The End of Masculinity Is the End of Civilization

Camille Paglia exposes the dangers of a society without masculinity in a lengthy interview with the Wall Street Journal. “No subject gets [Camille Paglia] going more than when I ask if she really sees a connection between society’s attempts to paper over the biological distinction between men and women and the collapse of Western civilization.”— Wall Street Journal interviewer Bari Weiss

‘What you’re seeing is how a civilization commits suicide,” says Camille Paglia. This self-described “notorious Amazon feminist” isn’t telling anyone to Lean In or asking Why Women Still Can’t Have It All. No, her indictment may be as surprising as it is wide-ranging: The military is out of fashion, Americans undervalue manual labor, schools neuter male students, opinion makers deny the biological differences between men and women, and sexiness is dead. And that’s just 20 minutes of our three-hour conversation.

When Ms. Paglia, now 66, burst onto the national stage in 1990 with the publishing of “Sexual Personae,” she immediately established herself as a feminist who was the scourge of the movement’s establishment, a heretic to its orthodoxy. Pick up the 700-page tome, subtitled “Art and Decadence From Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson, ” and it’s easy to see why. “If civilization had been left in female hands,” she wrote, “we would still be living in grass huts.”

The fact that the acclaimed book—the first of six; her latest, “Glittering Images,” is a survey of Western art—was rejected by seven publishers and five agents before being printed by Yale University Press only added to Ms. Paglia’s sense of herself as a provocateur in a class with Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern. But unlike those radio jocks, Ms. Paglia has scholarly chops: Her dissertation adviser at Yale was Harold Bloom, and she is as likely to discuss Freud, Oscar Wilde or early Native American art as to talk about Miley Cyrus.

Ms. Paglia relishes her outsider persona, having previously described herself as an egomaniac and “abrasive, strident and obnoxious.” Talking to her is like a mental CrossFit workout. One moment she’s praising pop star Rihanna (“a true artist”), then blasting ObamaCare (“a monstrosity,” though she voted for the president), global warming (“a religious dogma”), and the idea that all gay people are born gay (“the biggest canard,” yet she herself is a lesbian).

But no subject gets her going more than when I ask if she really sees a connection between society’s attempts to paper over the biological distinction between men and women and the collapse of Western civilization.

She starts by pointing to the diminished status of military service. “The entire elite class now, in finance, in politics and so on, none of them have military service—hardly anyone, there are a few. But there is no prestige attached to it anymore. That is a recipe for disaster,” she says. “These people don’t think in military ways, so there’s this illusion out there that people are basically nice, people are basically kind, if we’re just nice and benevolent to everyone they’ll be nice too. They literally don’t have any sense of evil or criminality.”

The results, she says, can be seen in everything from the dysfunction in Washington (where politicians “lack practical skills of analysis and construction”) to what women wear. “So many women don’t realize how vulnerable they are by what they’re doing on the street,” she says, referring to women who wear sexy clothes.

When she has made this point in the past, Ms. Paglia—who dresses in androgynous jackets and slacks—has been told that she believes “women are at fault for their own victimization.” Nonsense, she says. “I believe that every person, male and female, needs to be in a protective mode at all times of alertness to potential danger. The world is full of potential attacks, potential disasters.” She calls it “street-smart feminism.”

Ms. Paglia argues that the softening of modern American society begins as early as kindergarten. “Primary-school education is a crock, basically. It’s oppressive to anyone with physical energy, especially guys,” she says, pointing to the most obvious example: the way many schools have cut recess. “They’re making a toxic environment for boys. Primary education does everything in its power to turn boys into neuters.”

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3 Responses to The End of Masculinity Is the End of Civilization

  1. Dwayne says:

    And yet we are fighting to promote feminism at every turn; what gives?

  2. Mike from Pioneer Valley, MA says:

    It’s actually a pretty entertaining debate. Curiously, in a face-off between the two teams (Hanna Rosin/Maureen Dowd vs. Camille/Caitlin Moran), Camille seemed the glummest and least convincing. She sounded old. Rosin and Moran cited numbers and relevant trends. Dowd was arch and cutting (standard urbane mode); Camille sounded very middle brow, with her well-worn piousness toward manual labor as some kind of touchstone of civilization. It was a very old-church-lady presentation, more sentimental than mental. Not her best hour.

    The debate audience voted Rosin/Dowd (Men are obsolete) the more persuasive side by a good margin. I think Rosin’s presentation was especially sharp and carried the vote: she observed that modern Western society requires a certain kind of personality, a sharpness and toughness and ambition that is not gendered (the exclusive attribute of one sex). Female-bodied persons who are products of that society are therefore endowed with these personality traits and capable of continuing our civilization in its historic trajectory. “Masculinity” is a symbolic way of talking about the functional traits of the Western personality, but those don’t belong only to male-bodied persons. Make the symbolism more concrete (ambition, aggression, etc.) and you’ll see the eclipse of male-bodied people is no serious threat to Western civilization. Internally, only the loss of these traits is a threat. And if women are displaying them as never before, then the Westernness of our civilization is assured to continue.

  3. Dwayne says:

    I’m glad Camille Paglia has stood up for us males when we need it the most. However, while I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth(or even seem like I am), I wish she’d give up her bisexual lifestyle. When a society accepts homosexual, or bisexual, behavior as normal, it’s on the verge of collapse, as ours is now.

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