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My favorite feminist: Camille Paglia

By Michael Moriarty
web posted July 14, 2008

I doubt if Camille Paglia would even like the title of this editorial. "My Favorite Feminist" sounds like a sitcom.

Camille PagliaHer most recent, public appearance at Harvard University in April of this year, was as the keynote speaker on feminism. Her speech clearly delineated not only the history of feminism but also left us with a clearer understanding of her undeniably independent place within that history.

Her book, Sexual Personae, is one of my favorite 20th century overviews of art and cultural history. A virtual guide to aesthetics, its style frequently culminates in conclusions such as "because there is no female Jack the Ripper". Hmmm , not that Lizzie Borden has not come a close second to the infamous, male serial killer, however, one "gets her point" unforgettably. Ms. Paglia frequently makes her point with such startlingly incisive metaphors. Judging from her generally academic approach to this year's lecture at Harvard, she has obviously "mellowed" or "matured", depending upon how patronizing you'd like to be toward this memorable "firebrand" of Carnegie Mellon University.

I had a friend at Carnegie, in the theater department -- we haven't seen each other in decades. He is a wonderfully talented theater director … and was always a bit of a rebel. That's my image of Carnegie, eloquent rebellion.

At any rate, Ms. Paglia finally says what no major feminist has been willing to admit: "Margaret Sanger, who was the foster mother of Planned Parenthood and a bold pioneer of reproductive rights and who was jailed in 1916 for opening a birth control clinic in New York, was a public adherent of eugenics, the philosophy of selective breeding that was adopted by the Nazis as part of their brutal campaign to purify the human race of undesirables."

In other words, Margaret Sanger was essentially an American Nazi.

Of course, Camille Paglia would never put it that way because, for one, she believes in a woman's right to abort her child and, two, it is not the entire truth about Margaret Sanger , that she was just an American Nazi.

At what point in Margaret Sanger's imagination, however, did the "purity of the human race" surpass the importance of a woman's freedom? For example, would Ms. Sanger have submitted herself to breeding children with an exceptionally bright, Olympic athlete? For the cause, of course!

In Ms. Paglia's wonderfully liberated intellect, a sexual attraction to breathtakingly healthy human beings is hardly a sign of weakness and, in no way, would involve a "pursuit of purity".

"Romanticism" of any kind, however, is, in Camille Paglia's world of Sexual Personae, an absolutely decadent deformation of creativity itself.

Poor Wordsworth and Byron! In Sexual Personae they are mercilessly and metaphorically mugged!! "No female Jack the Ripper" indeed!

I enjoyed Ms. Paglia's bias toward Classicism immensely, though. The case she makes for Classicism per se is quite compelling and therefore her loathing of Romanticism is almost equally persuasive.

Tragically, or pathetically, as the case may be, I am definitely a "Romantic". That I am pro-life is the classic symptom of romantic sentimentality. Camille Paglia has repeatedly proclaimed her pro-choice credentials. That, I suppose, makes her a severe classicist;  an almost Medea-like Athenian.

However, Ms. Paglia, as I've said, is my "favorite feminist".

Actually, from my prejudiced understanding of Feminism, the only things that qualify Ms. Paglia as a feminist are her pro-choice credentials … otherwise, she would simply rank with me as one of America's most formidably challenging intellects. ESR

Michael Moriarty is a Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning actor who starred in the landmark television series Law and Order from 1990 to 1994. His recent film and TV credits include The Yellow Wallpaper, 12 Hours to Live, Santa Baby and Deadly Skies. Moriarty is also running for President of the United States in 2008 as a candidate for the Realists Party. To find out more about Moriarty's presidential campaign, contact rainbowfamily2008@yahoo.com.

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