I JUST GOT an early birthday present. Last Tuesday, while perusing the latest edition of Philadelphia Magazine, I happened upon a list of the "31 People We Wish Would Just Shut Up." The "we" in question were the editors, of course. And there, at No. 10, was yours truly.
My first reaction was: Really? Out of all the annoying people in this city, I made the final cut? (It wasn't actually a surprise. There is a petition to have my columns axed from the Daily News as well. I'm definitely feeling the love.)
That flush of pride was followed by a bittersweet thought, as I remembered how my late father, Ted Flowers, had been included on Philadelphia Magazine's list of "79 People to Watch in '79." Here I was, carrying on the family tradition of making Philly Mag lists, and dad's not here to see it.
And then came the moment that the clouds parted, the sun crashed through with messianic rays of light and I felt blessed. There, on that same list of "People We Wish Would Just Shut Up Because, As Jack Nicholson Said, We Can't Handle the Truth," was my personal heroine, Camille Paglia. (Stu Bykofsky was also on the list - and I adore him - but he doesn't qualify as a heroine, so I'll have to save him for another column.)
I've admired Paglia for many years, which may come as a surprise to anyone who knows her work, and my writing. Paglia is tenured professor at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. But limiting her to that description would be like saying that Michelangelo did some painting. Paglia is a cultural phenomenon whose wisdom, wit, eloquence and sheer audacity have made her a pop-culture legend.
At a superficial level, it might seem a bit strange that I adore this woman. She is a lesbian, an atheist, a feminist and pro-abortion (her term).
I am none of these things. But unlike many of those in both the liberal and conservative camps who feel free to espouse their views knowing that their fellow travelers will agree and support them wholeheartedly, Paglia has the courage to defy expectations. She's argued that religion is important, that the gay-rights movement has no business forcing the Boy Scouts to accept gay scoutmasters, that feminists have engaged in Stalinist obstructionism and that those who oppose abortion might in fact hold the moral high ground.
Not your garden-variety intellectual, to say the least.
Never having met the professor (much to my regret), I'm not sure where and how she developed this steely constitution, one that allows her to speak her own truth to some oppressive societal powers and to absorb the aftershocks with grace. I know that there have been days when I've clicked on my in-box with terror, not sure what fresh hell awaits me (Dorothy Parker is another of my heroines, in case you haven't guessed).
And being a much-less-public figure than Paglia, I can only imagine the type of blowback she gets for her very unorthodox yet extremely well-thought-out views. Being included on a list in the December issue of Philadelphia Magazine must register as a blip on her own radar screen, given the fact that she's been picketed, heckled and garden-variety demonized. Fortunately, she's also been widely praised for her intellectual courage.
Here are some of the more gutsy positions she's taken on hot-button topics:
* Abortion: "The vicious stereotyping of abortion opponents as 'antiwoman' or 'far-right fanatics' has been one of the most deplorable habits of the feminist establishment. . . . the pro-life movement, in contrast, is arguing that every conception is sacred and that society has a responsibility to protect the defenseless."
* Battered women: "As a feminist, I detest the rhetorical diminution of woman into a passive punching bag, which is the basic premise of the 'battered woman syndrome' . . . this is not to excuse men for their scurrilous behavior; it is to awaken women to their equal responsibility in dispute and confrontation."
* Gay rights: "Procreation and not fear or bias, underlies the Christian opposition to homosexuality."
* Sexual harassment/rape: "The sex education of white middle-class girls is clearly deficient, since it produces young women unable to foresee trouble or to survive sexual misadventure or even raunchy language without crying to authority figures for help."
Clearly, this is not a fainthearted woman. You can understand why a certain type of person, perhaps the kind who believes that provocative views are only worthwhile if they provoke the other side, would invite her to "just shut up."
Fortunately for the world, Paglia hasn't listened to those calls. Here's hoping she never will.
Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.