Friday, September 27, 2013

Reasonable Creatures: Essays on Women and Feminism

1995, updated from 1994 edition, from Vintage Books
Katha Pollitt
Reasonable Creatures: Essays on Women and Feminism
Bought new for $11.00
Worn paperback

I only had to get as far as the preface to this edition and the more upbeat introduction to the hardcover edition to remember how much I loved Pollitt's writing.  She was my favorite contributor when I had a '90s subscription to The Nation, and the essays here (from roughly '86 to '93) are some of her best.  If anything, I agree with her more, particularly on her questioning of difference feminism, than I did two decades ago.  (The "Carol Gilligan's Island" joke is still great.) 

Pollitt is intelligent, witty, snarky when she has to be, compassionate, and, yes, as reasonable as Wollstonecraft could ask for.  I was really struck by the similarities to Susan J. Douglas this time, although media critic Douglas of course has a different focus.  The two women are roughly the same age (Pollitt born in late '49, Douglas within a year later) and have daughters of roughly the same age (Pollitt's in '87, Douglas's I think the next year) who in their early childhood were clever and feisty but fond of playing Wedding and Disney Princess.  (Both women see Ariel as an improvement over Sleeping Beauty.)  The writers' personalities seem similar as well, although Pollitt comes across as more concerned with issues of class and race.

Douglas doesn't address the 1993 Bobbitt case till her 2010 book, but one of Pollitt's essays here is on how ordinary women seemed to sympathize more with Lorena Bobbitt than feminist leaders did.  One thing Pollitt is very good at is putting controversial news stories in context, contrasting them with what else was covered, or ignored, at that time, as with the media treatment of the plaintiff in the William Kennedy Smith rape trial vs. not only how Smith was treated, but also against the coverage of the Central Park jogger's case.  If I had to pick a favorite essay, it's the one on Baby M, so much good common sense mixed with empathy.

But, really, I love it all, from "The Smurfette Principle" (tokenism in children's entertainment) to "That Survey" ("...they interviewed no college-educated single women, and thus have no idea how many want to marry, think they want to marry but only fall in love with Greek sponge divers, are contentedly cohabiting in nonmarital bliss, are gay, hate the very thought of marriage or just don't care one way or the other") to the more serious essays, like the ones on abortion.  I tried to think of a flaw, why this is a B+ rather than an A-, and just couldn't.  

I probably never will give out A's or A+s.  Unless Pollitt and Douglas collaborated?  Meantime, we'll see how Pollitt's Subject to Debate stacks up when we get to 2001.... 

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