What if women could have careers AND good sex? Camille Paglia’s ‘look’ at Sex and the City

In the “Six Ways of Looking at Carrie” in the 5/23/08 special double-orgasm issue of Entertainment Weekly that showcases Sex and the City, Camille Paglia does some supposedly feminist looking at the show.

Paglia starts with the argument that:

Sex and the City is extremely important in entertainment history because of the way it foregrounded the pro-sex feminism movement of the 1990s that I was part of. The show is the most visible result of that generational shies away from the antipornagraphy crusade that dominated in the 1970s and ‘80s.”

Over time, the show really turned into an accurate anthropological chronicle of the bittersweet dilemma faced by the modern career woman. For every big career gain she makes, there’s a trade-off in her personal life.”

Is the “women asked to be raped” and “date rape hysteria” stance of Paglia’s part of the pro-sex mantra she speaks of? (Pardon me for asking, but can’t being “pro-sex” include being anti-rape?) Does the “anti-pornography crusade” refer to the radical feminist critique of patriarchy, heteronormativity, and gender as performance of MacKinnon, Rich, and Butler (and many great others) or does Paglia, in bad-feminist-mythmaking style, simply conjure up the hellaciously misinterpreted claim of Dworkin that “all sex is rape”? And, geez, couldn’t she have picked a word other than the zealous, fanatical image inducing “crusade”?!?

It would have been nice if she had taken the chance to give voice to feminism in a national magazine in a way that is a tad more complex and a smidgen less divisive (she is – whether you agree with her brand of feminism or not – whip smart). Or, perhaps the ET editors could have rallied up a feminist not reviled by so many in what she claims is her own camp. Was no one from feministing, racialicious, or the women’s media center available? Have bell hooks, Jane Caputi, and Jackson Katz stopped doing “feminist looking”?

Instead, we have to gaze through Paglia’s view, which constructs woman as girls, second-wave feminists as old baddies, and heterosexuality as NATURAL – as in the following:

“I can see why many older, second-wave feminists were highly critical of Sex and the City in the way it showed women always obsessing about men. But guess what? Wake up, that’s the truth! Most young women are naturally interested in men.”

Girls together in groups are constantly talking about their relationships. That’s what girlfriends are for!”

For the love of feminism, is there anything RIGHT about her look at SATC? Women are “naturally” interested in men? Hello? Queer theory, anyone? Or, how about the fairly widespread understanding of the social construction of gender/race/sexuality? And “girls” (not women of course, because I guess it would be too old-school-second-wave to refuse female infantalization) “constantly talk about relationships”?!? What “girls” are you hanging with Camille? Perhaps you need some new “girlfriends” that understand friendship entails more than discussing heteronormative relationships (while shoe shopping and dieting, I presume).

I look forward to the release of the film next weekend– and to doing some feminist looking of my own. When I talk with my friends (who are not all girls), I will try to go beyond my “natural” interest in men and my “essential girly desire” to talk relationships – I might just, in fact, consider the film from a critical, feminist perspective that includes an examination or race, class, gender, sexuality, body image – and yes, Camille, relationships too.

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1 thought on “What if women could have careers AND good sex? Camille Paglia’s ‘look’ at Sex and the City”

  1. I love Camille Paglia, and you are taking what she says totally ass-backwards.

    Paglia is bisexual, so it’s not like she’s ignorant to homosexuality, she’s just aware that heterosexuality is more prevalent. wow.

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