“Subject to Debate” is an email discussion between The Nation columnist Katha Pollitt and former executive editor Betsy Reed, now editor in chief of the Intercept, as they reflect on the state of contemporary feminism, both in the nation and in The Nation.
Pollittt: What you say about The Nation not having been a home for discussion among feminists is true, and it mirrors the situation of feminism within the liberal left. In both cases, there is a certain amount of attention given to “women’s issues”—reproductive rights, equal pay, childcare, rape and domestic violence, and so on—and a certain amount of chagrin when women are belatedly discovered to be missing from a panel, forum, special section, masthead or table of contents. But when the topic is more general, feminist analysis disappears, and so do feminists. How can one think seriously about the economy, for example, without considering the way it is structured by gender and race? By narrowly defining what counts as a feminist topic, the liberal left pushed women into a corner and helped produce the very thing it most deplores—“identity politics.”
Considering how monumental and far-reaching and destabilizing and interesting the women’s movement was in the late 1960s and ’70s, it’s surprising how little notice The Nation took of it during that period. As the movement progressed and the world changed, the coverage began to reflect those shifts, but it remained open for quite some time to woolly antifeminist critiques in the name of motherhood and “community.” The nadir was probably Christopher Hitchens’ slippery and arrogant 1989 column against abortion rights, after which he refused to engage with the response from women, including serious scholars of abortion rights like Linda Gordon. Much like the liberal left itself, The Nation tended to dismiss, rather than engage, feminist perspectives that challenged settled principles. Even before the Internet, it was probably not possible to ban pornography, and certainly not without wreaking havoc on freedom of speech, but did that have to mean that one had to ignore its misogyny? Against that, fortunately, one can set contributions from Ellen Willis, Vivian Gornick and many others. I’m proud to say that when I was the literary editor, back in the 1980s, I made it my mission to bring in women reviewers and cover books by women, especially on women’s history and feminist issues. (We even did a feminist-books issue.) It wasn’t even hard—there were fantastic (and famous!) women writers out there just longing to write for us.
The great thing about feminism is that the debate moves on. You asked if I still stood by my attack on difference feminism. For the most part, I do think gender is socially shaped, and yet the position I staked out in that essay feels a little brittle to me now. Why did I make fun of quilts as an art form? I love quilts! There’s a way in which denying essentialism can slip over into valuing women most when they are most “like men.” But don’t we deserve a little credit for the fact that in no society on earth do women commit more than a small fraction of murders?
Read the full exchange here: Spreading Feminism Far and Wide - The Nation
p class="wordpresspost">(Excerpt etc. first posted on. Orig. attribution above.)