Camille Paglia (Michael Lionstar)

Camille Paglia thinks rape is intrinsic to men's nature -- and a lot of men are like, "This is awesome!"

What is going on here? Why are people so excited about Paglia's latest on men's "nature" and campus sexual assault?


Katie McDonough
September 30, 2014 10:57PM (UTC)

I get lots of unsolicited emails from men who want to tell me things. Often, these men will just want to tell me that I am wrong, but sometimes they will also want to tell me about someone else -- someone who is right, so that I might learn from them. One such man emailed me on Monday to let me know that I should read Camille Paglia's latest for Time because she is "someone who has a clue."

According to Paglia, any talk of rape culture is "hysterical propaganda," and claims about an epidemic of sexual assaults on college campuses are "wildly overblown." Instead, the real problem women need to contend with is "the fragility of civilization and the constant nearness of savage nature."

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Men, it seems, are hard-wired to do ancient sex crimes. Or something.

"The gender ideology dominating academe denies that sex differences are rooted in biology and sees them instead as malleable fictions that can be revised at will," Paglia explains. "The assumption is that complaints and protests, enforced by sympathetic campus bureaucrats and government regulators, can and will fundamentally alter all men."

So I am having a hard time engaging with this as a serious idea, so instead let's casually discuss it as something that is very weird. And then let's talk about the positive response to the piece from men who are usually like #NotAllMen any time a woman tries to write about violence. And then let's all take a nap or maybe watch a movie.

Paglia does not think rape culture is real, but she thinks "evil" is very super-real. Apparently "evil" is a more useful lens through which we can view male violence than existing critiques of institutional and cultural norms that condone violence against women.

According to Paglia, "The sexual stalker, who is often an alienated loser consumed with his own failures, is motivated by an atavistic hunting reflex. He is called a predator precisely because he turns his victims into prey."

After establishing that she thinks that rape is intrinsic to men's nature, a nature that can't be changed, Paglia advises women to try to understand "evil" and then stop wearing short skirts because those short skirts activate men's intrinsic primitive violence boners or something. "[Women] assume that bared flesh and sexy clothes are just a fashion statement containing no messages that might be misread and twisted by a psychotic," according to Paglia. "They do not understand the fragility of civilization and the constant nearness of savage nature."

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It's plenty weird that Paglia thinks that all men are born with rape buttons inside them that are automatically switched on when they see cleavage, but it is equally weird that lots of men seem to really support this concept of men's "nature."

I regularly get my inbox flooded with invective after I write a piece pointing to systemic and cultural forces that enable men to act with impunity, that normalize violence and treat women like untrustworthy liars. And feminism's "brand" problem, according to lots of men and women who do not understand feminism, seems to be that people think feminists hate men and think they are uniformly violent. Which makes men mad, and then mad men share all their mad feels, sometimes by harassing and threatening women.

But here we have a piece where a woman is actually saying that men are intrinsically violent and that can never ever change, and it's being heralded as a very serious idea about gender and sexual violence. The Daily Caller praised it as, "Camille Paglia Gloriously Smacks Down Feminists’ Unserious Campus Rape Drivel."

To me, a more accurate assessment would be something like, "Camille Paglia Gloriously Says That Rape Is an Intrinsic Part of Men's Nature and Men Seem Pretty OK With That." How glorious!

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Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

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