I Love You, Katha Pollitt (Reviews of Reviews pt 3)

Katha Pollitt responds to the flagrant use of controversy to get page views*, Charlotte Allen's Washington Post piece on how women are just silly bints after all. Of course, the rebuttal was also in the Post, so they're just going to get more page views of out this. However, it's also right that they should publish the rebuttal, and kudos to them for printing a piece that calls the editors out for having published "Women vs. Women" in the first place.

I also just finished reading Learning to Drive this week, so my Pollitt love is out in full force. As I mentioned, the book got a pretty bad review in the New York Times. Now that I've read the book, I can form my rebuttal. The NYT reviewer's problem, it seems, is that Pollitt took a break from writing "brilliant commentary on welfare, abortion, surrogate motherhood, Iraq, gay marriage and health care" and got personal. The reviewer, of course, missing -- or ignoring -- the basic second-wave feminist tenant "the personal is the political" (and Pollitt even talks about this in her book). The personal essays in Learning to Drive are sometimes deeply affecting, especially the essay on her mother's alcoholism (if you only read one thing from this collection, that is the one). These are micro pieces about macro topics: population boom, gentrification, and gender relations are all treated here, with honesty, humour, and compassion. When Pollitt brings her personal "dirty laundry" to the table, the reader can take such large issues and relate them to their own life. Books like Learning to Drive are important books, whether or not you agree with the politics, because one can see how the political can -- and will -- affect them personally.

I see that the author of this review is also the author of something called The Surrender: An Erotic Memoir. Not that there's anything wrong with erotic memoirs, and it's possible that Ms. Bentley is a political person herself. I just feel like she missed the (easily understood) point of a noted political journalist turning the focus onto herself, and perhaps it's due to her own ideas of what a personal book should consist of. That said, I think it's hugely hypocritical to take Pollitt to task for "wav[ing] her dirty laundry" when you've written an erotic memoir. Does the laundry get any dirtier? Odd person.

Interesting that the reviewer of Learning to Drive was female, that the reviewer of The Terror Dream was female**, and that this blog post started off talking about woman-on-woman misogyny. I'm not so naive as to think that all women need to agree with each other, or bond in some feminist utopia of sisterhood. People have diverging opinions; that will never change. Much as I wish it were so, the whole world is not going to be liberal, socialist, and pro-equality. It does, however, sadden me to see women consciously engaging in this sort of behavior. For a female reviewer to use such terms as "shrill" or "vagina dentata intellectuals" (what?!), or for a woman to write about how all women are just silly dim creatures, really pisses me off. We are all free to disagree with each other, but it feels like such a step backwards to be using such patriarchal devices on ourselves, instead of fighting for better treatment. I know, it's wishful thinking, but I'll keep wishing.

*And yes, I know I'm just contributing to it by linking here
**I don't know why it didn't occur to me to just google her at the time


Kerry said...

Reaction to this book has been fascinating to follow. I know nowt about Pollitt, but I think I may have to read Learning to Drive.

Panic said...

Heh, I hate to add to your pile. ;)