Thursday, July 13, 2006

I Wanna Be Katha Pollitt When I Grow Up

Or Possess, At Least, A Scintilla Of Her Wit And Grace

I've been reading Katha Pollitt's new book, Virginity or Death! which is a collection of her essays for The Nation from the last five years. I've found it to be witty, insightful, witty, angry, witty and spot on. Did I mention witty?

So the big flap occurred last week in the feminist blogosphere after Ana Marie Cox of Wonkette reviewed the book in the NY Times. For those of you not familiar with political blogs, Wonkette gained notariety for being a "Washington insider" political blog that makes frequent references to anal sex. Ana Marie has become a sort of media darling, supposedly the representative of the Left Blogosphere. When a review of this book starts with the sentence "Strident feminism can seem out of place — even tacky — in a world where women have come so demonstrably far," and then references Katie Couric as a symbol of You've-Come-A-Long-Way-Babyism, you immediately realize that the reviewer is a lightweight who neither supports nor understands feminism or what these essays are about.

Echidne does an excellent job dissecting this review:

Let's unpack this post-feminist pink little purse. Strident feminism is "tacky" because we have token women in high places? Would it be ever so tacky and depressing of me to remind all of us that the number of women in politics and in the leadership positions in the media is indeed very tiny, small enough to fit into the most expensive Jimmy Choos? It's so boring and unfashionable to "stubbornly" try to defend the vanishing abortion rights? Sure. Why not go with the flow and start a firm designing really fab maternity clothes for all the pregnant mothers who didn't really want to become pregnant. Yeah, that's the ticket. They can wear tiny shoes, too. Choice is good, ladies. And to talk about all those poor women in the Middle East: such a downer. We can't help them so why bother our beautiful minds with all that shit (to paraphraze Barbara Bush the Elder). It's not fun.

The big problem with Pollitt's writing for Cox seems to be that Pollitt is b-o-o-o-ring. She's all serious in her wittiness and righteously angry and not willing to entertain the great appeals of anal sex. She's so 1970s, you know, and we don't want to burn bras anymore. We prefer bras that make our breasts the vanguard of the new feminism. Which is whatever we decide it might be. Oops. I forgot in this revelry of nasty writing that nobody actually ever burned any bras in that distant and evil-smelling unfashionable era, and that someone writing about feminism really should be aware of that.

As does Barbara Ehrenreich:

Cox is not the first post-feminist to denounce paleo-feminists as sexless prudes. Ever since Andrea Dworkin -- a truly puritanical feminist -- waged war on pornography, there've been plenty of feisty women ready to defend Victoria's Secret as a beachhead of liberation. Something similar happened in the 1920s, when newly enfranchised young women blew off those frumpy old suffragists and declared their right to smoke cigarettes, wear short skirts, and dance the Charleston all night.

Maybe there's a cycle at work here: militant feminism followed by lipstick and cocktails, followed, in a generation or two, by another gust of militancy. But this time around the circumstances are vastly different. In the 1920s, women were seeing their collective fortunes advance. The Western nations were granting them suffrage; contraceptives were moving beyond the status of contraband. Contrast those happy developments to today's steadily advancing war against women's reproductive choice: the banning of abortion in South Dakota, fundamentalist pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions for birth control.

But the best responses so far have been from Pollitt herself, both in this interview with Jessica Valenti of and in her own Op-Ed in the NY Times, shredding again the old myth about feminists having no sense of humor. Throughout this collection of essays, Pollitt demonstrates why feminism isn't a dead issue, and why a feminist movement is still necessary even if Katie Couric is now a news anchor.


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