Camille Paglia Interview

camille-pagliaThe Spectator

Talking to Camille Paglia is like approaching a machine gun: madness to stick your head up and ask a question, unless you want your brain blown apart by the answer, but a visceral delight to watch as she obliterates every subject in sight. Most of the time she does this for kicks. It’s only on turning to Hillary Clinton that she perpetrates an actual murder: of Clinton II’s most cherished claim, that her becoming 45th president of the United States would represent a feminist triumph.

‘In order to run for president of the United States, you have to spend two or three years of your life out on the road constantly asking for money and most women find that life too harsh, too draining,’ Paglia argues. ‘That is why we haven’t had a woman president in the United States — not because we haven’t been ready for one, for heaven’s sakes, for a very long time…’

Hillary hasn’t suffered — Paglia continues — because she is a woman. She has shamelessly exploited the fact: ‘It’s an outrage how she’s played the gender card. She is a woman without accomplishment. “I sponsored or co-sponsored 400 bills.” Oh really? These were bills to rename bridges and so forth. And the things she has accomplished have been like the destabilisation of North Africa, causing refugees to flood into Italy… The woman is a disaster!’

Not that Paglia was always opposed to the Clintons. She voted for Bill Clinton twice before becoming revolted by the treatment meted out to Monica Lewinsky: ‘One of the very first interviews I did here — the headline was “Kind of a bitch — why I like Hillary Clinton”. My jaundiced view of her is entirely the result of observing her behaviour. And last election, I voted for Jill Stein’s Green party. So I have already voted for a woman president.’

As far as most feminists are concerned, such a view is unconscionable. Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright made it their business to castigate American girls who wanted Bernie Sanders, while Madonna has promised a blowjob for every Clinton vote. Professor Paglia does not seem to mind much if she makes herself violently unpopular with her contemporaries — she’s an expert at it. Currently professor of the humanities at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, she first shot to fame in 1990 with the publication of Sexual Personae — a manuscript turned down by seven publishers before it became a bestseller.

Paglia’s feminism has always been concerned with issues far beyond her own navel and the Hillary verdict is typical of her attitude — which is more in touch with women in the real world than most feminists’ (a majority of Americans, for example, have an ‘unfavourable view of Hillary Clinton’ according to recent polling).

‘My philosophy of feminism,’ the New York-born 69-year-old explains, ‘I call street-smart Amazon feminism. I’m from an immigrant family. The way I was brought up was: the world is a dangerous place; you must learn to defend yourself. You can’t be a fool. You have to stay alert.’ Today, she suggests, middle-class girls are being reared in a precisely contrary fashion: cosseted, indulged and protected from every evil, they become helpless victims when confronted by adversity. ‘We are rocketing backwards here to the Victorian period with this belief that women are not capable of making decisions on their own. This is not feminism — which is to achieve independent thought and action. There will never be equality of the sexes if we think that women are so handicapped they can’t look after themselves.’

Paglia traces the roots of this belief system to American campus culture and the cult of women’s studies. This ‘poison’ — as she calls it — has spread worldwide. ‘In London, you now have this plague of female journalists… who don’t seem to have made a deep study of anything…’

Paglia does not sleep with men — but she is, very refreshingly, in favour of them. She never moans about ‘the patriarchy’ but freely asserts that manmade capitalism has enabled her to write her books.

As for male/female relations, she says that they are far more complex than most feminists insist. ‘I wrote a date-rape essay in 1991 in which I called for women to stand up for themselves and learn how to handle men. But now you have this shibboleth, “No means no.” Well, no. Sometimes “No” means “Not yet”. Sometimes “No” means “Too soon”. Sometimes “No” means “Keep trying and maybe yes”. You can see it with the pigeons on the grass. The male pursues the female and she turns away, and turns away, and he looks a fool but he keeps on pursuing her. And maybe she’s testing his persistence; the strength of his genes… It’s a pattern in the animal kingdom — a courtship pattern…’ But for pointing such things out, Paglia adds, she has been ‘defamed, attacked and viciously maligned’ — so, no, she is not in the least surprised that wolf-whistling has now been designated a hate crime in Birmingham.

Girls would be far better advised to revert to the brave feminist approach of her generation — when women were encouraged to fight all their battles by themselves, and win. ‘Germaine Greer was once in this famous debate with Norman Mailer at Town Hall. Mailer was formidable, enormously famous — powerful. And she just laid into him: “I was expecting a hard, nuggety sort of man and he was positively blousy…” Now that shows a power of speech that cuts men up. And this is the way women should be dealing with men — finding their weaknesses and susceptibilities… not bringing in an army of pseudo, proxy parents to put them down for you so you can preserve your perfect girliness.’

In an hour’s non-stop talking, Professor Paglia is only lost when asked which younger feminists she would pass the baton to. ‘I would love to inspire dissident young feminists to realise that this brand of feminism is not all feminism…’ she says, before citing Germaine Greer as the woman she admires most alive, and Amelia Earhart and Katharine Hepburn as heroines alas dead.

As with Greer, it is Paglia’s power of speech that utterly devastates. Her collected works read like a dictionary of vicious quotations. (Leaving sex to the feminists? ‘Like letting your dog vacation at the taxidermist.’ Lena Dunham? ‘She’s a big pile of pudding.’) Paglia is pro-liberty, pro–pornography, pro-prostitutes and anti- any and all special treatment when it comes to women in power: ‘I do not believe in quotas of any kind. Scandinavian countries are going in that direction and it’s an insult to women — the idea that you need a quota.’ Which brings us back to Hillary and the so-called victory her re-entering the White House would represent: ‘If Hillary wins, nothing will change. She knows the bureaucracy, all the offices of government and that’s what she likes to do, sit behind the scenes and manipulate the levers of power.’

Paglia says she has absolutely no idea how the election will go: ‘But people want change and they’re sick of the establishment — so you get this great popular surge, like you had one as well… This idea that Trump represents such a threat to western civilisation — it’s often predicted about presidents and nothing ever happens — yet if Trump wins it will be an amazing moment of change because it would destroy the power structure of the Republican party, the power structure of the Democratic party and destroy the power of the media. It would be an incredible release of energy… at a moment of international tension and crisis.’

All of a sudden, the professor seems excited. Perhaps, like all radicals in pursuit of the truth, Paglia is still hoping the revolution will come.


Camille Paglia was a speaker at the Battle of Ideas in London last weekend. Her book Free Women, Free Men: Sex, Gender, Feminism will be published next year.

Are Young People Scared of Sex? (No, No, No)

Here’s my Battle Of Ideas Speech:

First, I’d like to apologise. I’m only here because I wanted to meet Camille Paglia and, because, like an idiot, I thought I could answer the question. You see it struck me like something you read on the cover of a women’s magazine. Such as ‘Is Your Manicurist A Sex Slave?’ And I love those questions because the only thing I know for sure is that I don’t know a damned thing about anything. But bugger me, I think: I can answer that one. Because I do not have a manicurist so she can’t possibly be a sex slave…

And I’ve been out in Clapham Junction on a Friday night, amongst hordes of scantily clad young people, who feast on each other like zombies in the streets. And all summer I sat in a hot, green park where teenagers melted into each other like ice cream. And every day I witness some millennial mount another in a manner most repulsive to the naked eye. And maybe I’ve got sex on the brain, but I see it everywhere I look. So I thought OK. I’ll simply stand up, eyeball the lot of you in a petrifying manner and ask, ‘Are Young People Scared of Sex?’ And answer, with Margaret Thatcher-style certainty: no No NO. And then you’ll know the answer to this question you so desperately want answered you all turned up. I’ll sit down and shut up. And we can all listen to the goddess Camille Paglia.

But then I was told I had to make a five minute speech so… as I said I apologise.

When I think of young people and sex I get Philip Larkin in my head, who said sex was invented in 1963, (which was much too late for me…) Only it turned out, after he died, that Larkin had oodles of sex and was pretty perverted, really, and then a lot of idiots started denigrating his poetry. I believe that every generation believes there is some variation in the amount of sex to be had and throughout history the mass of sex has been pretty much constant. Because sex is a human urge – it affects us like hunger or thirst. And although there may be young people who are afraid of eating, we call them anorexics and don’t diagnose a whole generation as food deprived. I’m sure for every squeamish and rarefied young person talking to Vice magazine or Janet Street Porter there are at least 100 who are utterly debauched.

I think this sex thing – like the rest of the Stepford Student- Generation Snowflake stuff – originates with a very vocal minority totally unrepresentative of the whole. I reckon they’re upper middle class navel gazers rather than the swelling mass of brazen youth. When people tell me about safe spaces in universities I always think, yeah… I think most of them are still spending three years very very drunk. If students have changed in recent years, it’s only that they’re worried about finances. But sex is still free. Or at least it’s more cost effective than – I don’t know – trampolining.

And why would young people be afraid of sex? We have the pill – thank god – and have done since the Sixties. There are effective precautions against STDs. And most of us are godless so we don’t have to be worried about getting smote down. Or have to marry before we do it. When I was a young person I had no fear of sex at all. I thought I was very liberated and did not to give a damn about it. And so I had sex with some really hideous people. And aside from an utterly depraved poet, who taught me a thing or two – the sex wasn’t really worth the men.

So I think today the only thing young people have to fear about sex is sex itself.

And this is where I’m changing tack. Because I’m still going to insist that the young aren’t scared of sex. But, I’m going to say, they probably ought to be.

I think fear is something you learn. You’re not afraid of fire until you get burnt. Or heights until you fall. And I wasn’t scared of sex once, but I am now, because I think sex, when done right, is about making a connection with another human being. And a lot of how sex is treated today is about bodies colliding without connecting and this sort of sex is no good for the human heart at all.

Vanity Fair tell us we are living through the Dating Apocalypse. It described New York in the age of Tinder, where men who sound like Patrick Bateman in American Psycho boast of penetrating and discarding women on a nightly basis and feeling next to nothing. And maybe these oily young coves get pleasure out of that sort of thing but I doubt many of the women do.

And I worry girls – who are stupid like I was, will subscribe to this Tinder bullshit– and think themselves very modern and cool although these encounters are straight out of Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies, when Nina says: ‘All this fuss about sleeping together. For physical pleasure I’d sooner go to my dentist…’

Whenever I think of what I want from sex, I think of Andrew Marvell’s line: ‘The grave’s a fine and private place/ But none, I think, do there embrace.’

And when I was young I would not have thought about that – that sex if done right should be an embrace. I’d have been thinking about my bra and my knickers. But I learned over time that an embrace is not just what I want it is – as a human – what I need and what I deserve. And I hope all these young people feasting upon one another have that. But if sex isn’t that for them now, I hope they get a bit scared, so one day it will be.


May’s Beard

nick-timothy-beardThe Spectator

This week, the Tory party conference ought to be gripped by the question, who the hell is Nick Timothy, the vizier with all the power? To suggest that Theresa May’s joint chief of staff is the man behind our new PM’s manoeuvres is apparently misogynistic, but I’m a woman and I’ll say what I like. May’s regime change has been riveting, yet a core mystery remains: who precisely is in charge? We endured endless TV debates before last year’s election, but the person currently running the country was not on the podium. Now he’s in a Downing Street back office, luxuriating behind his lavish beard.

And it’s the beard that really mesmerises me. Nobody seems to know anything about Timothy, and he is shy of public statements. But is he not making a massive one with his bushy facial growth? It practically screams: ‘I am the most powerful unelected adviser in living memory.’ None of the last 16 Conservative leaders has been bearded; the most recent was Lord Salisbury in 1902. When Stephen Crabb crashed out of the Tory leadership race after sexting a young lady regarding his ‘downstairs situation’, it only proved my nan’s foolproof axiom: ‘Never trust a man with a beard.’ Close your eyes and picture a bearded leader. (You’re thinking of a dictator.) Our last Iron Lady would never ‘tolerate any minister of mine wearing a beard’.

The Labour party’s current woes are neatly encapsulated by Jeremy Corbyn’s grizzled mien. It states clearly: I’m completely un-electable. New Labour’s success was predicated on the demise of Peter Mandelson’s moustache. As Lucinda Hawksley explains in her indispensable monograph, Moustaches, Whiskers & Beards, Mandy and Blair waged war on facial hair in the 1990s after market researchers found that voters were enamoured of a clean-shaven visage.

But with Blair long gone, Britain has experienced a beard boom. Men can now buy beard books, beard dyes and have a beard wash at Harvey Nichols. Perhaps Timothy was following fashion. Last year, even the Church of England sought to capitalise on the trend when the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Richard Chartres, recommended vicars grow beards to reach out to Muslims. In January, he singled out for special praise two priests in the East End who had cultivated beards ‘of an opulence that would not have disgraced a Victorian sage’. The Revd Cris Rogers of All Hallows Bow explained: ‘One guy approached me and said, “I can respect you because you have got a beard.’’’

Historically, beards were interpreted as a badge of age and wisdom. Timothy is only 36, but he probably commands more respect than the entire cabinet put together. Mrs May barely trusts anyone — yet regards him as indispensable. If you read a quote attributed to ‘a close ally of the Prime Minister’, you’re privy to the thoughts of one of three people: Mr May, Mr Timothy or — if expressing bloody outrage — May’s other joint chief of staff, Fiona Hill. Timothy, however, is the one who writes policy. He likes grammar schools, so the decades-old consensus against them has been overturned — and no one particularly cares what Justine Greening, nominally Education Secretary, thinks about the matter.

It’s quite possible Timothy grew a beard for primal reasons he doesn’t quite grasp. Research by the University of Western Australia suggests that beards are intended — like the cheek flange of the orangutan and the upper-lip wart of the golden snub-nosed monkey — to attract a mate and petrify sexual competitors. But modern women, contrarily, do not fancy them. Analysis of the dating app Tinder showed that three-quarters of women prefer a beardless man: hardly surprising in the age of the Brazilian wax, when women are expected to have their pubic hair painfully ripped off because young men greet it with abject terror. Facial hair is said to grow faster when a man is not having sex, so it’s not astonishing that men en masse suffered the beard style of goldrush miners and militant jihadis. (Poor loves.)

Beards, I am reassured by a millennial, have now peaked. So the fact that Timothy retains his might be interpreted as evidence that he is stubborn, like his boss. But it is worth recalling that great minds loathe beards. Nasa has never allowed a bearded man on the moon. Alexander the Great ordered his soldiers to shave before battle. Elizabeth I laid the foundations of empire by instituting a tax on any beard of more than two weeks’ growth. Today, beards make you 51 per cent less cheerful, 38 per cent less generous and 63 per cent more likely to win a staring contest — against another man.

Yes, I think we can divine a lot about Nick Timothy, thanks to that beard. And one key test of Mrs May’s government will be whether or not he shaves it off.