So I suppose I need to talk about this Susan Faludi “Electra” crap

I mean, just in case this whole Terminator 2 phase of my feminist blogging “career” is later described in children’s textbooks as merely “those months Antonova aired out her grievances regarding the writing of Camille Paglia – and posted funny pictures of cats”.

Here’s a funny picture of a cat:

Anyway, the points is, this month’s issue of Harper’s magazine features a piece by feminist author Susan Faludi, called “American Electra: Feminism’s Ritual Matricide”. You pretty much know where this one’s going the minute you read the title. Granted, even an unrepentant sterva like me, upon reading the full article, had to admit that Faludi, at the very least, tried to be as fair as she could to the subject matter and to the younger and older feminists she writes about.

“Tried” is the key word here.

I’m not a huge fan of Faludi’s writing, if only because I find her to be a bit of a dead-endist. To put it into actual English, Faludi doesn’t strike me as exceptionally constructive. The extent of my engagement with Faludi’s writing can be summed up like this: “Here are the things you should be pissed off about!” “I am indeed pissed off! What do I do now?” *crickets, etc.*

This isn’t to say that other people don’t get anything constructive out of Faludi’s writing. They do. I don’t happen to be one of them, though, which is why reading Faludi’s latest article felt a bit like having the same argument I always wind up having with those one drunk who hangs out by the kiosk where I buy beer after work: “Spare some change?” “Dude, you’re just getting enough so you can go get wasted.” “At least I’m honest!” “Yeah, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it when I walk by here again half an hour later, and you’re puking on the sidewalk!” *etc.*

Faludi’s article starts out sensibly enough – by describing the break that young American women of the 1920’s experienced with the older feminists who spearheaded the movement for women’s suffrage. I use the word “sensibly” loosely. Faludi’s sees 1920’s womanhood in starkly one-dimensional terms. Granted, she was writing an article for Harper’s, not a 400-page historical thesis, but all I could think about when I read this part of her piece was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Daisy saying she wished that her daughter would become a “beautiful little fool” – and the tragedy buried underneath that statement. You don’t need to write a 400-page thesis in order to have perspective.

Today’s young feminists ultimately fare no better in Faludi’s piece. The author actually goes as far as to note the actual stilettos of some young feminist speaker she listened to this one time. I waited for a punchline, but it never materialized. Of course, it is a well-known fact that a woman must look a certain way in order to be taken seriously – though the look itself is never clearly defined (that would allow an individual woman an out of some sort, and we can’t have that). In this context, a description of a woman wearing stilettos has the same undertone as a description of a man having “the smile of a pedophile” or whatever, coding for Suspicious Character. Of course, all of those women in their 50’s and beyond whom I know, who happen to also wear stilettos sometimes are… wait, nevermind, that would probably just introduce too much complexity into the problem of inter-generational conflict within American feminism. Let’s talk about fishnets instead – fishnets being those other things that young feminists sometimes wear. Because Faludi actual does bring them up. She also talks about Lady Gaga, of course – and talks about people who talk about Lady Gaga, and destroy the future of feminism in the process. Oh and the phrase “Barbie doll” is in there too.

We almost have bingo – almost, I say, because Faludi doesn’t bring up blow-jobs (does she? I’m not going to go back and read that article again. I’ve read it twice already, and have a perfectly good afternoon to wile away watching ships pass by the window outside, before the Moskva freezes).

Faludi’s main beef with younger feminists is that they, apparently, are not interested in activism, preferring consumerist gratification instead. Um. OK. It’s funny to me, because most young feminists I know are activists. Someone like Sarah Jaffe, whom I work with? Activist. Political organizer. Head Bitch In Charge. Etc. I bring up Sarah in particular, because it is the Sarahs of the world that Faludi appears to have a huge problem with. They’re level-headed, hard-working and intellectually curious – but they are also public about such things as emotion and desire. They don’t believe that a hint of glamour ought to ruin their public image, because they recognize the fact that there’s a purpose to every season – including being young. They want to have their cake and eat it too, clearly, and are obviously selfish. And they probably hate their mothers. Which is what this entire thing goes back to. Kids these days don’t listen to their moms. The Four Horsepeople of the Equal Opportunity Feminist Apocalypse are a-comin’.

If I could be serious for a moment – it almost seems to me that Faludi believes that weird co-dependency between moms and daughters is somehow a good thing, if this piece is anything to go by. She admiringly speaks of an old school feminist from way before the gullible sluts of the 1920’s era ruined things for everyone, who lived with her mother her entire life – as if it’s an example today’s feminists can learn from. My own strange real estate situation at the moment makes sure that I have to live with my mother for half the time, which isn’t a Horrible Tragedy, but it has it’s major downsides both for her and for me. More often than not, generations share living spaces because they have to – not because they have a terrific time doing it.

Inter-generational conflict always exists, and it affects way more than simply mainstream American feminism. Faludi’s assertion though that there is a “nightmare of dysfunction” within American feminism is, well… funny. For me, “nightmare” relates more to systemic exclusion of trans people. Or, say, how the concerns of those who are not middle-class and don’t get invited to sit on panels can easily get lost in the shuffle. Is that too much theory, perhaps? Theory, of course, is another thing that Faludi says that younger feminists are too preoccupied with. In principle, I’m not a big fan of theory either. My attitude toward it is summed up by the following joke:

Two middle-aged Jewish men, lifetime residents of Odessa, are walking across town and and pass by a newly-opened sex shop. “Abram!” One man says to another, “What does THAT make you think about?” “Nothing,” replies the other drily. “What? It doesn’t make you think about sex?” “Listen, Monya, I have six children – I have no time for theory.”

Seriously speaking, theory does help us identify patterns – such as several patterns I mentioned above: mainstream feminism’s problem with trans folk, mainstream feminism’s problem with sufficiently addressing class issues, etc. I don’t know if grooming practices and stuff I adorn myself with cancel out my critical thinking on these issues, but they’re still ultimately more important to me than squabbles with some invisible parent-type figure – squabbles that, incidentally, jar horribly with my concept of the Divine Feminine.

So in the end, I’d just like to point out that Holly, who is this chick on “True Blood” who channels the Great Mother in order to help Arlene possibly get an abortion, is way more compelling from a feminist perspective than this “ritual-matricide-Becky-look-at-her-stilettos-they-are-SO-big” stuff that gets published in Big Important Magazines and has nothing to do with my life.

Kids these days need to take their Alexander McQueen heels and get off my lawn: Camille Paglia on Lady Gaga

I’m honestly thankful for those moments wherein someone hails me and goes “Natalia! Camille Paglia’s written some bullshit again somewhere!” – because it keeps me blogging. Due to various professional and personal commitments, I don’t blog nearly as much as I used to. Sadpants, etc.

Then, Camille Paglia writes a piece on which some editor cleverly slaps the phrase “the death of sex” (forgetting the standard “ZOMG!!!1!!!ELEVENTY!!!” we of Generation Gaga have been fond of), and it’s game on again. Continue reading “Kids these days need to take their Alexander McQueen heels and get off my lawn: Camille Paglia on Lady Gaga”

Camille Jekyll and Camille Hyde

Unsuspectingly, I opened up this morning, completely forgetting that it’s CAMILLE PAGLIA DAY. In the words of Princess Leia, the foul stench should have clued me in, but I was still on my first cup of coffee, so I can therefore be forgiven (maybe).

I suppose the reason why I devote so much of my time to Paglia has something to do with the fact that I’ve always wanted to like her. She’s fearless and energetic, she uses big words and concepts without putting her readers into boredom-induced comas, she has a sense of humour, and she is as interested in Britney Spears as she is in Derrida – which is something that a lot of people in her position simply would not admit (because they’re giant, insufferable snobs, that is). Camille is someone whom I should like, which is why I feel all the more bitter when reading her Salon columns these days. There is so much in there that I would like to hitch my wagon to, but alas.

I’m not going to link to the piece itself, but here is the best and worst of that column:

To this day, I have more rapport with campus infrastructure staffers (maintenance, security) than I do with other professors or, for that matter, writers.

AHAHAHAHAHAHA! OK, I never worked campus security or maintenance, but I was a barista while an undergrad, and did work for the English Department after graduation – making photocopies and posters and such – and so I just have to ask, what does she talk about with us peons? Does she praise the Herculean masculine virility of campus security? Does she generously point maintenance staff to that one paragraph in Sexual Personae that deals with the most efficient way of unclogging drainage pipes?… Don’t get me wrong, the idea that a plumber can’t have a meaningful conversation with a professor is pretty stupid, but what the hell is up with the faux street-cred? Beat your chest much?

“Oh, I totally know some ordinary people! We even hang out! Iz awsum!”

On the other hand, she writes something like this:

My point is simply that the love life of everyone I’ve known from my baby-boom generation and afterward is a chess board ruled by shadowy forces that long predate puberty. Erotic choices yearningly follow or rebelliously diverge from a cast list imprinted on us in childhood. Changing the template may be virtually impossible. Self-knowledge is the most that we can hope for. But for that we need poetry and art — not the rigid, sterile political ideology that still paralyzes gender studies.

… And I couldn’t agree more. Politics are crucial, but they do not contain the answer to everything. For example, working for the Duke English Environment, I felt like I was in a genuinely supportive environment, but I also quickly realized that an English PhD was not what I wanted from life. There were many reasons for this decision, but one of those reasons had to do with how much of the work always seemed to tie in with politics – from conferences to papers to publications. I don’t think I could handle it. I’d probably wind up at a conference, twenty years down the road, ripping the pearls from my neck and screaming “I DON’T CARE ABOUT THE BLOODY PROTO-FEMINISM EXHIBITED IN CHAPTER SIXTEEN! DEAR GOD, WON’T SOMEBODY PLEASE THINK OF THE ART?” And it would not be pretty.

And the line about “shadowy forces” is simply beautiful.

Dammit, Camille, you’re just doing this to confuse me, aren’t you?

I has fringe and glasses! I can has Paglia’s love too?

Second highest office in the land and all I need to do is rock that fringe? O RLY?
Second highest office in the land and all I need to do is rock that fringe? O RLY?

The funniest thing about Camille Paglia singing “My Creepy Valentine” to Sarah Palin again, is Camille’s insistence that it was the evil Democrats who hunted poor Palin like a wolf from a helicopter (individual hunters are more respectful of the environment than the food industry, and they aid in conservation efforts when species overpopulation is a problem – but wolves from helicopters? The hell?).

Didn’t Paglia get the memo? The people out for Palin’s blood, the ones publishing weird stories about her, even suggesting that she all but came on to several campaign staff-members – are bitter Republicans.

Democrats don’t pretend to like Palin (and guess what? They don’t have to), but it was the Republicans who wanted a sweet, submissive little VP, then started snarling when things didn’t go as planned.

Of course, Paglia doesn’t have the balls to say it. It’s better to examine the sweater that Bill Ayers’ wife wore, like, 30 years ago (I shit you not).

My favourite of Paglia’s lines about Palin must be the following gem:

There is a powerful clarity of consciousness in her eyes.

Oh, you mean, like, she’s AWAKE? That’s cool, I guess. You never know when the GOP may slip a coma patient past us during an election cycle. Better take what you can get, I suppose.

I also found it interesting that for all of the hand-wringing on Palin, Paglia kept her mouth firmly shut on the slurs against Obama, on the fact that “Arab” was used as an insult against him, on Colin Powell’s stance concerning the sleazy tactics, or on the fact that Palin never gave a press conference – greatly contributing to the media’s animosity towards her, and rightly so. Doesn’t mean you have to give the Obama presidency a blank check, but addressing some of the virulent hatred that Palin’s own supporters have spewed at him would have been honest, at the very least.

I hate to even admit this, because you will laugh at me… Continue reading “I has fringe and glasses! I can has Paglia’s love too?”

Paglia’s Crush, Palin; Paglia’s Ex, Feminism

Good ol’ Camille Paglia! That fearless contrarian, ready to make fellow liberals quake in their Birkenstocks at a moment’s notice!

Well, maybe. I’ve yet to meet a single liberal who consistently takes Paglia seriously, but, you know, just because we’ve never seen the Loch Ness Monster doesn’t mean it’s not out there.

Paglia trumpets her approval of any politician or entertainer who makes her hot, then attempts to pass off her crushes as profound commentary on the state of contemporary society. I have no problem with pointing out that a particular public figure is sexxxay – I do it all the time – but Paglia’s worship of Palin’s persona wavers between the ridiculous and the downright creepy.

It’s a shtick that ensures people will pay attention to Paglia, but it also makes Paglia the equivalent of the guy who hangs out in public places and keeps trying new tactics to recruit you into his cult. You pay attention to him, because you’re forced to. Also, he is fascinating in that bizarre, “is he going to bite a chicken’s head off next?” kind of way.

I was sure that Paglia was going to go wild for Sarah Palin’s cheekbones, but figured it would be interesting to see how much panting she could squeeze into a monthly column, hence subjecting myself to lines like: “…Palin has made the biggest step forward in reshaping the persona of female authority since Madonna danced her dominatrix way through the shattered puritan barricades of the feminist establishment.”

I did wonder: does Paglia still write these columns, or do they get a bot to do it? Take Madonna, add a flavour of the month, add the word “fierce” and its synonyms, drop in a mention of “the puritan feminists” or some variation on thereof, toss in the obligatory reference to Hillary Clinton as Satan, another reference to “masculinity” and “MY BOOK! READ MY BOOK!” and stir for half an hour. Voila. Pre-cooked Paglia.

Oh, but I am being unfair. For her last two columns, Paglia has been hammering away at a new attempt at controversy: Continue reading “Paglia’s Crush, Palin; Paglia’s Ex, Feminism”