camille paglia feminist essay

    Camille Paglia, author of the article “It’s A Jungle Out There” (1993), is an author and a feminist, from which she draws her views on date rape. However, she asserts the biological inevitability of gender roles, a view which is not supported by groups like NOW. This view is also a factor in how she sees relations between men and women. The second article is called “Common Decency” and it was written by Susan Jacoby in 1993. Jacoby’s writing credits include a memoir, a book on Soviet education and various articles for the magazine Cosmopolitan. None of these accomplishments qualify Jacoby as an expert on feminist issues, specifically date rape, unless it is suggested that everyone is entitled to express a viewpoint on the subject.

The authors have opposing views on where to place the blame for date rape – Paglia sees that a man’s role as the sexual aggressor is biologically determined. She emphasizes that women are always in danger of being raped and, as such, women should be on their guard and avoid putting themselves in situations that could lend themselves to danger.  Paglia’s view is extremely objective – she acknowledges that some men are rapists but insists that women anticipate the danger. She leaves out the concept of free will – she doesn’t recognize that a man has a choice in whether or not to rape a woman. Her opinions are in direct opposition to Susan Jacoby, who believes that men who rape women are a small minority and that most men and women do not need arbitrary rules to govern how they relate to each other sexually.  She doesn’t offer advice to women on prevention, and this view is quite subjective and narrow. Paglia’s view on date rape recognizes the need for anticipation as a means of prevention, and this is why her view is superior to that of Jacoby.

    Paglia states that feminism hides the truth about sex from young women, thus creating a danger for them. Her view is that the desire for sex is inherent and young men have little control over their sexual desires and urges. Feminists such as Jacoby argue just the opposite: they insist that rape is an act of violence rather than sex. Upon hearing this, young women become far too trusting and do not realize that being alone with a man leaves them just as likely to be raped as if they walked down a dark alley in a bad part of town while wearing suggestive clothing. Paglia believes that “having sex with a woman is one way in which a boy becomes a man”. In modern society, this is entirely true: young men commonly refer to their first sexual experience as “when I became a man”, and the pressure to be sexually active is overwhelming, especially in college.  In order to illustrate the sexual dangers, Paglia gives the example of the fraternity party, in which girls often arrive in groups but are separated through the course of the evening. At some point, a boy will inevitably invite a girl up to his room. While he won’t explicitly state that he intends to have sex with her, this is his intention and he assumes that the girl knows it as well. She may believe that he just wants to talk or that he has something that he wants to show her, and soon she is faced with the same pressures. The difference is that the boy is going to be stronger and more capable of forcing his desires, while she has now left an area of safety and must fend for herself with an amorous young man. Jacoby does not believe that this young man will commit date rape. She begins her essay with an example of a woman who was on her way to the bedroom with a man and changed her mind at the last minute. The spurned ex-boyfriend accepted her refusal and left, though unhappily so. According to Jacoby, this is what happens in the majority of situations in which a woman changes her mind at the last minute: the man accepts the change in plans and leaves without incident.

    Jacoby’s view is extremely naïve. The pressure to have sex is often overpowering, from teenagers to college students, to seasoned adults. There is often a foregone conclusion that any kissing, caressing or other affection will automatically lead to sex. Jacoby’s example of a situation that could have turned to rape is difficult to believe. “He left her apartment with a not-so-politely phrased request that she leave him out of any future plans”. While this is a rational way to handle it, it sends a dangerous message that a woman can take a man to the limit and he will accept rejection politely. Many men are taught by their peers that “no” doesn’t always mean “no” and that they should keep pursuing the issue until they wear the woman down enough to go along with having sex. This is why date rape is so common – the line between agreeing to have sex and going along with it in order to avoid being attacked, is blurry. Paglia’s view is much more realistic. While it is quite pessimistic to view all men as potential rapists, a young woman who attends a party with this in mind is much less likely to find herself in a dangerous situation. Therefore, Paglia is much more accurate in regard to sexual dangers than Jacoby.

    “College men are at their hormonal peak,” according to Camille Paglia, and this is why “every woman must take personal responsibility for her sexuality”. Rather than acknowledging the concept of free will and the many environmental factors, Paglia instead discusses the biological differences between men and women when it comes to sex. Men are ingrained with the idea that having sex will make them men, while women are taught that to be careful in choosing sexual partners. Paglia gives an example of camping out in an Egyptian temple: a male student of hers was able to do this without fear of being attacked, but she acknowledges that this would be impossible for a woman. This is a completely anti-feminist view, the idea that a woman cannot go wherever she pleases without fearing men, but it is a good example of how the sexual differences between men and women can lead to danger. Some men would see a woman sleeping in the open, alone, as an invitation. If Jacoby had been given the same example, she would insist that men can control their urges and that the woman who chooses to embark on such an adventure would be entirely safe from rapists. After all, she concludes her statements by insisting that “real men don’t rape”. Jacoby believes this because, “[date rapes] occur because a minority of men…can’t stand to take “no” for an answer.” In her view, there are no real sexual differences between men and women that lead to sexual dangers, the differences are there in order to advance a courtship. The courtship ritual involves the man pushing for sex and the woman saying no – at least for a while.

    Once again, Paglia’s argument is much more sensible than that of Jacoby. Jacoby does not recognize that men have a great deal of pressure to be sexually active, more so than women. This pressure can lead to men forcing a woman to have sex when they did not intend to do so. Paglia, however, bluntly discusses the sexual differences between men and women and encourages women to understand that these differences can lead to rape. While Jacoby wants women to live in a world where they are empowered and will only become victims if they allow themselves to do so, Paglia prefers that women err on the side of caution — they should recognize that men have a strong desire for sex balanced with a lack of finesse and an inability to keep from taking advantage of an easy target.

    The final issue on which both authors disagree is the origin of sexuality for both men and women. Paglia believes strongly that this origin is biological, that both sexes have desires and controls that are determined by their sex and not by their free will or morality. Jacoby contends that to say men’s sexuality is biologically determined is an insult to them – of course they can control their urges. This is why the title of Jacoby’s piece is called “Common Decency”. She truly believes that the relations between men and women involve mutual respect and understanding.  This is why she presents an example of a woman who said “no” and a man who listened, rather than a woman who said “no” and was forced to have sex regardless. The problem is not biology, but series of mixed signals both given and interpreted incorrectly by men and women. She states that “Most men manage to decode these signals without using superior physical strength to force themselves on their partners”. Paglia contends by using the 1960 movie “Where the Boys Are” as an example. This movie involved four young women on vacation who must navigate the tricky world of flirting with men and deciding how far to let things progress. One character makes a series of mistakes while the others use their common sense and avoid putting themselves in potentially dangerous situations. The movie involves a date rape scene that occurs just the way Paglia insists date rape occurs: a young woman finds herself alone with a young man, and her refusal to have sex only incites his need more, rather than scaring him off. Jacoby argues that only a small number of men would force themselves upon the woman at this point – she insists that a woman can be safe in such a situation. The bottom line is that Paglia believes that the urge to have sex is biological and this urge often overpowers common sense and reasoning. Jacoby believes that the biological issues are minor at best and only a brute would rape a woman.

    Paglia’s example of “Where the Boys Are” was, if a bit too convenient, accurate of the way young women relate to men. They seek men out, go along with his courtship rituals, and often don’t understand that while they are not thinking beyond a few kisses and caresses, the young man is already making a mental inventory of his condom supply. Having viewed sex as a forgone conclusion, the last thing a young man wants to hear is that the woman never intended to have sex with him in the first place. He is biologically programmed to want to have sex with a woman and to do whatever it takes to make that happen. Jacoby disagrees with this entirely, and her view is once again shortsighted and naïve. She is accurate in that there are plenty of men who will accept a refusal and walk away without harming the woman, but she fails to acknowledge that the young woman should avoid putting herself in such a situation in the first place. Jacoby offers no suggestions on how to relate to men and engage in dating while keeping her sexual limits on the table. Jacoby insists that “Real men want an eager sexual partner,” implying that a woman who is ambivalent about sex is going to be unattractive to the man she is with, enough so to turn him off completely. She contradicts herself in admitting that many men “take pride in the ability to coax a woman a step further than she intended to go”. This is an admission, albeit a small one, that maybe date rape does occur more often than Jacoby will admit, and that maybe, it is the average man who commits it and not the rare brute. This statement affirms the fact that some part of the sexual urge is biological and difficult to control.

    In this day and age, it is often difficult to decide where aggressive persuasion ends and date rape begins. Men and women relate to each other differently, women often seeking emotional ties while men prefer the physical (in many cases). Women who do not recognize this can find themselves in awkward situations. When I was in high school, I had a friend who would spend her afternoons flirting with an older “man” who lived next door (she was 16, he was 23). She made her interest in him clear, and he responded by inviting her to a party he was having. During the party, she drank alcohol (in spite of being underage) and began to feel dizzy. The man allowed her to lie down on his bed, and she lost her virginity to him that night. Unfortunately, my friend had no memory of having agreed to have sex with him; in fact, she clearly recalled telling him “no” and asking him to stop more than once. What confused the issue was that her refusals occurred while continuing to engage in the make out session that preceded the sex. If this scenario had been presented to both Paglia and Jacoby (while eliminating the age/statutory rape factor), they would have differing opinions on the sexual danger present at the party, the sexual differences that led to the misunderstanding about sex, and whether the sex occurred because it was a biological need on his part, or if he simply assumed that it was acceptable. Paglia would suggest that she shouldn’t have been at this party in the first place, especially without a girlfriend or two to act as resistance. She would continue by stating that her next mistake was in drinking alcohol and becoming more susceptible to his advances; and finally, her last mistake that put her in danger was not going home when she felt dizzy – after all, she lived right next door. Jacoby would insist that they both gave out signals as to their intentions and it was simply a miscommunication, that the man believed she wanted to have sex with him. Paglia would continue by mentioning that a twenty-three year old man is primed for sex and that the young woman was exactly what his body would respond to; Jacoby would insist that biology had nothing to do with it.

    I agree with Paglia’s opinions on date rape, more so than Jacoby. Jacoby has a point that the courtship rituals are designed to eventually lead to sex, and the man is always going to push for more than the woman wants to give. However, Paglia’s view is one that I will teach my own daughter when I have them – they need to take responsibility for their sexuality and not put themselves in situations which they cannot control. They can be alone with a man they know well and with whom they intend to have sex; they should not be alone with a man who is unfamiliar and for whom their intentions are unclear. In conclusion, Jacoby’s opinions will only lead to more date rape, while Paglia offers straightforward advice that should make sense to even the most staunch feminist.

 

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