The problem with too much current feminism, in my opinion, is that even when it strikes progressive poses, it emanates from an entitled, upper-middle-class point of view. It demands the intrusion and protection of paternalistic authority figures to project a hypothetical utopia that will be magically free from offence and hurt. Its rampant policing of thought and speech is completely reactionary, a gross betrayal of the radical principles of 1960s counterculture, which was inaugurated in the US by the incendiary Free Speech Movement at the University of California at Berkeley.
I am continually shocked and dismayed by the nearly Victorian notions promulgated by today’s feminists about the fragility of women and their naïve helplessness in asserting control over their own dating lives. Female undergraduates incapable of negotiating the oafish pleasures and perils of campus fraternity parties are hardly prepared to win leadership positions in business or government in the future.
[B]y the mid-1970s, [Gloria] Steinem was ruling the roost like the Stalinist politburo. Dissenting voices like mine in feminism were banned from her magazine, Ms., which became the glossy Pravda of the movement – anti-male, anti-sex, anti-pop. My wing of pro-sex feminism was driven underground and wouldn’t surface again nationally until the early 1990s. Steinem has always been a networking careerist, packaging herself as a saintly, self-sacrificing humanitarian while privately schmoozing with the rich and famous and the media elite. She told the world, ‘A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle’ – even while she was never without a man on the chic Manhattan party scene.
The anti-porn crusader Andrea Dworkin (who died a decade ago) was a rabid fanatic, a self-destructive woman so consumed by her hatred of men that she tottered on the edge of psychosis. Dworkin and her puritanical henchman Catharine MacKinnon (born into wealth and privilege) were extremely powerful in the US for a long time, culminating in the major media’s canonisation of MacKinnon in a 1991 New York Times Magazine cover story. When I burst on the scene after the release of my first book in 1990, I attacked Dworkin and MacKinnon with all guns blazing. I am very proud of the role I played in defending free speech and helping the pro-sex wing of feminism to go public and eventually win its great victory over both Dworkin-MacKinnon and the priggish feminist establishment typified by Steinem. Hence the unthinking backward turn of current feminism toward censorship is appalling and tragic. Young feminists seem to have little sense of the crucial battles that were waged and won a quarter century ago.
‘Rape culture’ is a ridiculous term – mere gassy propaganda, too rankly bloated to critique. Anyone who sees sex so simplistically has very little sense of world history, anthropology or basic psychology. I feel very sorry for women who have been seduced by this hyper-politicised, victim-centered rhetoric, because in clinging to such superficial, inflammatory phrases, they have renounced their own power and agency.
As I have repeatedly argued throughout my career, sex is a physical interaction, animated by primitive energies and instincts that cannot be reduced to verbal formulas. Neither party in any sexual encounter is totally operating in the rational realm, which is why the Greek god Dionysus was the patron of ecstasy, a hallucinatory state of pleasure-pain. ‘Yes means Yes’ laws are drearily puritanical and literalistic as well as hopelessly totalitarian. Their increasing popularity simply demonstrates how boring and meaningless sex has become – and why Hollywood movies haven’t produced a scintilla of sexiness since Sharon Stone uncrossed her legs in Basic Instinct. Sex is always a dangerous gamble – as gay men have known and accepted for thousands of years. Nothing in the world will ever be totally safe, even the plushy pads of an infant’s crib, to which feminist ideologues would evidently wish to reduce us all.
I have been a Chrissie Hynde fan since her first albums with the Pretenders, but this scrappy controversy made my admiration for her go stratospheric. I adore her scathing process of self-examination and her bold language of personal responsibility – that is exactly the direction that feminism must take! Hynde (four years younger than me) is demonstrating the tough, no-crap attitude of the rebellious women of my 1960s generation, who were directly inspired by the sexual revolution, created by the brand-new Pill. We took all kinds of risks – I certainly did, with some scary escapes in dark side streets of Paris and Vienna. We wanted the same freedoms as men, and we took charge of our own destinies. We viewed life as a continual experiment, an urgent pressing into the unknown. If we got knocked down, we got up again, nursed our bruises and learned from our mistakes. Today, in contrast, too many young feminists want their safety, security and happiness guaranteed in advance by all-seeing, all-enveloping bureaucracies. It’s a sad, limited and childish view of life that I find as claustrophobic as a hospital ward.
If today’s young women want to be passive wards of the state, then that is their self-stultifying choice. One cannot impose a dynamic, expansive, metaphysical vision of existence on timid minds who crave the miniature, like porcelain bibelots of frogs and sparrows. My advice, as in everything, is to read widely and think for yourself. We need more dissent and less dogma.
Any social movement that betrays the values and principles of Enlightenment is doomed, because no social improvement can flourish when it means we have to sacrifice freedoms and/or equality. Feminism was spoiled when it was taken hostage by postmodernism and Critical Theory.
What’s more appalling is watching too many self described secular activists advocating for this kind of things (and they’re pretty easy to spot: they’ve used stupidly nonsensical terms such as “freeze peach”, “rape culture”, “mansplain”, “safe space”, “manspread”, or they think anyone who disagrees with them is automatically an MRA or a misogynist. Here’s a sample!)
Makes you wonder how can Paglia be so right about this and so wrong about Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens.