June 30th, 2010

Baby and me

Camille Paglia rides again

'Academic' means never having to speak the obvious

Camille Paglia, date and photographer unknown.</a>

I see the one-time enfant terrible of the American Academy, Camille Paglia hasn't entirely disappeared since she decided not to complete the second volume of Sexual Personae some time during the 1990s.

Writing in the 25 June edition of the New York Times on the FDA's rejection of a drug to "treat" "female sexual desire disorder", Paglia goes on at some length to discuss "the sexual malaise that appears to have sunk over the country" despite "a media environment drenched in sex."

Paglia wonders rhetorically, "...to what extent do these complaints about sexual apathy reflect a medical reality, and how much do they actually emanate from the anxious, overachieving, white upper middle class?" but the answer is never much in doubt and has little to do with anyone's anxiety, "overachieving" or otherwise.

No, "[t]he real culprit, originating in the 19th century, is bourgeois propriety." "Victorian prudery" gets a ritual (ahem) spanking, Shakespeare a scholarly nod and soon the "priggish 1950s" usher in a return to the (repressed and repressive) norm with only a weak rear-guard fight for sexual liberation engaged in by "the diffuse New Age movement".

But concrete power resides in America’s careerist technocracy, for which the elite schools, with their ideological view of gender as a social construct, are feeder cells.</p>

In the discreet white-collar realm, men and women are interchangeable, doing the same, mind-based work. Physicality is suppressed; voices are lowered and gestures curtailed in sanitized office space. Men must neuter themselves, while ambitious women postpone procreation. Androgyny is bewitching in art, but in real life it can lead to stagnation and boredom, which no pill can cure.

Meanwhile, family life has put middle-class men in a bind; they are simply cogs in a domestic machine commanded by women. Contemporary moms have become virtuoso super-managers of a complex operation focused on the care and transport of children. But it’s not so easy to snap over from Apollonian control to Dionysian delirium.

Reading through the dense and mannered academese, it seems men have been emasculated by a brave, new androgynous world of business, and a super-feminine environment at home, in which men "are simply cogs", presumably employed in cooking half the meals and changing half the diapers, all at the commands of the women in their lives.

If, at about the half-way point of the essay, it is unclear just what this all has to do with the alleged epidemic outbreak of female frigidity, the next paragraph explains it all.

"[V]isually, American men remain perpetual boys, as shown by the bulky T-shirts, loose shorts and sneakers they wear from preschool through midlife" and the sexes "are suffering from over-familiarity, a curse of the mundane. There’s no mystery left."

Paglia goes on to blame Hollywood's love of unromantic nudity, its unreal objectifications of female ideals of beauty (too skinny, too muscular, too busty, depending on which paragraph you're looking at); to praise black and latino ideals of feminine beauty; country music's "raunchy scenarios"; and to disparage current trends in rock and roll and other enervated forms of pop culture before declaring that "[p]harmaceutical companies will never find the holy grail of a female Viagra" because "inhibitions are stubbornly internal. And lust is too fiery to be left to the pharmacist."

And who knows? A closer reading of Paglia's sloppy thinking and worse writing might reveal a nugget or three of sociological insight, but meanwhile ...

Meanwhile, it never seems to have occurred to Paglia that Americans, men and women both have been (when they haven't been under- or un-employed) working ever-longer hours over the past few decades, even as their wages have stagnated, their schools and neighbourhoods and roads have deteriorated and, over the last decade, their very sense of physical safety has undergone a steady assault of terror alerts and threats of more wars that the two already being fought.

In short, an awful lot of Americans are an awful lot more tired and more stressed than they were in the halcyon days of Paglia's youth.

And yet somehow, it never occurs to Paglia to wonder — presuming there is any truth to the pharmaceutical and medical establishments' claims that there is a general problem with the American woman's libido — if it might be possible women are just tired, that old-fashioned stress is at the heart of the "problem"?

"Honey, I have a headache" may often be an excuse, but "Honey, I'm tired" can very often be an all-too real reason for losing that lovin' feeling.

Cross-posted from Edifice Rex Online and adapted from the original posting at my Dreamwidth account.

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