Camille Paglia was a voice for men before the word “misandry” was widely used or even understood. “Freedom,” she says, “in the gender realm means the freedom of each sex to define its history and destiny without blame or harassment.” She acknowledges that men have been “impugned and silenced by feminism.”
Her brand of libertarian feminism stands in clear contrast to the incessant voices of mainstream feminism that demand women be given special privileges without personal responsibility. Men, the mainstream feminists believe, should have responsibility with fewer rights. In her new book, Free Women, Free Men: Sex, Gender, Feminism, Paglia’s collection of essays explores why both sexes deserve and need freedom—and why that freedom is so important.
Paglia is pretty much a household name by now, but for those who have not read her work, she is the University Professor of Humanities and Media Studies at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. She is a regular contributor to Salon and the author of Sexual Personae; Glittering Images; Break, Blow, Burn; Sex, Art, and American Culture; and Vamps and Tramps.
Her new book opens with an introduction about how the book is laid out: the chapters are chosen from her numerous works and include a controversial first chapter from Sexual Personae entitled “Sex and Violence, or Nature and Art,” a piece on Madonna from 1990 in The New York Times, and even her response to a debate on the question “Are Men Obsolete?”
Paglia never fails to provide straightforward and thoughtful dialogue about gender. She is not typical in her analysis—she actually likes and respects men. The reader can see this in her philosophy of “equal opportunity feminism” which says that “[A]n enlightened feminism, animated by a courageous code of personal responsibility, can only be built upon a wary alliance of strong men and strong women.”
But how strong are the men of today, given the myriad intrusive laws and lack of due process that our political and legal systems impose on them? As a psychologist who has worked for years with men and interviewed men for my book Men on Strike, I have found that many men have been affected by political and legal forces beyond their control. Their strength may come from their inner lives and psychological make-ups, but often times society leaves many of them feeling powerless and silenced by the feminists and their supporters today. Despite this, says Paglia, men “stoically go on doing the dirtiest, most dangerous and thankless work in modern society.”
What I admire most about Paglia is her ability to see the invisible men who toil for society’s benefit, oftentimes for the very women themselves who freely bash and denigrate them in a variety of ways. Paglia calls these male-bashers out for the hypocrites that they are; she takes a contrarian position against such feminist icons as Anita Hill, Catharine MacKinnon, and Andrea Dworkin. These takedowns alone are worth the price of her new book.
She also fights back against this anti-male backlash in a speech at the Munk Debate in Toronto by astutely attacking the question “Are Men Obsolete”? Her opening statement, “If men are obsolete, then women will soon be extinct,” shows her willingness to depart from the feminist dogma that says women can do it all and that men are dolts who are unnecessary.
Instead, in this debate, she focuses on the positive aspects of men:
Indeed, men are absolutely indispensable right now, invisible as it is to most feminists, who seem blind to the infrastructure that makes their own work lives possible. It is overwhelmingly men who do the dirty, dangerous work of building roads, pouring concrete, laying bricks, tarring roofs, hanging electric wires, excavating natural gas and sewage lines . . . . The modern economy, with its vast production and distribution network, is a male epic, in which women have found a productive role—but women were not its author. Surely, modern women are strong enough now to give credit where credit is due!
Paglia obviously overestimated the modern feminists of today, who think they derive “strength” by denigrating and blaming toxic masculinity for the ills of the world. Much changed from the time of Paglia’s 1990 writings on Madonna, whom Paglia originally called the “future of feminism.” In her famous New York Times piece on Madonna from Chapter 4 of the new book, Paglia praises Madonna for being a “true feminist” who “exposes the puritanism and suffocating ideology of American feminism, which is stuck in an adolescent whining mode. Madonna has taught young women to be fully female and sexual while still exercising control over their own lives. She shows girls how to be attractive, sensual, energetic, ambitious, aggressive, and funny—all at the same time.” Paglia also states that the Madonna of yesteryear loved real men. “She sees the beauty of masculinity, in all its rough vigor and sweaty athletic perfection.”
Madonna no longer seems to warrant much respect from Paglia. Paglia criticized Madonna recently for her adolescent way of handling herself and for her inability to deal with aging. Today’s Madonna seems to have little use for female autonomy or personal responsibility. She is too busy trying to score cheap political points by going to women’s marches wearing a “black pussy hat” and threatening to blow up the White House after the unexpected win of alpha male Donald Trump or announcing that she will “personally slap” any man who doesn’t call himself a feminist.
Now men no longer seem to be admired by Madonna. Instead, they are to blame for the problems of the world because women do not have agency. They are not responsible for their actions or words. Welcome to the “pussyhat feminism” that Madonna presides over: women who use the government to force others who disagree with them to bend to their ways, the very antithesis of anything Paglia seems to believe.
Madonna’s pussyhat feminism stands in sharp contrast to Paglia’s clear-thinking libertarian brand of personal responsibility. Paglia is a brilliant thinker on culture and human nature. And Madonna? Well, let’s just say that it’s a good thing she can sing, according to some. Maybe if Madonna had read more of Paglia’s writings from the 1990s, she would be more representative of female freedom and autonomy today. Instead, she is a cliché, the aging feminist who has double standards for men.
Paglia’s new book is inspirational in its tone and its message that freedom belongs to both sexes and that the war on men is not only detrimental to men but to women as well. “[W]hat is indisputable,” says Paglia, “is that women do not gain by weakening men.” Truer words were never spoken.