Katha Pollitt is well known for her wit and her keen sense of both the ridiculous and the sublime. Her “Subject to Debate” column, which debuted in 1995 and which the Washington Post called “the best place to go for original thinking on the left,” appears every other week in The Nation; it is frequently reprinted in newspapers across the country. In 2003, “Subject to Debate” won the National Magazine Award for Columns and Commentary. She is also a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute.
Pollitt has been contributing to The Nation since 1980. Her 1992 essay on the culture wars, “Why We Read: Canon to the Right of Me…” won the National Magazine Award for essays and criticism, and she won a Whiting Foundation Writing Award the same year. In 1993 her essay “Why Do We Romanticize the Fetus?” won the Maggie Award from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
Many of Pollitt’s contributions to The Nation are compiled in three books: Reasonable Creatures: Essays on Women and Feminism (Knopf); Subject to Debate: Sense and Dissents on Women, Politics, and Culture (Modern Library); and Virginity or Death! And Other Social and Political Issues of Our Time (Random House). In 2007 Random House published her collection of personal essays, Learning to Drive and Other Life Stories. Two pieces from this book, “Learning to Drive” and its followup, “Webstalker,” originally appeared in The New Yorker. “Learning to Drive” is anthologized in Best American Essays 2003.
Pollitt has also written essays and book reviews for The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Harper’s, Ms., Glamour, Mother Jones, the New York Times, and the London Review of Books. She has appeared on NPR’s Fresh Air and All Things Considered, Charlie Rose, The McLaughlin Group, CNN, Dateline NBC and the BBC. Her work has been republished in many anthologies and is taught in many university classes.
For her poetry, Pollitt has received a National Endowment for the Arts grant and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her 1982 book Antarctic Traveller won the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her poems have been published in many magazines and are reprinted in many anthologies, most recently The Oxford Book of American Poetry (2006). Her second collection, The Mind-Body Problem, came out from Random House in 2009.
Born in New York City, she was educated at Harvard and the Columbia School of the Arts. She has lectured at dozens of colleges and universities, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brooklyn College, UCLA, the University of Mississippi and Cornell. She has taught poetry at Princeton, Barnard and the 92nd Street Y, and women’s studies at the New School University.
With advice and counsel from the History in Action e-mail list, I wrote up the Open Letter below to protest the way the media slanders the women's movement as indifferent to the human rights of women in the developing and/or Muslim world. Fact: it's feminists who first identified atrocities against women around the world--female genital mutilation, forced marriage, child marriage, spousal violence, rape-- as violations of human rights, not family matters or customs of no state importance. It is feminists who have consistently pushed for women's rights to education, health care, and legal and social equality and who've pushed organizations from the UN to Amnesty International to broaden their perspective to include women's rights to be free from violence and coercion. "Women's rights are human rights" was not a slogan dreamed up by David Horowitz or Christina Hoff Sommers.
In only four days, the Open Letter has gathered 700 signatures. it's been signed by people from all walks of life and every part of the country: writers, scholars, students, activists, leaders of feminist organizations and global health organizations, doctors, nurses, kindergarten teachers, clergypeople, stay-home mothers and so on and on--to say nothing of a whole bunch of people who simply describe themselves as "feminist."
If you'd like to sign, send your name to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and be sure include how you would like to be identified; for example, writer, professor (with department and university), activist, astronaut, parent, movie star. if you are active with a feminist/progressive or global organization or NGO, that would be a good thing to mention. I would like the list to show that all sorts of women, and men, are feminists and how many are actively working for women's human rights. And yes, men can sign!
An Open Letter from American FeministsPlease add your name to this powerful list, and thanks.
Columnists and opinion writers from The Weekly Standard to the Washington Post to Slate have recently accused American feminists of focusing obsessively on minor or even nonexistent injustices in the United States while ignoring atrocities against women in other countries, especially the Muslim world. A number of reasons are given for this supposed neglect: narcissism, ideological rigidity, reflexive anti-Americanism, fear of seeming insensitive or even racist. Yet what is the evidence for this apparently now broadly accepted claim that feminists don't support the struggles of women around the globe? It usually comes down to a quick scan of the home page of the National Organization for Women's website, observing that a particular writer hasn't covered a particular outrage, plus a handful of quotes wrenched out of context.
In fact, as a bit of research would easily show, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of US feminist organizations involved in promoting women's rights and well-being around the globe--V-Day, Equality Now, MADRE, the Global Fund for Women, the International Women's Health Coalition and Feminist Majority, to name some of the most prominent. (The National Organization for Women itself has a section on its website devoted to global feminism, on which it denounces a wide array of practices including female genital mutilation (FGM), "honor" murder, trafficking, dowry deaths and domestic violence). Feminists at Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the United Nations have moved those organizations to add the rights of women and girls to their agenda. Feminist magazines and blogs--Ms. magazine, Feministing.com, Salon.com's Broadsheet column, womensenews.com (which has an edition in Arabic)--as well as feminist reporters and commentators in the mainstream media, regularly report on and condemn outrages against women wherever they occur, from rape, battery and murder in the US to the denial of women's human rights in the developing or Muslim world.
As feminists, we call on journalists and opinion writers to report the true position of our movement. We believe that women's rights are human rights, and stand in solidarity with our sisters who are fighting for equal political, economic, social and reproductive rights around the globe. Specifically, contrary to the accusations of pundits, we support their struggle against female genital mutilation, "honor" murder, forced marriage, child marriage, compulsory Islamic dress codes, the criminalization of sex outside marriage, brutal punishments like lashing and stoning, family laws that favor men and that place adult women under the legal power of fathers, brothers, and husbands, and laws that discount legal testimony made by women. We strongly oppose the denial of education, health care and equal political and economic rights to women.
We reject the use of women's rights language to justify invading foreign countries. Instead, we call on the United States government to live up to its expressed commitment to women's rights through peaceful means. Specifically, we call upon it to:
--offer asylum to women and girls fleeing gender-based persecution, including female genital mutilation, domestic violence, and forced marriage;
--promote women's rights and well-being in all their foreign policy and foreign aid decisions;
--use its diplomatic powers to pressure its allies--especially Saudi Arabia, one of the most oppressive countries in the world for women--to embrace women's rights;
--drop the Mexico City policy--aka the "gag rule"--which bars funds for AIDS- related and contraception-related health services abroad if they provide abortions, abortion information, or advocate for legalizing abortion;
--generously support the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), which supports women's reproductive health including safe maternity around the globe, and whose funding is vetoed every year by President Bush;
--become a signatory to The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the basic UN women's human rights document, now signed by 185 nations. The US is one of a handful of holdouts, along with Iran, Sudan, and Somalia.
Finally, we call upon the United States, and all the industrialized nations of the West, to share their unprecedented wealth, often gained at the expense of the developing world, with those who need it in such a way that women benefit.
Katha Pollitt, writer
Marge Piercy, writer
Susan Faludi, writer
Alix Kates Shulman, writer
Julianne Malveaux, president, Bennett College for Women
Anne Lamott, writer
Mary Gordon, writer
Linda Gordon, historian, NYU
Jennifer Baumgardner, writer
Ruth Rosen, historian
Jane Smiley, writer
Anna Fels,MD, psychiatrist and writer
Debra Dickerson, writer
Margo Jefferson, writer
Jessica Valenti, writer
Dana Goldstein, The American Prospect
Karen Houppert, writer
Gloria Jacobs, The Feminist Press
Carole Joffe, professor of sociology, UC Davis
Janet Afary, Middle East historian, Purdue University
And more than 700 more women and men.
John Edwards just lost my vote. How dare he take cheap shots at Hillary Clinton for letting her eyes mist over (not "crying" as was widely reported) at a meeting with voters in Portsmouth NH earlier today? This is a man who has used his most private tragedies--his wife's cancer, his son's fatal accident -- in his campaign in a way that had a woman done the same she would surely be accused of "oprahfying' the lofty realm of politics. This is also the man who promoted himself early on as the real women's candidate, and who has repeatedly used his likeable wife to humanize his rather slick and one-dimensional persona. Today he deployed against Hillary the oldest, dumbest canard about women: they're too emotional to hold power. ABC's Political Radar blog reports:
"Edwards, speaking at a press availability in Laconia, New Hampshire, offered little sympathy and pounced on the opportunity to bring into question Clinton's ability to endure the stresses of the presidency. Edwards responded, 'I think what we need in a commander-in-chief is strength and resolve, and presidential campaigns are tough business, but being president of the United States is also tough business.'"
Ooh, right,we need a big strong manly finger on that nuclear button! Even if that finger has spent most it its life writing personal injury briefs in North Carolina, which, when you come to think of it, is not an obvious preparation for commander-in-chiefhood.
The election is almost a year away, and already it's come down to branding. In Saturday night's Democratic debate the candidates discussed in considerable detail muclear terrorism, health care, carbon emissions and other substantive issues. But what really got them excited were the vague competing mantras of "change" and â€˜experience." Obama says he stands for change. Edwards, siding with Obama against Clinton for some strategic reason too subtle for me to understand, says he stands for change too. Hillary Clinton, who casts herself as the candidate of experience but actually uttered the word "change" more often than the other candidates, dismissed her rivals as fancy talkers. She said she has 35 years of experience ( which means she's counting everything she's done since getting out of law school) and knows how to make change happen. She points out, quite correctly, that electing a woman president would be a very big change, but nobody seemed too interested in that. After all, electing a black president would be a big change too.
Hillary Clinton was fiery and funny and bore no resemblance to the candidate relentless attacked in the media as rigid, incompetent, Machiavellian and screechy. You can understand her obvious frustration with the ongoing lovefest for Obama: At one point she even compared his "likeability' to that of George W. Bush. In real life, Obama has made the same sort of compromises she herself has made. As she pointed out, he said he'd vote against the Patriot Act, and then he voted for it. He casts himself as the candidate who'd repair our bellicose relations with the world, and then talks about bombing Pakistan. He talks about putting Republicans in his cabinet, as Bill Clinton did. His health-care plan, as Paul Krugman points out every day on the New York Times op-ed page, is weaker than Clinton's or Edwards'. I'm sure Hillary Clinton must be wondering what the difference is between "triangulation" and Obama's calls for unity.
Somehow Hillary Clinton is stuck as the candidate who simultaneously represents excessive compromise and excessive partisanship. For various reasons, John Edwards, who actually represents the most substantive hope for change, seems in some ways a throwback to the old-fashioned class-based politics of the 1930s. Poor Richardson, who actually has the most experience of any candidate in either party, can't get any traction at all. Obama, the black candidate who never mentions his race, gets to smile his mile-wide smile and be a rock star. Somehow he has made himself a great big humongous hope object. People can project on him what they want him to be.
Just shoot me. First, it was Sam Tanenhaus, conservative editor of the New York Times Book Review being put in charge of the News of the Week in Review section. That means one conservative will determine how politics,culture and ideas are covered in TWO of the most important sections of the supposedly liberal newspaper of record. Now, says the Huffington Post, the Times is set to announce that Bill Kristol will be writing a weekly op-ed column. That's Bill Kristol ,Fox commentator , editor of the the Murdochian agitprop factory Weekly Standard, George W. Bush's propagandist in chief, co-founder of the Project for a New American Century, relentless promoter of the war in Iraq , ideological bully and thug. This is the man who blamed american liberals for the Khmer Rouge and the Ayatollah Khomeini (!), who will say just about anything, however bizarre or illogical or wild or (I'm guessing) cynical, to push the only ideas in his head: everything bad is the fault of Democrats and never mind the question, war is the answer.
On Iran:The right response is renewed strength--in supporting the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan, in standing with Israel, and in pursuing regime change in Syria and Iran. For that matter, we might consider countering this act of Iranian aggression with a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Why wait? Does anyone think a nuclear Iran can be contained? That the current regime will negotiate in good faith? It would be easier to act sooner rather than later. Yes, there would be repercussions--and they would be healthy ones, showing a strong America that has rejected further appeasement.
On morning-after contraception: "I don't know, I came into Fox this morning and one of our younger colleagues who works here, a guy just out of college a couple of years, said all his friends in who are still college are very happy about this -- all his guy friends, his male friends who are still in college are happy about this. They have a wild night. Precautions aren't taken. The burden is now totally off them. They tell their girlfriend to go out and get this drug and no problems at all. And I don't think that's a very good thing for the the country."
This morning, TakeCareNet released the results of its survey of presidential candidates' positions on 26 public policies related to work, family, and caregiving. Co-sponsored by eight other organizations, including the Labor Project for Working Families, Momsrising.org, and the National Council of Women's Organizations, the survey addresses the "silent crisis of care": the absence of social support for working families (I know, I know, I hate that moralistic multi-focus-grouped phrase) that has made us a nation of stressed-out parents, daycare workers on poverty wages, and children who aren't getting the high-quality attention and stimulation they need. Number of Democratic candidates who responded: five (Clinton, Dodd, Edwards, Obama and Richardson). Number of Republican candidates who responded: zero. This is one area in which the parties definitely diverge.
While some of the Dems preferred their own policy proposals to those on the survey, all five support increased funding for childcare, both for mothers on TANF and families in general; public funding for universal, voluntary pre-school programs; expanding the Family Medical and Leave Act to cover workplaces with as few as 25 employees; allowing leave for appointments related to domestic violence; a minimum number of paid days off to care for sick family members; indexing the minimum wage to productivity and inflation; and more. I was particularly glad to see on the menu a scholarships for education and training, as well as higher pay, for child care providers. The magic of the marketplace is never going to bring us quality childcare, because most parents cannot begin to afford what that would cost.
Will the Dems actually campaign on care? Or will the policies laid out by the TakeCareNet survey join the long laundry list of wonkish positions you have to search their websites to find? Dems say they want the votes of women, and especially, as Katrina pointed out on her blog, want to mobilize single women, many of whom combine low-wage work with raising kids and/or caring for elderly parents. Yet, except on abortion rights, about which they speak as little as possible, Dems have not really made a pitch to women that goes beyond fluff and pr -- they're too afraid of scaring off the elusive white male voter: ew, the Mommy party! cooties! Yet care is an issue that affects men too. Even the Nascariest Nascar dad can see the advantage of nursery school.