LIBERTÉ, EGALITÉ, FÉMINISME
“Feminism…is the most popular and most effective movement to emerge from the sixties left,” writes Katha Pollitt in her introduction to Subject to Debate, the volume of her selected columns published in The Nation over the past seven years. Dismissed by the right and the left as identity politics, proclaimed “dead” by Time in 1998, eschewed–as denoted by the term “feminist”–by young women everywhere, the women’s movement, Pollitt declares, “moves on.”
And it’s a good thing, too. Although, as Pollitt writes, “political feminism is still with us: regulations are challenged and proposed, candidates funded and campaigned for, lawsuits fought and not infrequently won”–there’s much work to be done. And many of the essays included in Subject to Debate have worked, and still do, as a call to action. Writing on issues including reproductive rights, school vouchers, privacy, welfare, the culture wars, religion, the workplace, education and “family values” with wit and a perspective simultaneously personal and political, Pollitt has composed pieces that, collected in this volume, articulate a larger argument for social change. She reminds us that “feminism is not a single, independent, all-powerful force, but is connected in complicated and even contradictory ways with other historical forces–egalitarianism and individualism, hedonism and puritanism, capitalism and the critique of capitalism,” and that “gender equality requires general equality.”
Indeed, Pollitt notes, “rights are free; social justice costs a fortune.” This has been especially evident in the welfare debate, which she plumbs often. In a signature lampoon, she writes in “Deadbeat Dads: A Modest Proposal” that “Marion Barry’s views…are shared by millions: Women have babies by parthenogenesis or cloning, and then perversely demand that the government ‘take care of them.'” In “Of Toes and Men,” a 1996 column responding to the exposed relationship between Clinton “family values” strategist Dick Morris and Sherry Rowlands, a $200-an-hour dominatrix, Pollitt quips: “[Since] family values don’t seem to generate much work…. welfare moms should take a leaf from struggling single mother Sherry Rowlands…. [and] become dominatrixes. Here is a lucrative profession with flexible hours that combine well with childrearing, which…it resembles in many ways.”
On a different tack, Pollitt worries in “Opinionated Women” that women in the media are largely confined to certain issues in terms of giving their opinions: “As Saint Augustine put it, men need women only for the things they can’t get from a man. For procreation (the one thing Saint A. could come up with), substitute 1,000 words on breast implants or day care, and that view still holds a lot of sway.” Luckily, as Subject to Debate makes plain, Pollitt has never been so constricted.