A generation ago

I was looking through The Random Things this morning and found this 1994 (yes! the clock goes back that far!) interview with Katha Pollitt. It reminds me that none of this crap is at all new or even surprising. I’ve been thinking and saying “But I thought everyone knew…” [that you don’t call women cunts, that you don’t assume women are lying if they even say some stranger made a pass at them, that you don’t blame them for discussing sexual harassment], but that’s stupid.

For instance.

Q: Do you find yourself a feminist among civil libertarians and a civil libertarian among feminists?

Pollitt: Although there are certainly particular issues where you might find your wish to see women safe and cheerful conflict with your civil-libertarian outlook, basically I see these as having much more in common than opposed. The media have played a destructive role here in that when these two movements are discussed together, they are always discussed in opposition. So, for example, the major role played by the civil libertarians in reproductive-freedom issues is mentioned much less than the fact that some feminists would like to use the law to attack pornography, and all civil libertarians think that’s an infringement on the First Amendment. But mostly, I see these two movements as friends.

Q: You wrote a letter to the editor of The Nation right before you started your column – what was that an about?

Pollitt: Well, Carlin Romano wrote a review of Catharine MacKinnon’s book Only Words which was published in our magazine, in which Carlin pretends to fantasize about raping Catharine MacKinnon and someone else does rape Catharine MacKinnon. It was to say to Catharine MacKinnon, you think there’s no difference between words and deeds? I’ll show you the difference. And we got a tremendous amount of flak for this. It was one of a number of pieces that we published that, although you could defend each of them in some abstract and complicated way, the bottom line was that the magazine was not attuned to the frivolousness of making this sort of joke. So I wrote a letter saying, “What’s going on? I take a leave of absence and look what you do.” You know, The Nation is often criticized for having male-oriented politics and publishing mostly men, and I think the criticisms have some validity.

Everyone doesn’t know. Everyone should, but doesn’t.

Katha goes on:

I will say, though, that there is always a space on the “Left” to be against feminism – in a way that there’s not a space to be a racist. And although feminism came out of the Left and naturally belongs on the Left, sometimes you wouldn’t know it. You wouldn’t know it if you looked at what Andrea Dworkin likes to call the male Left. I think she draws much too harsh a portrait, but I don’t think you could find a person publishing in a progressive magazine who would, say, support capital punishment. But you can certainly find pro-lifers. You can certainly find people who think that mothers should be home with their children. You can certainly find people who have bought the media caricature, which is that a feminist is a banker in a power suit.

And you can find Carlin Romano writing about fantasy-rape of Catharine MacKinnon.


  1. says

    That is an awesome interview. I loved Katha Pollit back in the Clinton years.

    Crap… the Clinton years were a long time ago… we’re ooooolllld!!!

  2. iknklast says

    Katha Pollitt is my idea of a feminist. Too many people want to make unsubtle, charicatured baboons out of feminists, women who just hate men and want to take it out on men. Then there are those who want women to be superior to men. Katha Pollitt is neither. She’s sane, sensible, strong, independent, and outspoken. And she doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She’s actually the only reason I still subscribe to the Nation.

  3. says

    And the worst part is that people are defending the inclusion of anti-feminists (among other stealth right-wing/authoritarian positions) in leftist discourse by handwaving about assumptions and diversity of ideas whenever someone tries to suggest that anti-feminist positions are just as much bunk as racist positions.

    Bullying and condescension, all of it.

  4. says

    Too many people want to make unsubtle, charicatured baboons out of feminists, women who just hate men and want to take it out on men. Then there are those who want women to be superior to men.

    those are charicatures created by anti-feminists. I’ll thank you to refrain from taking seriously the critiques of feminism from people who have nothing but contempt for women.

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