The answer, surprisingly, is a lot. Or at least that’s what one might think seeing Maroon 5’s new video for the song “Animals,” as well as Paglia’s recent column for Time. Viewers and readers alike no doubt emerge from their engagement with these texts with the idea that a.) Men are primarily animals and beasts, driven by base lusts that cannot be controlled b.) It is women’s responsibility to learn how to not only deal with but defend against this irredeemable and irrevocable part of man’s nature and c.) If they can’t, then they should just give in an enjoy the ride.
If it sounds like I’m being snarky, it’s because I am. When I watched Maroon 5’s video yesterday morning, I was appalled not just by the imagery (which mainly consists of Adam Levine dancing with slaughtered animal carcasses and then making out with his object of affection, which he has stalked and smelled out like an animal, while being doused in blood), but by the suggestion that women secretly love the sexual allure of being stalked by an incessantly and disturbingly amorous man. Even more importantly, I was struck by the equating of the stalked woman with an animal that the speaker of the song, played by Levine, will hunt down and devour “like animals.” As Carol J. Adams long ago pointed out in her book The Sexual Politics of Meat, there is a deep and powerful cultural connection between the consumption of meat and the perpetuation of violence against women.
Cue Camilla Paglia who, in typical Paglia fashion, takes aim at what she sees as the failings of liberal feminism, namely that it has insulated young women from the “urban streets,” which she argues are full of animalistic men driven by a prey instinct that makes them eternally susceptible to misreadings of women’s sartorial choices and likely to go on a murderous sex rampage at any moment. As she sees it, our civilization is always on the brink of collapse into animality and chaos, simply because of the ways in which men’s brains are hard-wired.
If this sounds like something from the 19th Century, it should, and Paglia even refers to 19th Century psychoanalysis to bolster her thinking. To her, there are certain immovable parts of men’s brains that make them inescapably violent and sexual, and we as a society have taught women to ignore these facts at their peril. Aside from the racism implied in Paglia’s “urban streets” comment, her thinking is both incredibly reductive, discounting any cultural influence on the ways we train our men to behave (after all, if we train our young women to ignore the danger of men, don’t we also train our men to ignore the “fragility” of women? Clearly, Paglia did not follow her own logic to its conclusion). Aside from my political differences with the piece, I find it lazy writing as well, an example of lazy public scholarship masquerading as serious engagement with one of the most important and urgent political and social issues of our time.
Though I doubt that Maroon 5 has read Paglia, their most recent video nevertheless serves as a perfect illustration of the way in which her particular brand of thinking permeates our culture, encouraging us to see victims of stalking, rape, and other violent crimes as both asking for it and secretly enjoying it. The lyrics to the song include the phrase “the beast inside,” implying that there is something deeply and irrevocably bestial about the male psyche. The fact that the character is played by the undeniably charismatic and attractive Levine makes the video’s vexing politics even more aggravating, as it casts its glamour around one of the most unpleasant, vicious, and downright ugly aspects of our culture, one which we should be doing everything in our power to eliminate, rather than valourize or explain away via outdated and heavily-disputed notions of biological determinism.
If I had possessed any doubt that we live in a rape culture, both the video by Maroon 5 and Camilla Paglia’s deliberately inflammatory and simplistic tract would have disabused me of any such idealism. We clearly live in a culture in which the objectification of women, and the blaming of women for that objectification, continue to hold sway. I know that I, frankly, am tired of these pernicious attempts by our culture to convince us that really, deep down, the problems that women face in our society are either their own fault or easily explained away an contained by their erotic submission to men. As feminists and gender justice warriors, we must continue pushing back against these attempts to blame victims of oppression for the conditions of their subjugation. We will continue to put pressure on those systems as we work toward a more just and democratic society. We will not be intimidated by their rhetoric, and we will not be silenced.