Feminism: It's All About Me!

Want to know what today's chic young feminist thinkers care about? Their bodies! Themselves!

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In the heated atmosphere of early-'90s gender politics, in which Anita Hill accused Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment before an audience of millions, Paglia quickly began turning up all over the media voicing her controversial opinions on the sex wars. Feminism wasted time trying to persuade us that men are tameable, she proclaimed. Relish sexual power, she told women, but don't go to frat parties expecting men to be saints. The argument was powerful and full of merit, but deployed by lesser minds it quickly devolved into an excuse for media-hungry would-be feminists to share their adventures in the mall or in bed. So let us survey the full post-Paglia landscape.

Out this spring is Lisa Palac's The Edge of the Bed, in which the author suggests that pornography can be liberating because X-rated movies were sexually freeing for her. "Once I figured out how to look at an erotic image and use my sexual imagination to turn desire into a self-generated orgasm, my life was irrevocably and positively changed," writes Palac. The subtext of her book is that sexual self-revelation is groundbreaking in itself. But of course it isn't. It's at least as old as the '70s. That decade gave us, among other things, the erotic art of feminist group-sex advocate Betty Dodson and a NOW-sponsored sexuality conference that covered the subject of sadomasochism. And it gave us Erica Jong's titillating Fear of Flying, as well as Nancy Friday's 1973 best seller, My Secret Garden, which celebrated female sexual fantasies.

Beyond Palac, there are other young postfeminists who have launched careers by merely plucking from and personalizing Paglia's headline-making ideas. The latest addition to the women's-studies sections of bookstores, Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women, features on its cover a topless picture of author Elizabeth Wurtzel. Beyond it lies a seemingly unedited rant in which Wurtzel, billed on her book jacket as a Pagliaite, demands for herself and womankind the right to be rapacious, have fits and own more than one Gucci bag. "I intend to scream, shout, throw tantrums in Bloomingdale's if I feel like it and confess intimate details of my life to complete strangers," she writes. "I intend to answer only to myself."

Then there is 29-year-old Katie Roiphe, who appeared on the scene with her 1993 book, The Morning After, arguing that heightened date-rape awareness on college campuses was creating a culture of sexual fear and hysteria. She has gone on to write articles that excuse bad male behavior and tout her own desirability. In a piece that appeared in the January issue of Vogue, she told the story of an affair she had had with a teacher when she was 16. "In that first moment of thinking, maybe he likes me, there is a blossoming of feminine power," she wrote. "I remember first learning from my 36-year-old that I had the ability to attract a man." The implication is that such relationships empower young girls because this one, she feels, was good for her. (Roiphe is currently expressing her feminine power as a model for Coach leather goods.)

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