When “Amazon feminist” Camille Paglia speaks, Brazil listens
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When “Amazon feminist” Camille Paglia speaks, Brazil listens

Camille Paglia is what I would call an academic provocateur. She’s a feminist viewed by other prominent and vocal feminists, such as Gloria Steinem, as an anti-feminist.

Paglia’s been ‘out’ since the late 1960s, but she says about other lesbians, “They don’t like me and I don’t like them.” She is also highly critical of what she refers to as the current “transgender mania” that is gripping the U.S. and according to her, fueling hatred of the West. Yet Paglia tells of her own experiences challenging gender roles in conservative 1950s America.

This polemical cultural critic, who has been a climate change skeptic, is also a supporter of the Green Party, voting Green in the last two U.S. presidential elections. She is an atheist who extolls the virtues of religion and a former “Clinton Democrat” who now spends considerable energy tearing down both Hillary and Bill.

She has a lot of good things to say about Bernie Sanders, however:

Despite emergency efforts by Gloria Steinem, the crafty dowager empress of feminism, to push a faltering Hillary over the finish line, Sanders overwhelmingly won women’s votes in every category except senior citizens. Last week, when she told TV host Bill Maher that young women supporting the Sanders campaign are just in it to meet boys, Steinem managed not only to insult the intelligence and idealism of the young but to vaporize every lesbian Sanders fan into a spectral non-person.

—Camille Paglia

Sounds interesting, annoying or even a little bit crazy? Give her a listen. I am convinced that there are few people alive today who can give Paglia a run for her money in terms of her brilliant social and cultural observation that cuts through academic disciplines and political persuasions. Never mind that she always manages to throw a few boasts or brags in. This is almost par for the course with university professors.

Try to overlook the almost maddening way Paglia gets you on her side with a series of insights that border on genius and then immediately follows up with some grumpy sour grapes statement or annoying overgeneralization. Try to see past her hyperbole and apparent self-contradiction.

Is Paglia’s feminism right for Brazil?

At the risk of making a rash overgeneralization of my own, Brazilians love Camille Paglia. Not all of them, of course. She has her feminist critics there as well. But Paglia does get more serious attention in Brazil than in her native U.S., where she’ll still appearing in prominent publications including Salon, Time — blasting her own country for never electing a female president — and the Hollywood Reporter, in which she encourages world superstar Taylor Swift to abandon her “regressive” and “exhibitionistic” “Nazi Barbie routine”.

Her awareness of contemporary pop culture is more than surprising for a 68-year-old university professor.

But in Brazil Paglia is given a 90-minute interview on TV Cultura’s esteemed Roda Viva talk show, in which prominent journalists assemble around her in an amphitheatre-like setting, questioning her in Portuguese, which she apparently understands, though her answers are given in English. Paglia’s interview in Folha de São Paulo — Brazil’s largest newspaper both in print and online — is also extensive.

Paglia herself seems to have taken enthusiastically to Brazil, replacing North American previous pop-culture muse Madonna with Brazilian superstar Daniela Mercury, whom she almost wrote a book about.

Via the Independent:

My romantic life is non-existent. Except that, for the past four years, I’ve had a kind of cult for a Brazilian superstar.

—Camille Paglia referring to her public crush on singer Daniela Mercury

A very different country

Brazil has a female president who did not ‘inherit’ the position after her husband died, which is often the case for women leaders in developing countries. It also has a highly organized women’s rights movement and according to the World Economic Forum, has made significant progress eliminating the gender gap in terms of healthcare and education, though it has not fared so well in terms of equal pay and political representation, despite Dilma Rousseff’s election.

Abortion remains illegal except in cases of rape or when the mother’s life is at risk. Sexual harassment is largely tolerated both in and outside of the work environment. The country’s record is also notoriously poor when it comes to prosecuting violence against women, even in terms of rape and murder.

While sexists and misogynists may twist Paglia’s words, take them out of context and use them to support their own hatred of all things attached to the feminist label, they are fools — or at the least very dishonest — for doing so.

The kind of feminism Camille Paglia trumpets is one of nature, history, myth, early psychology and feminine power. It is born both in the times before the Industrial Revolution and in the 1960s counterculture. As a country, Brazil is still industrializing and coming to terms with a traumatic past and chaotic present.

Paglia is no idealist. For her, nature is a struggle where women must be strong and not trust anyone to protect them from male predators. When asked by Folha de S.Paulo to comment on a survey showing that 25 percent of Brazilians agree that a women who is dressed provocatively deserved to be attacked, Paglia responded [author’s translation]:

No one deserves to be attacked. This is completely wrong. No one has the right to lay their hands on your body without permission. What these people should be saying is that clothing communicates a message and indicates a level of sexual availability.

But statements such as these, while obviously truthful on a sociological level, are considered unconstructive or politically irrelevant by many in contemporary Western feminism. Paglia’s brand of “Amazon feminism” may be more appealing in Brazil, where sexuality is more blatant and liberal than in the States.

However, one should be careful to import Paglia’s criticism of what she considers the unrealistic and insular feminism of contemporary college campuses in the U.S. to what women face on the streets and in their own homes in Brazil — or anywhere else for that matter.

If someone dismisses women’s concerns or even makes them unappealing by using pejoratives like “feminazi”, they are hindering progress in terms of issues like violence against women or equal pay. They may play a part, however small, in why poor, single women struggle to feed their children or even contribute to the abuse and deaths of women, who, according to UN statistics are assaulted every 15 seconds in São Paulo.

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