October 2, 2007
Driving (and writing) while feminist
Katha Pollitt has a new book out, entitled Learning to Drive: And Other Life Stories. It’s a collection of essays that covers a variety of subjects, from literally learning to drive, to googling an ex, to being cheated on, and much more. I’m looking forward to reading it. The New York Times Review of Books, on the other hand, published a review — written by a woman — that was not merely negative but anti-feminist, featuring some classic anti-feminist vocabulary (“shrill”) as well as old phrases given a new twist (the author identifies Pollitt as the species “Vagina dentata intellectualis,” which simultaneously horrifies me (how could one woman say that about another?) and makes me want to kneel down and learn at Pollitt’s feet so that someday I might be worthy of a similar epithet).
The book is being discussed this week at the TPM Cafe Book Club, and Pollitt herself kicked the week off with a response to the NYTRB review (emphasis added):
This, as I see it, is the pass to which we have come. Women can write about shooting heroin and being sex workers and spending years zoned out on prozac and having nervous breakdowns and hating other women and lord knows what else and that’s okay by feminism, as indeed it should be. But writing that you didn’t learn to drive for years and years out of technophobia and overreliance on men? Loving a man unwisely and feeling terrible for more than a long weekend when he left? Writing about how another person really got to you and how you even, OMG, googled him and the other women in his life rather a lot for a while, which is basically all that happens in “Webstalker”? Oh, that is so unfeminist–and from a longtime feminist political columnist too! That really undermines all our progress. Now we’ll never get the ERA.
Has feminism really become such a brittle, defensive, live-for-your-resume, never-let-them-see-you-cry kind of thing? If that’s true, and I hope it isn’t, the backlashers have truly won. They’ve gotten women to censor themselves to save society the trouble. Feminism, after all, was supposed to enlarge our sense of women’s humanity, in all its messiness and contradiction and individual truth; it was supposed to connect women to each other, and to men, in more honest ways. It wasn’t supposed to be yet another standard of perfection, a mask. Because look where that leads: In one way or another, every woman will inevitably fall short of the feminist-stalwart ideal, as every man falls short of the winner-take-all competitive capitalist ideal that is masculinity. If a writer censors herself to keep up the good name of womanhood, it is most unlikely people with a low opinion of women will be impressed. All that will happen is that other women think that they are alone in what are, in fact, common experiences. This is the roundabout the women’s movement was supposed to help us get out of!
Indeed. The full post is well worth the read.