Remember the nineties when rape and sexual harassment were everywhere? There were all those televised court cases such as Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill. In Modern Novel class in college, every book we read had a rape scene in the first chapter. Wherever you turned, there was some outrage over the untamable impulses of male sexuality – that evil creature that for one second is the boy next door and in the next is that gang rapist in the fraternity at 3am on a Saturday night. The problem was that young women grew up thinking that men were evolved spineless teddy bears. But feminism is no match for nature.
I’d forgotten about the rape preoccupation until I read Camille Paglia’s collection of essays, Sex, Art, and American Culture. To be honest, the book is outdated and repetitive. But Paglia’s voice more than makes up for it and her rich knowledge from ancient history to pop culture is passionate and invigorating. She loves to tell it like it is. “American feminism has a man problem. The beaming Betty Crocker’s, 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 manhood (Paglia, 5).”
Paglia embraces nature and our natural impulses to understand why we behave the way we do. When it comes to survival in nature, you must always be aware. “Feminism keeps saying the sexes are the same. It keeps telling women they can do anything, go anywhere, say anything, wear anything. No, they can’t. Women will always be in sexual danger (Paglia, 50).”
I still hate admitting that this is true, even though I have learned from many bad experiences that it is. And of course, Paglia tends to contradict this statement as well. I’ve been mugged, and more humorous than scary, once I was on my way home from work in my sweats and a guy in an SUV from the suburbs mistook me for a prostitute. He asked me how much for a blow job, and was embarrassed when I rounded the corner and entered my building. But it still left me shaken, because he was following me in his car.
Most recently, I was walking home from dinner and on a street corner a man asked me the time. “10pm,” I said. The light changed and I started walking. He followed me for six blocks – up the bridge, over the freeway, through the dark foliage of the side streets. My heart was pounding as I felt his presence behind me, keeping close watch on his shadow. Then he said something, which I couldn’t hear. I turned and snapped, “What?”
He goes, “How would you like me to rub my penis up on you?”
“Fuck off!” I yelled, “Do you want my husband to come down here and fuck you up? You need to respect women!” I shook my finger at him, inflamed.
Immediately he stepped back four feet, struck by the sheer force of my anger. He held his hands up in surrender. Just at that point, I reached the well-lit entrance of my building where my neighbors were in the lobby getting their mail. My hands were shaking, “That guy was disgusting.”
“Welcome to the neighborhood,” they cheerfully replied. I tried to keep myself composed as we rode up the elevator, but as soon as I was inside my door, I melted onto the floor and lost it. In a rage my husband ran down to the car, circling the neighborhood to find the guy – someone who could be almost impossible to recognize, slipping in and out of shadows, a faceless loner in the night.
Feminism’s biggest mistake was in denying nature, history, and the archetypes of our mythology. Utopia doesn’t exist, and we live in a world of risk.
At some point in his journey towards maturity, the average man will reject his mother and his dependence on women. He will join the pack mentality in a rite of passage and succumb to his most basic nature, the nature that society tries it’s best to refine and suppress. But when a man relies on assault to overtake a woman, he becomes a pathetic figure, weak and inept, revealing all of his vulnerability as a man. If you need to take something by force, then you will never really have it at all.
So why did the rape and sexual harassment propaganda get out of control in the nineties? “The theatrics of public rage over date rape are their way of restoring the old sexual rules that were shattered by my generation (Paglia, 52).” It always scares me when women want to return to an infantile, protected structure lacking in freedom. In the end, I don’t see that this preoccupation with fear won out. The young twenty-something women of today don’t remember a time when they weren’t equals. Overall, they seem to be well informed, prepared and strong.
I relate to Paglia’s warrior mentality, “Rape does not destroy you forever. It’s like getting beaten up. Men get beaten up all the time… If it is a totally devastating psychological experience for a woman, then she doesn’t have a proper attitude toward sex (Paglia, 64-65).” I have experienced sexual violence, and I would have to agree with this. It was physically and emotionally painful, and it came from the pain my attacker had suppressed. That is the way of nature. A pain-free world does not exist. We must all be trained to fight, to be fit, ready for what comes. But through it all – take the risk of being open and free to all human experience. Lacking in fear – but full of awareness.