Why I adore the penis, by a radical lesbian feminist: Professor Camille Paglia, famous for her attacks on the politically correct school of feminism, has now made a film in praise of the male organ. She explains herself to Ruth Picardie

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
Why make a film about the penis?

Women who can't deal with men, who can't deal with the penis, are just immature, they're adolescent. I'm tired of it. I'm trying to bring a whole new kind of sexual sophistication to feminism, to allow even women who are openly lesbian, as I am with my lover, to say that we regard the penis as hot. It's natural for any woman, lesbian or not, to regard the penis as hot; your body naturally responds to that.

There's a puritanism in anglo-American feminism. It's all about trivialising men, jeering at men, diminishing them, cutting them down. People get mad at me. They say, 'It's not true, we're not phobic.' And I say, 'Yes you are. You may have hot private lives with your husbands or lovers, but when it comes to your stupid ideology, it's completely sanitised.' My feminism is all about strong men, strong women. It's not about strong women, castrated men.

I don't believe there is such a thing as pornography. There is nothing degrading or humiliating about the open display of the genitals or of any sex act whatever. Right now, I'm in this magazine called Playguy. It's all about a video I made with this drag queen, Glenda Orgasm. Fabulous. Page after page of the most beautiful boys, the most beautiful penises. Gay men have such a sense of sexuality, such a sense of eroticism. It is so depressing the lack of it among lesbians. The kind of images they produce are just boring and banal.

There's a sensuality lacking from all feminist discourse. I am highly aware of the excessive gentility, the white bread quality of a lot of feminist discourse. That's what I'm attacking. The penis is perfect because it makes people very uncomfortable. Deal with the penis. If you can't deal with it, you are not pro-sex.

But you personally don't respond to the penis?

Here's the problem. I grew up in the Fifties which was a highly conformist era and I had, there's no doubt, a massive gender dysfunction. My particular aggressive personality was completely out of sync with what was expected of a young girl at that time. I thought I was probably a boy. I was also attracted to women when I was very tiny. Then when puberty hit, suddenly my body changed. Boom] I found myself attracted to creatures I couldn't stand.

I still don't get along with men as erotic partners, but the point is my body became attracted to male bodies. I've dated men, I just haven't had relationships with them. My problem with men I guess would have to be called a political problem. I can mate perfectly well with men on a physical level; I'm very attracted on a physical level. But I don't fall in love with them; I'm not involved with them emotionally. I'm one of the strangest mutant creatures on the face of the earth.

I'm honest enough to admit that mother nature wants my body to mate with men. I resisted it. To me, that's the rebellion of feminism. But just because we don't want to be under the power of men, does not mean that we have to continue to say penises are silly, penises are ugly.

We're trying to force anglo-American feminism to face images, without all of this sermonising, this attempt to edit and censor. The best way to do it is with a penis. Force the penis] The way men see sex is sex. The penis is the ultimate symbol of real feminist liberation for the 21st century.

Followers of Michel Foucault argue that men and women are exactly the same, we're tabula rasa, we're only gendered by society. That is riduculous. There is an enormous difference. Your whole life is going to be different if you have a thing hanging between your legs. It doesn't mean that you're definitely going to be more powerful, or more self-confident, but your whole attitude towards life is different.

I talk about this in Chapter One of Sexual Personae, how a penis is like an extension, it's like your hand or your arm, it goes outward from you. You are testing things, you probe. Men when they urinate have this arc, they project outward, and they have to learn how to do it. Adulthood is learning how to aim, to focus, to make an arc of transcendance. Women merely water the ground they stand on.

The actual physicality, the unarguable concrete physicality of our sex lives has got to be brought back to centre stage. The masses of people on the earth would agree with me. I'm sick of a bunch of white middle-class feminists sitting around saying it doesn't make any difference at all that a person has this long finger of flesh between their legs. They make me sick.

What's your favourite representation of a penis?

The ancient Greeks felt that a large penis was a sign of animality, of bestiality. A man was embarrassed to have a large penis and coveted a small, shapely boy-like penis. For that reason, the Greek nudes always have tiny penises. Also, having a long, pendulous penis in its real size throws off the proportion. The great Greek classic sculptures are always organised by the golden mean - the proportion of the size of the head to the rest of the body.

In the the medieval period you don't get the beautiful nude at all. If there are any nudes at all it will be Adam and Eve - ugly, crabbed, the mortification of the flesh, the ugliness of the flesh - in a window. The Renaissance, beginning with Michelangelo's David, was simply imitating the classical style.

That's a convention that goes throughout the 19th century, right up to the photographer, Robert Mapplethorpe. A conventionally sized penis looks very odd to us. It looks vulgar in a high art context because we have been trained in this tradition of having it shrunk down.

You might have a satyr - half goat, half human, a creature of the woods - with a big penis and an erection. He's usually pointing at some nymph or some hermaphrodite. But it's always considered vulgar, comic, pornographic, never part of the high art tradition. Part of the comedy of Aristophanes is having figures on stage with gigantic leather, sawdust-filled phalluses with which they would bat each other over the heads. It was considered incredibly humorous.

The Western art tradition depends on contour: the sharp, sculptural outline of the human body. When you have a very muscular body of a guy who's been doing weight training, there's this thing hanging there, this bag, this loose flesh. Even if he gets an erection, the balls bounce around. It is the one area of unstructured fleshiness on the male figure. The way they dealt with this as a visual problem was simply to shrink it.

Mapplethorpe was probably the first to be able to get the actual image of the penis at its true size into the high art context. I have to say that his representation of the penis is my favourite, because he's not lying, he's not trying to shrink them, to reduce them to the 'proper' proportions.

Do you suffer from penis envy?

I agree with what Madonna says in that horrible book, Sex. She doesn't have penis envy, she doesn't want a dick, she says: 'I already have a dick in my brain.' I think I have power envy. A penis must be very aggravating. You'd have to go around with it bouncing up and down all day long.

What is your view of the Bobbitt case?

I've carried a knife for years. The implication is that if anyone touches me I will stab them or cut it off. One of my most famous pictures was two years ago in People magazine, where I posed with an Italian switchblade knife. It's open and coming at the camera. There's another picture of me posing with a sword in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

All of these images were to imply the Amazonism that I think is necessary for the contemporary woman. Men have to start realising the power women have in any given sexual encounter, the power to cut it off. So I treat Lorena Bobbitt as a heroine.

At the same time, she committed a criminal act and I feel she should have been convicted and gone to prison. It's absolutely ridiculous that her husband was acquitted of assault charges and yet, at her trial, they acted as if he were guilty. I don't accept this post-traumatic syndrome that put her into an insane state when she cut it off.

To attack a person while they're sleeping is cowardly, that is tacky. It makes me sick. Stabbing someone in the back is not fair play.

If she'd cut it off while he was attacking her, or while they were fighting, I would have applauded it. I would have admired her if she had said, 'Yes I did it, it was a blow for women, I'm guilty and I'm going to prison.' If she'd stood up and taken responsibility for it. Instead of saying 'Oh I was just a victim.'

By the way, Lorena Bobbitt is Latin. She's from South America. I'm Italian. The same thing. Vendetta] Take the knife in your hands.

'Without Walls: The Penis Unsheathed', tomorrow on Channel 4, 9.30pm.

(Photograph omitted)