"Lilith" Feminism

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Id like to present another perspective on feminism. It may be considered Lilith feminism.

Below is an essay by the controversial writer Camille Paglia. The essay, which is included in her book Sex, Art, and American Culture, is 10 years old.


(The New York Times, December 14, 1990)

Madonna, dont preach.

Defending her controversial new video, Justify My Love, on Nightline last week, Madonna stumbled, rambled, and ended up seeming far less intelligent than she really is.

Madonna, fess up.

The video is pornographic. Its decadent. And its fabulous. MTV was right to ban it, a corporate resolve long overdue. Parents cannot possibly control television, with its titanic omnipresence.

Prodded by correspondent Forrest Sawyer for evidence of her responsibility as an artist, Madonna hotly proclaimed her love of children, her social activism, and her condom endorsements. Wrong answer. As Baudelaire and Oscar Wilde knew, neither art nor the artist has a moral responsibility to liberal social causes.

Justify My Love is truly avant-garde, at a time when that word has lost its meaning in the flabby art world. It represents a sophisticated European sexuality of a kind we have not seen since the great foreign films of the 1950s and 1960s. But it does not belong on a mainstream music channel watched around the clock by children.

On Nightline, Madonna bizarrely called the video a celebration of sex. She imagined happy educational scenes where curious children would ask their parents about the video. Oh, sure! Picture it: Mommy, please tell me about the tired, tied-up man in the leather harness and the mean, bare-chested lady in the Nazi cap. Okay, dear, right after the milk and cookies.

Sawyer asked for Madonnas reaction to feminist charges that, in the neck manacle and floor-crawling of an earlier video, Express Yourself, she condoned the degradation and humiliation of women. Madonna waffled: But I chained myself! Im in charge. Well, no. Madonna the producer may have chosen the chain, but Madonna the sexual persona in the video is alternately a cross-dressing dominatrix and a slave of male desire.

But who cares what the feminists say anyhow? They have been outrageously negative about Madonna from the start. In 1985, Ms. Magazine pointedly feted quirky, cuddly singer Cyndi Lauper as its woman of the year. Great judgment: gimmicky Lauper went nowhere, while Madonna grew, flourished, metamorphosed, and became an international star of staggering dimensions. She is also a shrewd business tycoon, a modern new woman of all-around talent.

Madonna is the true feminist. She exposes the Puritanism and suffocating ideology of American feminism, which is stuck in an adolescent whining mode. Madonna has taught young women to be fully female and sexual while still exercising control over their own lives. She shows girls how to be attractive, sensual, energetic, ambitious, aggressive, and funnyall at the same time.

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 Madonna loves real men. She sees the beauty of masculinity, in all its rough vigor and sweaty athletic perfection. She also admires the men who are actually like women: transsexuals and flamboyant drag queens, the heroes of the 1969 Stonewall rebellion, which started the gay liberation movement.

Justify My Love is an eerie, sultry tableau of jaded androgynous creatures, trapped in a decadent sexual underground. Its hypnotic images are drawn from such sadomasochistic films as Liliana Cavanis The Night Porter and Luchino Viscontis The Damned. Its the perverse and knowing world of the photographers Helmut Newton and Robert Mapplethorpe.

Contemporary American feminism, which began by rejecting Freud because of his alleged sexism, has shut itself off from his ideas of ambiguity, contradiction, conflict, and ambivalence. Its simplistic psychology is illustrated by the new clichi of the date-rape furor:  No always means no.  Will we ever graduate from the Girl Scouts? No has always been, and always will be, part of the dangerous, alluring courtship ritual of sex and seduction, observable even in the animal kingdom.

Madonna has a far profounder vision of sex than do the feminists. She sees both the animality and the artifice. Changing her costume style and hair color virtually every month, Madonna embodies the eternal values of beauty and pleasure. Feminism says, No more masks. Madonna says we are nothing but masks.

Through her enormous impact on young women around the world, Madonna is the future of feminism.

----It's 10 years later.

Was Madonna the future of feminism?

How much of a voice has she given Lilith?

-- Debra (don'tshootthe@messenger.com), June 01, 2000


Lilith, leave me alone.

-- (fraser@mustsee.TV), June 02, 2000.


I would define feminism as "that which seeks to empower or improve the lives of women". As such I don't see how Madonna could be called a feminist, as I wouldn't want women close to me to follow her example.

Do I mind her being a successful business woman? Of course not, but what's to be admired about posing in Playboy or making sexual videos? Salome lived long ago, and had power because of it, but I wouldn't call it feminist -- people may give you things (and money) as a sex object, but that's not the same as respect.

Of course I'm conveniently overlooking the fact that most of her cash comes from her singing career. I don't think she started out making these bizarre videos, but when she became famous started to do so. Wealth allows eccentricity, no doubt about it, but as a role model? Having a child as a single mom (deliberately) with her driver (or whoever)?

Nah, I think if your argument was "it's liberating to be rich" I'd agree, but as a feminist? I'd rather have you tout a doctor or housewife or lawyer.

Impuritan Frank

-- Someone (ChimingIn@twocents.cam), June 02, 2000.

Frank, I concur... Debra, I don't see Madonna as a role model particularly. Feminism was a backlash, and (as I see it) Madonna is a backlash against the backlash..... I think it's going to take time to get this all sorted out, since "women sharing equally in the human experience" is a fairly new thing.

I don't care for the 60s/70s feminist stuff, but was it ever needed. At the time, my feeling was WOW! Somebody is standing up and saying these forbidden things! ....Somebody needed to do something, AND THEY DID. Often it takes someone who is sufficiently angry and fed up, to get out there and DO something, opinions be damned. So if such people are extreme, "strident", "shrill" (doncha love those words? -NOT) - I understand that in the long view, it was necessary. And there's a double whammy to this. One of the chains for women is "I don't want to offend," and still is. Madonna IMO is still in the backlash mode - "I don't care who I offend!" But it's OK... she is an artist doing the job of an artist, creating her art, although personally her body of work leaves me cold.

In the meantime, we "everyday" women as a whole are getting closer to a happy medium (with increasing freedom to be diverse), and we will get there.

I find that I only dwell on gender differences when I'm unhappy, and it's usually something deeper that's at the root of it. The rest of the time, gender differences are to me, an interesting footnote on the human experience. This did NOT used to be so, and for this I have to thank not only the process of my own maturing, but everyone who has stood up on these issues, whether they appeal to me personally, or not. Things didn't used to be so free.

It's a cliche I suppose, but everyone who comes after, stands on the shoulders of those who went before.

-- Debbie (dbspence@usa.net), June 02, 2000.

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