COWEN: You also wrote that when you were in
high school, you either wrote or just started a book on Amelia Earhart.
PAGLIA: Oh, yes! COWEN: What was the appeal of her to you?
PAGLIA: Oh my God. Amelia Earhart, I stumbled on. It was an article in 1961 in the Syracuse
Herald Journal. There was always some article about Amelia Earhart. Someone finds a fragment
or something. I became very interested in her. At that point,
I was, I guess, 14. I began researching her in the bowels of the Syracuse Library, the
things were still not on microfilm yet. All the newspapers were still there from the 1930s.
I did that for three years on this research project. That’s how I became a feminist
before feminism had revived, because I suddenly discovered this period just after women had
won the right to vote. In the 1920s and ’30s, we had all these career women, like Amelia
Earhart, Dorothy Parker, Dorothy Thompson, Clare Boothe Luce. There’s so many women,
Margaret Bourke-White. By the time second-wave feminism revived,
which was with Betty Friedan’s cofounding of NOW in 1967, I was out of sync with them.
When suddenly they revived, began complaining about men, and all that stuff, so on and so
forth, I hated it. It was early clashes that I had with those feminists from the start.
I tried to join second-wave feminism. They wouldn’t have me because I would not bad
mouth men. These women, like Amelia Earhart, they did
not bad mouth men. They admired men. They admired what men had done. What they said
was, “We demand equal opportunity for women,” which gave us the opportunity to show that
we can achieve at the same level as men who did all these great things.
That was not the tone of second-wave feminism from the start. It’s almost like, “Patriarchy — ”
[makes sounds] like this. These women were insane. I found out from the start. I went
to this feminist conference at the Yale Law School when I was in graduate school. It was
1971. Kate Millett was there. Rita Mae Brown who later became a lesbian novelist and lives
on a horse farm in Virginia came around. COWEN: Maybe she’s here.
PAGLIA: Maybe she’s here. She’s very rich. At any rate, Rita Mae Brown said to me, she
said, “The difference between you and me, Camille, is that you want to save the universities,
and I want to burn them down.” What can you say? What a conversation stopper. I had
the knock down argument of the Rolling Stones with the New Haven Women’s Liberation Rock
Band. I adore the Stones. They hated the Stones. We had this huge screaming argument. My back
was to the wall. They were screaming in my face. I said, “Yes, the Rolling Stones are
sexist, but they made great music.” They go, “Oh, no, no, no!”
I said, “All right, let’s take ‘Under My Thumb.’ ‘Under My Thumb,’ yes, it’s
sexist, but it’s a great song. It’s a work of art.” These women, they said to
me, they said, “Art! Art! Nothing that demeans women can be art!” Now that is a Stalinist
view of art! COWEN: More about you. Less about them.
[laughter and applause] PAGLIA: Wait a minute. Then there was the
argument that I had. This is about Amelia Earhart. You asked about Amelia Earhart, right?
COWEN: Yes. [laughter]
PAGLIA: Then I had my first job at Bennington College in 1972. People said, “There’s
this new women’s studies department. One of the first ever at the State University
of New York at Albany. Oh, you’ll be one of them.”
I thought, “Well, they’re feminist. I’m feminist. OK. All right.” We had a dinner.
We were going to go to a lecture, and so on. We didn’t get through to dessert. Let me
tell you about that dinner. Because we had this screaming argument about hormones.
They deny that hormones have the slightest impact on human life. They said hormones don’t
even exist. They told me I had been brainwashed by male scientists to believe — these
are women who are in the English department. Wonderful education they had in biology.
At any rate, Amelia Earhart — . COWEN: Yes, of course.
PAGLIA: Never was like this with men. This is the point. In fact, my next book, my next
essay collection, I’m going to reproduce the page from Newsweek magazine, 1963, I wrote
in a letter to the editor. It was their number one letter. I was 16 years old, at that point.
What was it? They put a picture of Amelia Earhart there. It was Valentina Tereshkova
had become the first women in space. The Soviet Union had sent her up. I wrote a protest letter
into Newsweek and I said, “That Valentina Tereshkova, the cosmonaut, has became the
first woman to be — on the anniversary that Amelia Earhart flew the ocean,” whatever
it was. It was some big anniversary. I said, “Obviously, Amelia Earhart’s lifelong
fight for equal opportunity for American women remains to be won.” That’s 1963.