I bought Camille Paglia’s essay collection “Vamps and tramps
” in 1994 and after reading it again and again for about a year, it remained on the shelf for more than a decade.
Ten years mean a lot of changes.
But today I find myself reading “Vamps and tramps
” again. I forgot how much I liked it.
Paglia’s writing style is aggressive and direct. She drags you along, then surprises you with her bluntness. The essay “No law in the arena” is Paglia’s “pagan theory of sexuality
” and largely explains her views on homosexuality, lesbianism, gay activism and theory.
In 1994 I had sex with men, not with women. I could understand Paglia’s abhorrence of the closed lesbian community of the ‘90s. I was labelled “straight” by lesbians. Not even the fact that I am a woman granted me any sympathy. Maybe I was just another straight, dick-loving traitor to them.
Ten years later, I have seen a fair deal of the lesbian community. I’ve discovered – for example- that lesbian bars are the same all over the world. I got punched in the face or could barely escape a fight for saying inappropriate things to inappropriate lesbians more than once. And most of the time I got plain drunk out of boredom.
Camille Paglia is to my knowledge the first to describe the phenomenon of lesbian bars shamefully accurate: “One is deafened in [lesbian] bars by the juvenile whooping and hollering of packs of lesbians greeting each other like screeching teen arriving at a slumber party.”
According to Paglia there’s no opportunity to have an interesting talk and the music is shit, certainly if compared to gay men’s bars. “Music in the men’s bars is pumping, pelvic, and sweatily sexual; there is an edge of menace, a darkness of artistic ambiguity. Music in too many women’s bars is bland, defanged disco, with a monotonous tic-toc beat ideal for bad dancers. A complex Latin polyrhythm clears the floor. Classic dance tunes, numbingly overplayed, have a chirpy, cheerleading, middlebrow tone.”
Paglia points out that gay bars for men are open to anyone. Strangers can enter a bar and cruise other men anywhere in the world. But in lesbian bars that is hardly the case.“Solitary cruising and pickups do occur among lesbians, but they are not the rule. Lesbian bars are organized in huge kinship groupings.”
says Paglia. “Trying to break into these shifting cliques could drive you mad – unless you join one of their sports leagues. Musical beds is the name of the game. But each person sets up the next affair before she breaks off with the last, so there is an intricate overlapping, producing endless amounts of what Alison Maddex calls, with exasperation, “lesbian drama from hell”. Lushly eroticized push-pull emotion, rather that genital sexuality, is the real heart of lesbianism.”
Well, reading this makes me laugh, because it is so true. It's slowly changing, but still true.
In “No law in the arena”, Paglia states that the lesbian community is childish, debilitating and infantile. Creativity and wit are killed at the root and heterosexual men are rejected out of fear.
Lesbian feminism in the 1970s condemned heterosexual sex and its emphasis on penetration. “Anything echoing heterosexual penetration had to be avoided or disgusted.”
During the eighties, dildoes were tolerated, but they shouldn’t be compared to penises. They were lesbian toys, but certainly not substitutes for male genitals.“What bothers me is that the lesbian dildo craze stubbornly avoids acknowledging its anatomy-as-destiny implications.”
Reacts Paglia “Why stop at dildoes? If penetration exites, and if receptive female genitalia are so suited to friction by penis-shaped objects, why not go on to real penises?”
Lesbian feminism opposes men and equals maleness to oppression, patriarchy, exploitation. Men cannot be considered as potential sex partners.
The points is, according to Paglia, that lesbian theorists have always evaded every possibility of reconciliation of the sexes and creating a bisexual awareness. A bisexual awareness would be a far more grown up way of dealing with sexuality.“Any woman, gay or straight who cannot respond to penises or who finds them hideous or laughable (…) has been traumatized by some early experience. She is neither complete nor healthy as a person.”
This makes me think of Adrea Dworkin
, the feminist who was radically opposed to pornography and said that penetration (by a male) equals exploitation.
Dworkin had been raped and abused several times and based her views on those experiences and the experience of many abused women.
Paglia and Dworkin aren’t really buddies. Paglia is a fierce defendant of pornography ("a pagan arena of the archaic vigor of nature”
) and devotes a 5 pages rant to Dworkin in “Vamps and Tramps”(which was originally published in Playboy …). They take extreme sides in the nature-nurture debate.
I don’t want to go into this, but I really appreciate Paglia’s assertion that something went wrong in the feminist movement the last decades. Sexuality has been so mangled up and stigmatized, that we don’t see the point anymore.“The real butches are not the lesbian ones, but the heterosexual women.”
Because dealing with men makes you stronger. Women like Lauren Hutton, and Chrissie Hynde should be role models for young women (whether straight or lesbian), not k.d. Lang “with her lugubrious singing style and her passé persona of baby-faced desexed boy.”
Men and women need each other. That’s Paglia’s point. When lesbians cut off men and create their feminist lesbian utopia and when gay men create their macho world of muscles without women, something essential is lost. If we want to be sexual beings we need to explore femininity and masculinity. We need “dual vision”,
says Paglia, “in a world in which people can freely cross gender lines”. Camille Paglia, Vamps & Tramps : New Essays, Vintage, 1994