Nation columnist Katha Pollitt answers questions about feminism, politics and her new book, Virginity or Death! And Other Pressing Social Issues of Our Times (Random House).
There’s a discussion raging on the blogosphere right now about Wonkette’s [a k a Ana Marie Cox] “post-feminist” review of your book in the New York Times. Is this the reaction you expected? Do you think Bush feels left out?
You certainly wouldn’t know from the review that the book is not, actually, one long grim fulmination against high-fashion shoes and the young women who wear them. It’s fine that she hated the book (well, not really!), but I wish she had accurately conveyed its contents.
There are pieces about Republicans, Democrats, Greens, fundamentalists ( of all stripes), creationism in Kansas, sexism in the media, the war in Iraq, Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass, Abu Ghraib, stem-cell research, cloning, healthcare, childcare, gay marriage, FBI spying, Maureen Dowd, Andrea Dworkin, Pierre Bourdieu (who?), “blasphemous art” at the Brooklyn Museum, Larry Summers, my old colleague Christopher Hitchens, Howard Dean, Dr. Judith Steinberg a k a Judy Dean and daycare workers sentenced to long prison terms for sex abuse that almost certainly did not occur. There are pieces about Muslim women’s rights–a topic Wonkette says I’m “fixated” on, which is an odd choice of word, don’t you think? Maybe she’ll tell us someday exactly how much concern is the right amount to have. Oh and yes, George Bush. He’s all over the book.
In “Vaginal Politics” you say that the contradiction between serious feminist issues and sexual self-expression is “way overdrawn.” Yet many young women believe the feminist movement doesn’t allow them to wear stilettos and lipstick. So where is the line between “stridency and submission?”
We’re still on Wonkette, I see. Have you ever heard that word “strident” applied to a man? I can’t believe the conversation is stuck on this idiotic plot point: Feminists with loud voices and hairy legs versus girls who just want to have fun. Actually, there are lots of young feminists. “Vaginal Politics” is actually an essay about V-day–the campus “Vagina Monologues” festival that raises tons of money to fight violence against women. It’s hip, it’s sexy, it’s hugely popular and it’s all the work of students. Young feminists!
The blogosphere is full of young feminists–thank God, because print media publishes very few. But sure, many young women reject the word. For their entire lives, they’ve been told that the women’s movement is evil and weird–Hillary Clinton is a feminazi, working mothers hate their children, feminists hate men. Like the rest of the progressive movement, the women’s movement has suffered from not having well-funded popular media of its own and from not paying enough attention to grassroots organizing. We’ve let our opponents define the discourse.
In a column from December 2003 you wrote that you don’t like marriage, yet you are leaving for your honeymoon this week. Has something changed in how you view the institution of marriage?
Marriage is a social institution and it’s a personal relationship. As an institution, it’s a capricious and inadequate way of protecting vulnerable people–low-income women, children, the old, the sick. It’s insane, for example, that whether or not you get healthcare can depend on whether you are married to someone with health insurance!
Historically, too, marriage has been extremely sexist, and I think in quite a few cases it still carries those traces. As a public expression of love and commitment between two people, though, marriage is something else. It’s what two people make of it. Wish us luck!
How do you think growing up with a feminist mother has affected [your daughter] Sophie’s life?
You’ll have to ask her! She is definitely one young woman who has no trouble combining a love of fashion with a sense of her rights and worth as a person.
This is the third compilation of columns you’ve released. Have you ever considered writing a book?
Funny you should ask! I’m finishing one now. It’s a collection of personal essays. You could call it a memoir in pieces. Two of the sections were published in The New Yorker, the rest is unpublished material. Stay tuned.
Buy Katha Pollitt’s latest book, Virginity or Death! And Other Social and Political Issues of Our Time (Random House). And watch for her latest readings, news, and events at kathapollitt.com.