF, I agree with your post here on critical thinking and multiple perspectives.   My sadness about the issue is that most people don’t seek out multiple perspectives.   When Warren Farrell came to speak in Toronto, he was shouted down by feminist protesters and his presentation was cancelled.


          We should definitely learn about Rape Culture, but we should also learn about Theft Culture.   We should learn about the Beauty Myth, but not without also understanding the Success Myth.   When Margaret Atwood states that men only worry about women laughing at them while women worry about men killing them, we shouldn’t forget that women’s laughter (or fear thereof) has been responsible for all sorts of male deaths in history, nor should we forget the preponderance of men who died to protect women rather than to kill them.   There is balance, but most don’t see it.   Because we focus on our own problems and ignore our own advantages.

        13. GoWiththeFlow

          No Emily, I didn’t miss the point.   My contention is that Paglia deals in absolutes and her arguments are binary or all or nothing.   She never acknowledges much less delves into nuance and context.

          ”But the femme fatale expresses women’s ancient and eternal control of the sexual realm.”

          Paglia’s position here is that women have total control of the sexual realm and that this has always been so.   I think many women would disagree with Paglia’s assertion.   This ignores many women’s ambivalence about their sexuality or their experiences of feeling powerless in the sexual arena at some times in their lives.

        14. Persephone

          GoWithTheFlow, you said,

          Hollywood responds to changes in the culture.   It doesn’t make the change.

          What? Really? Then why all these studies by marketers, CIA, psychologists to control us?   I wish you would read Naomi Klein’s book Shock Doctrine, regarding the effects of marketers, Hollywood, and CIA to control our minds.   It works, too.   Yes, Hollywood really does effect society very greatly.   Anyone who follows fashion knows that Kim Kardashian’s brows set off a mega-trend.   Rhinestone Cowboy enriched western wear stores way back years ago, so how you missed out on that tidbit is a mystery.

        15. GoWiththeFlow


          Think I’ll take a pass on the book.

          Getting back to Paglia’s passage that Emily posted, the storylines and character roles of the movies Streep and Being acted in reflected changes in society that were already in progress, like increasing rates of divorce, single parenthood, and working moms.

          So Kim Kardashian started an eyebrow trend?   BFD.   Hardly an earth shattering change in society.   As far as western wear merchants cleaning up after Rhinestone Cowboy, again, BFD.   How do eyebrow and clothing trends cause a big change in the structure of our families and society?

        16. Persephone

          To GoWiththeFlow, it’s collective influence. It is slowly creeping influence, when you put it all together with Brittany, Beyonce, ect.   The Kardashians have certainly changed our society.

          The Kardashian and Jenner family have pushed the boundaries of social norms in almost every way. From issues surrounding slut shaming, cultural appropriation, gender identity, and underage sexuality, the Kardashian/Jenner machine have been in the center of it all and have made the socially unacceptable chic….

          …Bruce Jenner transitioned in to Caitlin Jenner before our very eyes and was very transparent about why he transitioned. This has resulted in an increase of discussion about transgender rights and issues Trans people face. Since Caitlin Jenner came out to the public there has been many acts of legislation purposed for Trans rights across the country. Kylie Jenner the youngest Kardashian sister has come into stardom by dating rapper Tyga who is 7 years her senior. The couple began the relationship in 2014 when Kylie was only 17 years old. After Kylie turned 18 and legally became an adult all PDA between her and Tyga was publically documented by paparazzi, blogs, and social networks. Clearly the couple’s relationship started when she was underage but once again the Kardashian/Jenner machine glamorized the relationship and showed support.


    2. 8.2

      Isn’t she just saying it’s gone too far? And  too much State intervention in aspects of sexuality implies both that sex is a dirty word and that women are helpless beings who can’t fend for themselves, hear a dirty joke or a rude word without falling helpless to the ground?

      I didn’t know much about her so I Googled her and she was referenced in an interesting article in The Australian newspaper. The writer made the point that if you mix up telling a dirty joke with actual rape and harassment, then everything gets diluted and it can’t be taken seriously. Or men constantly feel they are walking on eggshells, women are too hard work, and instead they are turning to porn or sex dolls.

      I’m certainly seeing some of that kind of attitude on this blog, women being over the top in their expectations (pay for everything, keep initiating sex even though I keep turning it down, approach me but make sure you read my signals  exactly right first) and men becoming very frustrated about what they should and shouldn’t do. (Of course there’s a lot of male BS on here as well, but that’s another story).

      The writer talks about  the principal of a private school here who banned male students from using the word ‘moist’ as it offends female students. So then, of course, all they wanted to do is use the word moist over and over! I couldn’t take something like that seriously, so I wouldn’t expect a 15 year old boy to. I also think it detracts from the real message, which is: treat women with respect,  but don’t deny your sexuality. And rape is not the same thing as a dirty joke or naughty word. If you happen to step a little over the line, expect the woman to tell you off (women are not  helpless victims), and if you keep going, then you could be in serious trouble.

      Quite a different message to: don’t say the word moist, boys…

      1. 8.2.1

        Y’all are falling for their tactics. Y’all are falling for Paglia and Milo yiannopoulos. The most egregious behavior is getting characterized as telling someone may have a nice dress. Yes, women are helpless and not able to defend themselves when they’re surrounded by 100 men coming at them with orgasm sound over the intercom, of which all the others laugh at!

      2. 8.2.2

        She’s saying it’s gone too far simply because somebody’s actually starting to listen to women. It’s okay for women to complain about it as long as people drown her out or ignore her. But when   somebody finally sits up and says, “hey, there’s something to these women’s complaints.” then they say it’s gone too far. Then the likes of Camille Paglia and Milo yiannopoulos miscategorize it as being stupid little girls who are so fragile that they can’t take a compliment of their dress. And I’m completely upset that y’all are falling for it. Y’all are making a mockery of all the pain I went through. I actually have PTSD from the crap that happened to me. And for me to sit here and read this garbage from y’all, believing her mess. I am not some fragile little girl. What I went through was exceptional and extreme, while all of management laughed at me. I’m probably blacklisted from working at any other manufacturing place, because when I finally said a peep it got one big guy fired. They all hate me for that. Well he deserved it. He was a manager, and he permitted a lot of crap to go on. He deserved far worse than what he got. But I’m the one that’s going to suffer for it. And everybody’s going to downplay it like I’m some shrinking little pansy that just couldn’t take it. Even though I could out weld, out crane operate, out forklift operator many of those guys. They were out of shape with fat beer guts and they’d get back injuries. I kept doing the work without a single injury. Yet I’m the one who’s weak. Give me a break. Y’all are insulting to me and what I went through. And to millions of other women just like me across this country.

        1. Jeremy

          Persephone, I recently read one of paglia’s books. I disagreed with a lot of her writing. She seems to be obsessed with Freudian imagery, and given her background in art and history, I’m uncertain of her qualifications to opine about many topics she does.   I felt much the same way, though, about Naomi Wolf and other feminist writers of her ilk. Some valid points IMO, some less IMO.


          Keep in mind that people believe what they want to believe and give less weight to evidence that disconfirms their opinions. People believe that a gụrụ is brilliant when he confirms their beliefs and am idiot when he doesn’t. This is true of others and also ourselves.


          I remind myself to keep in mind that the battles and situations others face aren’t necessarily the ones I’ve faced. Just because I went   through a period where I felt my spouse treated me unfairly, for example, doesn’t mean that others who are in sexless marriages have the same etiology or would benefit from the same strategy that helped me. The battles we each fight are not the same. The same is true of your battles.



        2. Persephone

          Jeremy, I am an attorney who has worked in areas of law that are relevant, therefore I also have a responsibility to look at these things outside my own personal experience. I am required to do so. I have CLE continuing legal ed classes, read white papers, be informed. I am not allowed to rely on merely personal prejudices and experiences, or even political slant. When I share my own story, it gives gravitas to my argument. We are all weary of social media political arguments where people cite authorities, offer data, and make good proof. However no one pays attwntion to that. Audiences generally only listen to emotion.

          You are not the first to question Paglia’s qualifications. Naomi Wolf, on the other hand is qualified, as   former  political advisor  to  Al Gore  and  Bill Clinton.  

        3. Jeremy

          Certainly telling personal stories helps to get a point across, as people are more inclined to absorb the personal rather than the abstract. But there is a difference between telling a story and assuming that one’s story is the rule rather than the exception.


          I have heard complaints from men and women that were, I thought, legitimate complaints. And I’ve heard people make ridiculous accusations or consider trivial things to be serious. That is why my first response to Evan’s thread in harassment was to beg for people definitions – which may exist legally, but less so in the Court of public opinion.


          Regarding Naomi Wolf – her appointment does not make her qualified. I vividly recall reading the Beauty Myth and thinking about how profound her description was of life as a woman under the beauty myth, but also how profound her misunderstanding of men and society and the myths that men live under.

        4. Persephone

          Jeremy, I found Wolf (and Susan Faludi) spot on. And she is not the crackpot anti-feminist that Paglia is. But I am willing to listen to specific examples if you would expand your thoughts.

        5. Jeremy

          But how would you expect NOT to find Wolf spot on, Persephone. Hers is the female perspective.   I enjoyed and learned a lot from the female perspective….but the problem was the skew.


          A while back, commenter KK and I discussed the Beauty Myth and my reservations about the book.   I mentioned that Wolf’s omission of the male perspective was problematic and KK asked why that should be a problem.   If a person writes a book on cancer, KK asked, would the author also need to discuss other diseases?   Can we not just learn about cancer?   And my answer was that if the book was only about cancer I’d agree.   But if the author goes on to extrapolate about cancer being the scourge of society and how society conspires to keep us all subject to cancer, I’d want to hear other perspectives.


          That’s the problem with the Beauty Myth.   Not that it doesn’t exist, not that it isn’t a problem for many women, but that when Wolf goes on to theorize about the patriarchal nature of society and various consipiracy theories about why the beauty myth exists, her total lack of understanding about the Success Myth among men, the Confidence Myth among men, the Disposability Myth among men – totally undermines her extrapolations about society.   I think the best person to describe this is author Warren Farrell, who used to be a feminist bigwig and now still believes in equal rights for women but has also acknowledged the problems that men face which feminism does nothing to address.   His book “The Myth of Male Power” is a bit sappy and hyperbolic, but makes a few very good points to fill in the giant gaps left by Wolf.

        6. GoWiththeFlow


          “People believe that a gụrụ is brilliant when he confirms their beliefs and am idiot when he doesn’t.”

          Paglia has a huge following in the manosphere and it is based on her bashing of feminism, which, of course the Red Pill guys just hate.   What they seem to miss is that she presents an image of men that is really dark.   Where men are driven by violent and aggressive impulses and anything that do that is civil is repressing and feminizing them.   Do men really agree with this portrait of themselves?

          There are a lot of male writers who write about how men can and should seek out and devote themselves to a higher purpose or goal in life.   Their works are inspiring, and directly oppose Paglia’s Ayn Rand inspired social Darwinism.   So why men choose to lavish praise on her is a mystery to me.

        7. Persephone

          Jeremy, at the time I read the beauty myth, I had already been working in a manufacturing company as the only female. Many times there were 100 employees on the plant site on a night shift, and I would be the only woman there. One tends to learn a lot about men under those circumstances. Not many women get to be put in a position as I was in. So please don’t assume that I have no way to understand a man’s perspective. I’m now an attorney, and while it’s not my only area of law, I do a lot of divorces. This teaches me a lot about both men and women. I’m not for one minute going to say just because I’m a woman I know everything about being a woman. I don’t think it’s fair for a man to say that about men, either. I learned a lot more about women since I’ve been an attorney than I have could ever learn anywhere else, or just by being a woman myself.

          In case some of the readers have not red Naomi wolves book, I’m including a link to a 2013   article that revisits   the 1992 book.

          But revisiting it now, 20 years later, evokes an all-too-common feeling I get when reading old feminist texts: Holy shit, nothing has changed. Or, actually, things have only gotten worse…..

        8. Jeremy

          Persephone, it’s not that I assume a woman can’t understand or empathize with men.   It’s that by direct observation of Naomi Wolf’s writing, for example, I can understand that she DOESN’T, nor do the women who study her in Gender Studies classes.   A woman who discusses rape culture and patriarchy without also acknowledging the opposites of those forces in our culture is, IMO, cripplingly biased.   In the exact same way as the men on the manosphere who discuss the “feminine imperative” without acknowledging its opposite.


          I’ve read your various posts with interest.   Your posts on your marriages, friendships, experiences with men.   Your views on confidence and on attractiveness.    Views on age differences and the importance (or lack of importance) thereof.   Your views on male behavior.   The views of the guru you’ve chosen to believe and his opinions on relationships.   Far be it from me to opine or to judge my views (which differ significantly from yours) to be necessarily better.   But are they working for you?   If so, I have nothing to add.   If not, consider that the issue might be with the approach.

        9. Persephone

          Jeremy, you asked if some of my past decisions worked for me.

          I share my life experiences for the very fact that they sometimes didn’t work for me, but that I’ve also learned from my mistakes.

          And for so-called “gurus”, as you call them, one of the reasons I come here is because Evan Marc Katz is one of those people who I rely on.

          As for your suggestion that my approach might be wrong, I am open to suggestions on how to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace. I’ve had plenty of suggestions on that. Their suggestions were that I go work a minimum wage job as a bank teller I can dress up pretty, instead of the high-paid manufacturing job that I had. Since you really don’t know the approach that I took, I don’t know how you can criticize it. The only approach that’s going to work in those circumstances is not from me. It’s from management. Problems start from the top and roll down hill.

  9. 9

      But if feminism means anything, it should be encouraging young women to take control of every aspect of their sex lives, including their own impulses, conflicts, and disappointments. That’s what’s tragic about all this. Young women don’t seem to realize that in demanding adult inquiry into and adjudication of their sex lives, they are forfeiting their own freedom and agency.

    Paglia is correct here, but she’s forgetting one of the primary themes she wrote about in   Sexual Personae: that a whole lot of people, despite what they say and think, don’t really want freedom.

  10. 10

    Emily the Original:

    She wields the sexual power that feminism cannot explain and has tried to destroy. Through stars like Taylor, we sense the world-disordering impact of legendary women like Delilah, Salome, and Helen of Troy. Feminism has tried to dismiss the femme fatale as a misogynist libel, a hoary cliche. But the femme fatale expresses women’s ancient and eternal control of the sexual realm.

    Femme fatale characters are fun in fiction but in real life men (historically) have persistently tried to undercut female sexual power by stifling their legal freedom in a wide variety of ways.   Sometimes in fairly soft ways by forbidding women to open their own lines of credit, as used to be the case in the United States, and sometimes literally in the Middle East or parts of South Asia by locking women up in a purdah.   Some of us laugh at that delusion among PUAs that the average 20 year old girl is a calculating heartbreaker who uses her beauty to enslave men just for the fun of it and stomps on the hearts of countless beta males in her relentless pursuit of an alpha, but that is pretty much how many social conservatives, both religious and secular, around the world see women if you judge them by their actions, writings and public policy proscriptions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *