Content warning: sexual assault, victim blaming
Camille Paglia’s self-affirmation as an advocate of gender equality could not be further from the truth. In her most recent selection of essays, Free Women, Free Men, Paglia leaps from topic to topic, covering subjects from the hyper-masculinity of football culture to issues of modern sex education. Whilst the breadth of topics Paglia discusses is not necessarily grounds for criticism, everything else about this atrocity of a book is. Free Women, Free Men is the embodiment of controversy for controversy’s sake, as Paglia’s persistent and unadulterated criticism consistently fails to offer a clear or constructive solution to the multitude of pertinent issues she brazenly raises.
The collection’s introduction demonstrates a teasingly self-deprecating awareness of Paglia’s contentious nature, demonstrating a warped self-absorption and relishing of her role as one of the most provocative figures within modern social critique. The first, and longest, of the essays in the collection – ‘Sex and Violence, or Nature and Art’ – runs 36 pages without a single coherent argument. It emerges from this initial essay that Paglia’s work is not gifted with any credibility in stylistic strength; her slapdash amalgamation of philosophical allusion and popular culture, accompanied by persistent colloquialisms, renders her work painfully satirical.
Despite the urge to dismiss Paglia’s collection as completely lacking a coherent argument, it is important to address the problematic nature of her work. Her disturbingly controversial content reaches its pinnacle in ‘Rape and Modern Sex War’ where, amidst rambles, Paglia goes as far to claim that a “girl who goes upstairs alone with a brother at a fraternity party is an idiot. Feminists call this ‘blaming the victim’. I call it common sense.”
Paglia also audaciously champions ideals now commonly associated with an idealised toxic masculinity and conservatism. In ‘Gidron Feminism’ she asserts that “[a]mbitious young women who hope to rise up in politics or business should be taking military history courses rather than women’s studies”. Her reproachful generalisations are far from confined to the question of gender equality – few people escape unscathed. This is epitomised in her depiction of homosexual men – “The modern gay man, for example, has sought ecstasy in the squalor of public toilets.”
Shamelessly presenting and thus perpetuating traditional stereotypes of women, men and the feminist movement in her tireless desire to homogenise and attack, Paglia denies any possibility of constructive authority. The only use for this collection of essays is to exemplify that, whilst the fight for gender equality has come so far, there remain prominent figures militantly intent upon expressing disparagingly dangerous views. This book confirms that there is still much to fight, contend with, and ultimately disavow.
Free Women, Free Men: Sex Gender Feminism by Camille Paglia.