Web Letters | The Nation

Naomi Wolf's 'Vagina': No Carnations, Please, We're Goddesses

Facile criticism misses the point

While I have long admired Katha Pollitt’s writing and her takes on issues central to me, her nasty, unfair, non-substantial, knee-jerk, embarrassing response to Vagina: A New Biography makes me rethink a bit. When a writer for The Daily Beast bests Pollitt, the world is upside down for me. Michelle Goldberg’s response to the book was much more thoughtful and, therefore, reasonable.

As a lifelong feminist, I read Wolf’s book thinking she was sort of brave in some ways, kind of silly in others and, in a way, leaning toward some larger truths about masculine cultural prisms through which all things, sexuality included, still pass. Biology isn’t absolute destiny, of course, but Helen Fisher and Deborah Tannen, also often vilified for their writings, offer us a look at least at the possibility that biology might have something to do with something when it comes to women, men, gender, sex. It seems a bit silly not to give at least a nod in the direction that biology does play into the picture.

The issues of power and patriarchy continue to define women’s experiences in our Western culture. The overwhelming popularity of books such as those in the “Twilight” and “Grey” series, the first of which I trudged through to see what my undergraduates were so taken by and the second of which I am plodding through to see what my peers are so taken by, suggests we have a long way to go. Wolf’s book is another piece of a large puzzle.

Criticism, yes, but what about criticism in the context of something other than “aren’t I clever as a writer”? A kind of feminist piling on has taken place, and that’s disturbing. The New York Times review (and the one in the same issue of The End of Men) were just horrifying. I kept thinking, reading those and Pollitt’s piece, that men ’round the world were forming a circle and yelling “catfight!” With her snarky tone and over-generalized hater response, Pollitt doesn’t add anything to the discussion of why this book and why now. Instead, she just jumps on. Reading her this time was a major disappointment. Picking the lowest-hanging fruit isn’t much of an accomplishment.

Kathryn Jenson White

Norman, OK

Oct 15 2012 - 12:05pm

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