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Magpie is a former journalist, attempted historian [No, you can't ask how her thesis is going], and full-time corvid of the lesbian persuasion. She keeps herself in birdseed by writing those bad computer manuals that you toss out without bothering to read them. She also blogs too much when she's not on deadline, both here and at Pacific Views.

Magpie roosts in Portland, Oregon, where she annoys her housemates (as well as her cats Medea, Whiskers, and Jane Doe) by attempting to play Irish music on the fiddle and concertina.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

'I can't think of another social movement where "strident" is a bad word.'

One of the main reasons why we read The Nation is Katha Pollitt's column, 'Subject to Debate,' which has run in the magazine since 1980. The column — as is Pollitt herself — is uncompromisingly feminist, both in how it deals with issues and in Pollitt's insistence that every issue is a feminist issue.

Feminist writer Katha Pollitt

Our hero!
[Photographer unknown]

Over at Salon, Jessica Valenti has an interview with Pollitt which doesn't disappoint. Here's a taste:

Do you think it's important that women call themselves a feminist or is it enough that women are doing feminist work -- without necessarily labeling it as such?

I think that conservatives have really done an amazing job of taking away from us all the good words like "liberty" and "freedom" and demonizing the words that are left. Like "feminism" and "choice." And "liberal." I think we can't let them do this forever. If you lose a way to describe yourself, you've lost a lot. If you lose the word "feminism," you are losing the idea that there is anything particular to the way women's situation is structured in this society. I would fight for that word. But it's a losing game in the end. I think we've seen that with "liberal." "Liberal" was a very good word! "Liberal" was a word that put together the idea of our constitutional liberties -- like freedom of speech and the rights of the individual against the government -- with the idea of fighting poverty. Fighting racial discrimination. Once you lose the word, you lose a very good way of keeping those concepts together. And I think the same is true about "feminism." But if people want to start calling themselves women's liberationists, that's OK with me.

It does seem like we spend a lot of time -- and I do this myself -- debunking myths about the death of feminism. So how do we change the conversation so that we're not just constantly defending ourselves?

Well I think that's related to the way that feminist victories become incorporated into society -- they lose the character of being considered feminist. For example, half of all medical students are women, but how many of those women in medical school think, "My presence in this seat is a victory for the women's movement"? How often when people write about this fact, do they see that in terms of a social victory for women? People will maintain that this was part of the natural evolution of society, you didn't need a women's movement, that it would have happened anyway. None of which is true.

I think we need to reclaim the conversation in a number of areas. For example, when we talk about abortion, how often do we talk about it in terms of women's lives? As opposed to it about a fetus being a person. The anti-choicers have so thoroughly switched the conversation over to the question of the personhood of the fertilized egg or fetus that now it's even a person before it's implanted in your uterus! So on the one hand you have that our victories aren't being acknowledged as real victories and that the problem areas are areas of enormous retreat. So I just think we need to start talking more about our own lives as being important. I think that we need to be much bolder.

But all these things aside, you say that you're still optimistic. Are you optimistic about feminism too?

I guess I feel that the rollback of our rights is only temporary -- and I say that in my introduction. That a big modern industrial country like America is not going to become a right-wing Christian nation in which you have to show your marriage certificate to get birth control. If you can measure the strength of an impulse by the ferocity of the opposition to it, I would say that feminism is very much alive. People don't spend a lot of time anymore bashing unions, for example. They don't spend a lot of time bashing the black power movement, but feminism really gets to people. So I think the fact that it really gets to people shows both its relevance and its power.

You have to admit that it's heartening that someone whose been around the block as many times as Katha Pollitt can still be optimistic about the future of feminism and of the US. I certainly hope she's right.

You can read the whole interview here. [Paid sub or ad view req'd.]

The latest installment of Pollitt's Nation column is here.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:01 AM | Get permalink

Liar, liar, pants on fire!


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