Subject to Debate: Sense and Dissents on Women, Politics, and Culture


Subject to Debate, Katha Pollitt's column in The Nation, has offered readers clear-eyed yet provocative observations on women, politics, and culture for more than seven years. Bringing together eighty-eight of her most astute essays on hot-button topics like abortion, affirmative action, and school vouchers, this selection displays the full range of her indefatigable wit and brilliance. Her stirring new Introduction offers a seasoned critique of feminism at the millennium and is a clarion call for renewed ...

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Subject to Debate: Sense and Dissents on Women, Politics, and Culture

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Subject to Debate, Katha Pollitt's column in The Nation, has offered readers clear-eyed yet provocative observations on women, politics, and culture for more than seven years. Bringing together eighty-eight of her most astute essays on hot-button topics like abortion, affirmative action, and school vouchers, this selection displays the full range of her indefatigable wit and brilliance. Her stirring new Introduction offers a seasoned critique of feminism at the millennium and is a clarion call for renewed activism against social injustice.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"There isn't a hotly debated sociopolitical issue that Pollitt hasn't taken on with conviction and blazing originality...She is an astonishingly gifted writer."
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Pollitt professes to find the cover of this collection of her Nation columns "pretty"; her readers might find it misleading, since the eye on the cover is in sweet soft-focus, while Pollitt's own eye is steely, uncompromising and sharp. In these 88 brief essays, she brilliantly shears away the rhetorical cotton wool that obscures the serious implications of many hot social and political issues of contemporary America abortion, welfare reform, affirmative action, school vouchers, gun rights and control. Unfailingly feminist in her analysis, she is never tendentious and always witty. Nor is she reluctant to turn her gaze close to home, to the gap between the Nation's high-minded principles and its largely lily-white editorial offices, for example, in her discussion of various liberal hypocrisies. Her newly written introduction calls upon feminists at the millennium to kick-start the "stalled revolution" with renewed demands for change that, she says, would further social justice, and themselves transform those who articulate them. If there is anything to regret in this collection, it is that columns written seven years ago remain fresh today, so little progress having been made toward resolving the issues they raise. (Apr.) Forecast: This attractively packaged and affordable collection should prove popular among those whose spirits have been depressed by recent political events and prospects of future recession. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
The essays in this collection were originally published in the author's column of the same name in the Nation from 1994 to fall 2000 and follow an earlier collection, Reasonable Creatures: Essays on Women and Feminism. With incisiveness and wit, her spirited essays address contemporary political and social issues, including abortion rights, racism, welfare reform, feminism, and poverty. Pollitt's lively commentaries on the contemporary American scene and the women's movement and her unwavering promotion of social justice will make a refreshing addition to most public libraries and academic collections in journalism and women's studies. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/00.]--Patricia A. Beaber, Coll. of New Jersey Lib., Ewing Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The always provocative essayist for The Nation presents a collection of her biweekly columns dating from 1994 to fall 2000—including impeachment but before chads. Pollitt (Reasonable Creatures, 1994) is known as a feminist, a liberal, and a fighter for social justice—all causes from the same shopping cart, one might think. Not necessarily so, as the author points out in her introduction. Although the feminist movement has moved women along from their pre-Friedan roles as wives and mothers, Pollitt argues that the young women who have ended up in the workplace remain captives of body image and conflicting roles. Nevertheless, the women's movement lives, even in the"I'm not a feminist, but ... " culture; its great impact might be better understood if it were not separated (often for the convenience of the analysts) from other historical forces. A woman does not have as much choice as she thinks when social, race, and class disparities continue to exist."Gender equality requires general equality," says Pollitt. The essays that follow reinforce that theme, beginning with a gloomy assessment of the progress of women around the world, lightened by acid comments on Camille Paglia and Catherine MacKinnon. Swipes at New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd (journalists are one of her favorite targets), plus loose defenses of Paula Jones, the movie Titanic, and President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky prepare readers for unexpected points of view. Mayor Guiliani takes some hits as both art critic (of the elephant dung Madonna) and demolition expert (of the city's welfare safety net), as does Judith Wallerstein for sloppy science in her recent analysis of the effects of divorce. ButPollittisnot just a quick wit with some easy targets. She researches and discerns the hypocrisies, the contradictions, the obfuscating—and the tragedies—on both sides of the political and cultural divides and notes them with clarity, logic, humor, and sensitivity. Biting, entertaining, erudite—destined to annoy, but also perhaps challenge, the politically correct on the right or the left.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679783435
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/28/2001
  • Series: Modern Library Paperbacks Series
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 5.18 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Katha Pollitt writes the bimonthly column, "Subject to Debate" for The Nation. She is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim and Whiting Foundations, a grant from the NEA, a National Magazine Award in Essays and Criticism and a National Book Critics Circle Award. She lives in New York City.

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Read an Excerpt

Clara Zetkin Avenue

Scurrying around Manhattan on a blustery morning a few weeks ago, I
happened to glance up while waiting for the light to change in front of the public library. Beneath the green and white sign reading Fifth Avenue was another, also green and white, and printed in exactly the same lettering:
Clara Zetkin Avenue. Gee, I thought for a split second, if Rudy Giuliani is naming a street for the grande dame of German socialism, he can't be as bad as I thought. But will New Yorkers really start telling taxi drivers to make a right on Zetkin? Then I saw the bent wires fastening the sign to the post, and realized what was going on: Some lefty prankster was reminding us that the next day, March 8, was International Women's Day.

Well, the great day came and went with barely a ripple of attention here in the United States-although I understand that, over at the United Nations,
Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali gave a speech about the need to do more for women, which in the case of the United Nations shouldn't be too difficult. Maybe the local indifference is why I find myself filled with gloomy thoughts about the worldwide situation of women. Here we are, at the end of the twentieth century, and not only have hundreds of millions of women around the globe yet to obtain even the barest minimum of human rights, but the notion that they are even entitled to such rights is bitterly contested.

Consider, for example, the horrors documented in the State Department's annual human rights report, which focused on women this year for the first time: genital mutilation in Africa and the Middle East, bride burning in
India, sexual slavery in Thailand, forced abortion and sterilization in
China. Imagine the firestorm of international protest if any of these practices were imposed by men on men through racism or colonialism or
Communism! Well, you don't need to imagine: Just compare the decades of global outrage visited, justly, on South Africa's apartheid regime for denying political, civil and property rights to blacks, and the cultural-relativist defense advanced on behalf of Saudi Arabia and other ultra-Islamic regimes for their denial of same to women. Nobody's calling on American universities and city governments to disinvest in those economies. In Iraq and a number of other Middle Eastern countries that are not theocracies, a man can with impunity kill any female relative he feels is "dishonoring" him by unchaste behavior; in Pakistan, the jails are full of women and girls, some only nine years old, whose crime was to be the victims of rape. I suppose Benazir Bhutto will get around to them after she finishes persuading the world that her mother is trying to undermine her government because of a sexist wish to see a son, rather than a daughter,
in power.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2001

    Profundity in your pocket

    Having a collection of Katha Pollitt's essays from The Nation all in one portable edition would alone justify buying Subject to Debate: Sense and Dissents on Women, Politics, and Culture. It sure beats dragging around six or seven years' worth of easily damaged magazines. And Pollitt is a good person to carry around, especially for those of us on the other side of some of today's debates. In a time when frustration, anger, and outrage seem too frequently to meet with a 'Get over it!' response, Pollitt provides welcome assurance that we are not alone. I can't count the number of essays in this collection -- every time I try, I get snagged by another favorite title and have to read it again -- but each is a jewel of wit, wisdom, and unflagging enthusiasm that justice is still something to be aspired to. Whether her topic is Richard Nixon, whom Pollitt scathingly immortalizes as 'The Last President'; same-sex marriage ('When gay friends argue in favor of same-sex marriage, I always agree and offer them the one my husband and I are leaving.'); or affirmative action ('If we can't have socialism, at least let's get rid of feudalism.'), Katha Pollitt gives the reader both information and hope, items occasionally in very short supply. But in addition to the short reprints from The Nation, Subject to Debate the book offers a new introductory essay, more in tone and length like the essays in her earlier book, Reasonable Creatures, that alone is worth the cover price. Employing her usual erudition and passion, Pollitt imbues 'Feminism at the Millennium' with the historical and contemporary context and the call to activism women of all ages -- and the men who care about them -- need as we all enter the twenty-first century. A must read, and a total pleasure, too!

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