The pro-sex feminist, cultural critic and author tells THR why Hef's art of seduction is needed today and how Gloria Steinem is not a role model for young women.
Read the whole thing.http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/camille-paglia-hugh-hefners-legacy-trumps-masculinity-feminisms-sex-phobia-1044769
With the death of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner on Sept. 27, cultural historian and contrarian feminist Camille Paglia spoke to The Hollywood Reporter in an exclusive interview on topics ranging from what Hef's choice of the bunny costume revealed about him to the current "dreary" state of relationships between the sexes.
Have you ever been to a party at the Playboy Mansion?
No, I'm not a partygoer! [laughs]
So let me just ask: Was Hugh Hefner a misogynist?
Absolutely not! The central theme of my wing of pro-sex feminism is that all celebrations of the sexual human body are positive. Second-wave feminism went off the rails when it was totally unable to deal with erotic imagery, which has been a central feature of the entire history of Western art ever since Greek nudes.
So let’s dig in a little — what would you say was Playboy’s cultural impact?
Hugh Hefner absolutely revolutionized the persona of the American male. In the post World War II era, men's magazines were about hunting and fishing or the military, or they were like Esquire, erotic magazines with a kind of European flair.
Hefner re-imagined the American male as a connoisseur in the continental manner, a man who enjoyed all the fine pleasures of life, including sex. Hefner brilliantly put sex into a continuum of appreciative response to jazz, to art, to ideas, to fine food. This was something brand new. Enjoying fine cuisine had always been considered unmanly in America. Hefner updated and revitalized the image of the British gentleman, a man of leisure who is deft at conversation — in which American men have never distinguished themselves — and with the art of seduction, which was a sport refined by the French.
Pornography is not a distortion. It is not a sexist twisting of the facts of life but a kind of peephole into the roiling, primitive animal energies that are at the heart of sexual attraction and desire.
I would hope that people could see the positives in the Playboy sexual landscape — the foregrounding of pleasure and fun and humor. Sex is not a tragedy, it's a comedy! [laughs]
What do you think about the fact that Trump's childhood hero and model of sophisticated American masculinity was Hefner?
Before the election, I kept pointing out that the mainstream media based in Manhattan, particularly The New York Times, was hopelessly off in the way it was simplistically viewing Trump as a classic troglodyte misogynist. I certainly saw in Trump the entire Playboy aesthetic, including the glitzy world of casinos and beauty pageants. It's a long passé world of confident male privilege that preceded the birth of second-wave feminism. There is no doubt that Trump strongly identified with it as he was growing up. It seems to be truly his worldview.
But it is categorically not a world of unwilling women. Nor is it driven by masculine abuse. It's a world of show girls, of flamboyant femaleness, a certain kind of strutting style that has its own intoxicating sexual allure — which most young people attending elite colleges today have had no contact with whatever.
Trump has certainly steadily hired and promoted women in his businesses, but it has to be said that his vision of women as erotic beings remains rather retrograde. Part of his nationwide support seems to be coming from his bold defense of his own maleness. Many mainstream voters are gratified by his reassertion of male pride and confidence. Trump supporters may be quite right that, in this period of confusion and uncertainty, male identity needs to be reaffirmed and reconsolidated. (And I’m speaking here as a Democrat who voted for Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein!)
Gloria Steinem has said that what Playboy doesn't know about women could fill a book. What do you think about that?
What Playboy doesn't know about well-educated, upper-middle-class women with bitter grievances against men could fill a book! I don't regard Gloria Steinem as an expert on any of the human appetites, sexuality being only one of them. Interviews with Steinem were documenting from the start how her refrigerator contained nothing but two bottles of carbonated water. Steinem's philosophy of life is extremely limited by her own childhood experiences. She came out of an admittedly unstable family background. I’m so tired of that animus of hers against men, which she’s been cranking out now for decade after decade. I come from a completely different Italian-American background — very food-centric and appetite-centric. Steinem, with that fulsomely genteel WASP persona of hers, represents an attitude of malice and vindictiveness toward men that has not proved to be in the best interest of young women today.
So would you say that her other comment — that women reading Playboy feels a little like a Jew reading a Nazi manual — is just an expression of her animus toward men?
Oh Lord, how many times is Gloria Steinem going to play the Nazi card? What she said about me in the 1990s was: "Her calling herself a feminist is sort of like a Nazi saying he’s not anti-Semitic.” That’s the simplistic level of Steinem's thinking!
Gloria Steinem, Susan Faludi, all of those relentlessly ideological feminists are people who have wandered away from traditional religion and made a certain rabid type of feminist rhetoric their religion. And their fanaticism has poisoned the public image of feminism and driven ordinary, mainstream citizens away from feminism. It’s outrageous.
But aside from that, Steinem is basically a socialite who always hid her early dependence on men in the social scene in New York. And as a Democrat, I also blame her for having turned feminism into a covert adjunct of the Democratic party. I have always felt that feminism should transcend party politics and be a big tent welcoming women of faith and of all views into it. Also, I hold against Steinem her utter, shameless hypocrisy during the Bill Clinton scandal. After promoting sexual harassment guidelines, which I had also supported since the 1980s, Steinem waved away one of the worst cases of sexual harassment violation that can ever be imagined — the gigantic gap of power between the President of the United States and an intern! All of a sudden, oh, no, it was all fine, it was “private.” What rubbish! That hypocrisy by partisan feminist leaders really destroyed feminism for a long time. So now feminism has rebounded, but unfortunately it's a particularly virulent brand of feminism that’s way too reminiscent of the MacKinnon-Dworkin sex hysteria of the 1980s.
Is there anything of lasting value in Hugh Hefner’s legacy?
We can see that what has completely vanished is what Hefner espoused and represented — the art of seduction, where a man, behaving in a courtly, polite and respectful manner, pursues a woman and gives her the time and the grace and the space to make a decision of consent or not. Hefner’s passing makes one remember an era when a man would ask a woman on a real date — inviting her to his apartment for some great music on a cutting-edge stereo system (Playboy was always talking about the best new electronics!) — and treating her to fine cocktails and a wonderful, relaxing time. Sex would emerge out of conversation and flirtation as a pleasurable mutual experience. So now when we look back at Hefner, we see a moment when there was a fleeting vision of a sophisticated sexuality that was integrated with all of our other aesthetic and sensory responses.
This may be one reason for the ferocious pressure by so many current feminists to reinforce the Stalinist mechanisms, the pernicious PC rules that have invaded colleges everywhere. Feminists want supervision and surveillance of dating life on campus to punish men if something goes wrong and the girl doesn't like what happened. I am very concerned that what young women are saying through this strident feminist rhetoric is that they feel incapable of conducting independent sex lives. They require adult intrusion and supervision and penalizing of men who go astray. But if feminism means anything, it should be encouraging young women to take control of every aspect of their sex lives, including their own impulses, conflicts and disappointments. That's what's tragic about all this. Young women don't seem to realize that in demanding adult inquiry into and adjudication of their sex lives, they are forfeiting their own freedom and agency.
Young women are being taught that men have all the power and have used it throughout history to oppress women. Women don't seem to realize how much power they have to crush men! Strong women have always known how to control men.
There are all kinds of complex currents in men’s relationship to women that feminism refuses to acknowledge. The main one is men’s often very unstable or ambivalent relationship with their mothers. That's what I see in Hefner's notorious lifestyle in the Playboy Mansion, where he stayed and worked in his bedroom all day long, dressed in pajamas and a robe. It's a blatant regression to the womb world exactly as Elvis Presley evidently desired. Elvis’s wife Priscilla complained that all he wanted to do was stay in his bedroom all day long in the dark, watching TV and having hamburgers brought in. There was a strange kind of craving there for maternal nurturance. I think feminism is wildly wrong when it portrays men as the oppressor, when in fact men, as I have argued in my books, are always struggling for identity against the enormous power of women.
When we worship beauty, we are worshipping life itself.