Book Review: Free Women, Free Men: Sex, Gender, Feminism by Camille Paglia

Book Review: Free Women, Free Men: Sex, Gender, Feminism by Camille Paglia

Contrarian feminist Camille Paglia’s ideas infuriate most feminists. Her ideas are not for the faint-hearted or lilly-livered – she is a sex-positive, pro-abortion transgender woman with a no bullshit, straight-talking style that she combines with playful erudition and poetic pyrotechnics in this book.

The New York Times review of her book basically called her a spoiled bratty child and compared her to Donald Trump.

A faction of censors at the University of Arts in Philadelphia tried to get her fired from her faculty job, which she has held for three decades because of her contrarian views on gender, sex and identity.

99% of feminists approach her ideas with absolute vitriol and disregard. This is mainly because she refuses to toe the line and repeat the same old feminist man-bashing, man-hating ideas. I find this absolutely refreshing and a necessary departure from this toxic way of thinking.

This fiery, thought-provoking collection of essays runs a diverse gamut of topics from literature, religion, art, history, sex, fashion, sport, philosophy and sex. The title Free Women, Free Men is a tribute to the principles of “…free thought and free speech—open, mobile, and unconstrained by either liberal or conservative ideology,” she explains in the introduction.

Tired of the same old polarised liberal and conservative ideas that infiltrate our lives, Paglia throws out the rule book completely. Unlike most other feminists, she thinks women and men should be free to enjoy sex and porn, appreciate beauty, fashion, pop icons, sport, etc.

Her writing about women and men is rooted in the struggles both genders face as they go through life, not on theoretical postmodernist ideas that are abstracted from reality.

But she is also hilarious, in a gossipy, salty and gleefully bitchy way…

 “Leaving sex to the feminists is like letting your dog vacation at the taxidermist.” ― Camille Paglia

Book Review: Free Women, Free Men: Sex, Gender, Feminism by Camille Paglia

On being a victim

“We cannot have a world where everyone is a victim. “I’m this way because my father made me this way. I’m this way because my husband made me this way.” Yes, we are indeed formed by traumas that happen to us. But then you must take charge, you must take over, you are responsible.” ― Camille Paglia

On men

“Men have sacrificed and crippled themselves physically and emotionally to feed, house, and protect women and children. None of their pain or achievement is registered in feminist rhetoric, which portrays men as oppressive and callous exploiters.” ― Camille Paglia

Every Picture Tells A Story: War is Hell (1965)

On feminism

“American feminism has a man problem. The beaming Betty Crockers, hangdog dowdies, and parochial prudes who call themselves feminists want men to be like women. They fear and despise the masculine. The academic feminists think their nerdy bookworm husbands are the ideal model of human manhood. But”

― Camille Paglia, Sex, Art, and American Culture: Essays

On sex

“Sex, like the city streets, would be risk-free only in a totalitarian regime” Camille Paglia

The 'Kissing in the dark' Valentine's playlist
The Temptress by Jack Vettriano.

On gender

The cold biological truth is that sex changes are impossible. Every single cell of the human body remains coded with one’s birth gender for life. Intersex ambiguities can occur, but they are developmental anomalies that represent a tiny proportion of all human births” ― Camille Paglia

On beauty

Every Picture Tells A Story: Couple in Montmartre, Paris 1962

“I don’t feel less because I’m in the presence of a beautiful person. I don’t go, oh, I’ll never be that beautiful! What a ridiculous attitude to take! ….When men look at sports, when they look at football, they don’t go, oh, I’ll never be that fast!, I’ll never be that strong!” Camille Paglia

On the interference of Universities into the lives of students

“As a career college teacher, I want our coddling, authoritarian universities to end all involvement with or surveillance of students’ social lives and personal interactions, verbal or otherwise. If a real crime is committed, it should be reported to the police. Otherwise, college administrations should mind their own business and focus on facilitating and funding education in the classroom.” ― Camille Paglia

On educating adolescent girls about the realities of being mothers

“I consider it completely irresponsible that public schools offer sex education but no systematic guidance to adolescent girls, who should be thinking about how they want to structure their future lives: do they want children, and if so, when should that be scheduled, with the advantages and disadvantages of each option laid out. Because of the stubborn biological burden of pregnancy and childbirth, these are issues that will always affect women more profoundly than men. Starting a family early has its price for an ambitious young woman, a career hiatus that may be difficult to overcome. On the other hand, the reward of being with one’s children in their formative years, instead of farming out that fleeting and irreplaceable experience to day care centres or nannies, has an inherent emotional and perhaps spiritual value that has been lamentable ignored by second-wave feminism.” Camille Paglia

My thoughts

The essays in this book are a bit repetitive overall, but some of the ideas are really amazing. Some are a bit too extremely conservative to my liking, but I don’t mind reading about them. The idea of reading books that espouse unusual, little known or strangely divergent ideas should be welcomed by people. To think that free thought and ideas like these could be quashed because they are distasteful to some people, I find that possibility pretty terrifying. I hope it’s a reminder to people to read more widely instead of less widely.

I love that Paglia is fearless, and has a visceral and realistic approach to the world which tends to lack in most feminist literature I have read, which is pretty cerebral, esoteric and theoretical, rather than being applicable to people’s lives. She is also an unrepentant admirer of art, sport, pop culture, Madonna, fashion and so on. I love her lack of intellectual snobbery and the no-bullshit way she writes.  

Any philosophical ideas and insights that serve to bring women and men closer together, whether it’s as romantic partners, work colleagues, friends, rather than hating each other, I can fully get behind. Conversely, ideas that serve to keep women and men alienated and separated from each other or that stoke hatred and anger. Well, I think this sort of thing is a complete waste of time and it’s toxic to people’s individual lives and society as a whole.  

Book Review: Free Women, Free Men: Sex, Gender, Feminism by Camille Paglia

If you want to have your hair blown back by an erudite rebel and career dissident of the establishment, then this may be just the book… 

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: Free Women, Free Men: Sex, Gender, Feminism by Camille Paglia

  1. I know, she is such an iconoclast, I love people who dare to stick their head above the parapet even if they are going to get crucified for it. Yes, she is copping it hard for her ideas I think. I am not sure I even agree with a lot of what she says, but I admire her still for her gutsy ways

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