Katha Pollitt is one of those writers that you simultaneously love (because she’s so damn good) and hate (because she’s so damn good).
Pollitt was the first feminist journalist that I ever read religiously, so I was super excited to get a review copy of Learning to Drive: And Other Life Stories. The book is a collection of essays about Pollitt’s life–from cheating boyfriends and Google stalking to Marxist study groups and motherhood. There’s just something so amazing about getting an inside view of someone’s personal life–especially someone you know and respect as a writer. Many of us only know Pollitt as this witty political feminist, so to see her as an actual person with failings and worries…well, I just found it very refreshing and touching.
So I was more than a little irritated to see this review in The New York Times. As Jill says, Pollitt gets “the usual shit that feminists catch when we write about our own lives (or about pretty much anything).” Indeed.
Reviewer Toni Bentley calls Pollitt “shameless,” says she’s “giving up her dignity” and she’s (gasp!) angry:
Have you heard the latest? â€œMen are rats.â€? This directly from the desk of Katha Pollitt, a longtime feminist columnist at The Nation. Itâ€™s an absolute scandal. But with the recent surge of courageous investigative journalism from certain formidable women working around the clock at the front lines (which can involve detailed linen reconnaissance as they hunt down suspicious laundry), the news is finally seeping out. It still sounds a bit shrill, but Iâ€™m sure it will soon find its stride as the shock of it all wears off.
Groaning and moaning from clever, sassy women has become a genre unto itself, the righteous revenge of the liberal, pre-, during- or postmenopausal woman (anyone missing?) in the post-chick-lit age (it is over, isnâ€™t it?). Perhaps this heralds the birth of fourth-wave feminism? (Or is it the fifth?) Or maybe itâ€™s not something political, but just plain old biblical revenge: God knows women have centuries of wrongs to catch up on. An enraged, educated woman (Vagina dentata intellectualis) with her arsenal of experience, observation, self-deprecation and indignation is a force to be reckoned with, a kind of intellectual Mike Tyson â€” though, apparently, she is still not as likely to be seduced into bed as the bombshell bimbo, one reason sheâ€™s so irate.
Let’s see here: shrill, enraged, and Vagina dentata intellectualis(!). So sexist, so predictable. Sometimes it seems like women are criticized just for having the audacity to speak the truth about their own lives. I’m so over this kind of hackneyed, backlashy bullshit. It’s the easy way out: Don’t want to bother with writing a thoughtful review of something? Just go the “harping woman” route, it’s a winner!
Well take it from this vagina dentata blogger: Generally, the more sexist the review, the better the book. So go buy hers.
Related: Pollitt was also interviewed this Sunday in The New York Times Magazine.