Katha Pollitt

The Tired Myth That Progressives Lack Empathy Is Hardly the Problem

If I have to read one more article blaming liberal condescension toward the red states and the white working class for the election of Trump, I’m moving to Paris, France. These pieces started coming out even before the election and are still pouring down on our heads. Just within the last few weeks, the New Republic had Michael Tomasky deploring “elite liberal suspicion of middle America” for such red-state practices as churchgoing and gun owning and The New York Times had Joan Williams accusing Democrats of impugning the “social honor” of working-class whites by talking about them in demeaning and condescending ways, as exemplified by such phrases as “flyover states,” “trailer trash,” and “plumber’s butt.” Plumber’s butt? That was a new one for me. And that’s not even counting the 92,346 feature stories about rural Trump voters and their heartwarming folkways. (“I played by the rules,” said retired rancher Tom Grady, 66, delving into the Daffodil Diner’s famous rhubarb pie. “Why should I pay for some deadbeat’s trip to Europe?”) I’m still waiting for the deep dives into the hearts and minds of Clinton supporters—what concerns motivated the 94 percent of black women voters who chose her? Is there nothing of interest there? For that matter, why don’t we see explorations of the voters who made up the majority of Trump’s base, people who are not miners or unemployed factory workers but regular Republicans, most quite well-fixed in life? (“I would vote for Satan himself if he promised to cut my taxes,” said Bill Thorberg, a 45-year-old dentist in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. “I’m basically just selfish.”) There are, after all, only around 75,000 coal miners in the entire country, and by now every one of them has been profiled in the Times.

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Why I’m Ready - and Excited - For Hillary

My women college classmates (Radcliffe ‘71) aren’t so excited about Hillary Clinton. An e-mail to our New York City potluck group elicited distinctly modified rapture. They’re bothered by her high-priced speeches and the aura of favor-trading and favor-banking around the Clinton Foundation. They don’t like her Wall Street connections, and they don’t like Bill (a k a the “ick” factor). Plus, she’s not progressive enough. “It’s all so old and tired,” wrote one; “she’s been running forever.” “I’m definitely excited about the prospect of a woman,” another chimed in. “I am weary, not excited, about her in particular, and find it sad that she’s our best hope.” I should mention that these women are demographically much like Hillary (Wellesley ‘69) herself: prosperous, white, highly educated, sixtysomething feminists and professional women. You would think these women, of all people, would be jumping for joy at the prospect of someone so like themselves winning the White House.

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Katha Pollitt: Ending a Pregnancy Is a Common, Normal Event in Women's Lives - Let's Talk About It That Way

The following is an excerpt from Katha Pollitt's new book Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights (Picador USA, 2014). Reprinted here with permission.

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Pope Francis: Sexism With a Human Face?

Pope Francis seems a lovely man. He washes the feet of prisoners, drives a Ford Focus and lives in the Vatican guesthouse instead of the isolated papal apartments. He even calls people who write him with their troubles. In July, he made headlines when he said of gay priests, “Who am I to judge?” Most recently, he astonished the world with a long interview in America, the Jesuit magazine, in which he said the church is too “obsessed” with abortion, gay rights and birth control and risked becoming a “house of cards.”

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6 Reasons You Should Give to an Abortion Fund

The following article first appeared on the Web site of The Nation. For more great content from the Nation, sign up for its e-mail newsletters here.  

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Why Are Conservative Women Drawn to the Tea Parties?

There are lots of conservative white women voters in America. In 2000, white women went for Bush by one point; in 2004, 55 percent chose Bush over Kerry; and in 2008, after all we'd been through, 53 percent chose McCain over Obama. In a way, when we feminists and progressives talk about "women voters" in that rah-rah EMILY's List way, we are buying our own propaganda, because really it's women of color, especially black women, who push "women" solidly into the Democratic camp. By speaking so generally about "women" -- whom pundits subdivide into silly pseudodemographics like "waitress moms," "security moms," "Sex and the City voters" and so on, each of which receives a specially crafted message -- we make it hard to see right-wing women as anything but bizarre exceptions or (more kindly) as women just waiting for the brilliant appeal to some self-interest they didn't know they had.

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Is It Morally Wrong Not to Send Thousands Each Year to the Developing World?

The gods of publishing must have had a good laugh when they arranged for the philosopher Peter Singer to bring out The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty in the middle of the worst global economic crisis since the Great Depression. First Worlders have a moral obligation to give away thousands of dollars -- thousands! -- a year of personal income to eradicate Third World poverty? Right. Even when Americans had jobs and 401(k)s, they weren't exactly emptying their wallets for the 1.4 billion people who live in absolute destitution -- $1.25 a day or less -- in the developing world. How much harder to get people to give when money is tight, so many are broke and even those who are doing all right are worried and afraid for their future.

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Anti-Feminist Backlash Out in Full Force

Washington University is giving Phyllis Schlafly an honorary doctorate. Let me run that by you again. Washington University, the distinguished 155-year-old seat of higher learning in St. Louis, is giving an honorary degree to Phyllis Schlafly -- archfoe of the Equal Rights Amendment, the United Nations, Darwinism and other newfangled notions, and the promoter of innumerable crackpot far-right conspiracy theories who called the Bomb "a marvelous gift that was given to our country by a wise God." Her eighty-two years haven't mellowed her one bit: last year she blamed the Virginia Tech massacre on the English department; called intellectual men "liberal slobs;" advocated banning women from traditionally male occupations like construction, firefighting and the military; and defended men's property rights over their wives' vaginas ("by getting married, the woman has consented to sex, and I don't think you can call it rape"). The campus is in an uproar, and no wonder. After four years of hard work, female seniors get to watch their school honor someone who thinks they should park their diplomas in the kitchen sink. Washington U might as well bring in mad misogynist Chris Matthews as commencement speaker. Oh. You mean...? No! Yes.

Tell me the backlash against feminism isn't crackling up a storm. I try to keep my eye on the big picture and the bottom line: education, employment, autonomy, power. Surely, I tell myself, the fact that half of all new med students are female is more important than Paris Hilton's omnipresent visage; that a woman has made the first viable run for the presidency says more about the United States than that media clowns like Matthews basically call her a crazy castrating bitch on a daily basis; or that Caitlin Flanagan, smarmy enemy of working mothers (and another big believer in compulsory sex for wives), won a National Magazine Award for reviews and criticism.

But sometimes I think we're truly going backward, as Republican hegemony, conservative Christianity and anti-feminist media propaganda take their cumulative toll. All those judges, all that money, all that shock jockery, all those magazines obsessively following stars' weight and baby bumps: it would be strange if they had no effect. As far as concrete setbacks go, look no further than the case of Lilly Ledbetter, whose right to sue for pay discrimination was denied by the Supreme Court last May. In a 5-to-4 decision, the Justices overturned the standard interpretation of existing law to declare that Ledbetter was twenty years too late: the victim of pay discrimination must sue within six months of the initial discriminatory act -- never mind whether she knew about it (many employers, including Ledbetter's, forbid workers from discussing their salaries; she found out she was paid less than any man at her level from an anonymous tip). Given the realities of life, the Court has given employers the nod to pay women less, as long as they can keep the women in the dark for 180 days. In April a bill to restore women's right to sue failed in the Senate, 56-to-42, because for some reason everything now needs sixty votes to become law. John McCain said the bill would lead to too many lawsuits (hello? all it would have done was restore the law we'd lived with for forty-four years); what women needed was more "education and training." Because right now, women are just too dumb to merit equal pay. As Dahlia Lithwick wrote in a coruscating piece in Slate, if women take this sitting down, maybe they really are dumb.

The suspicion that women are dim would explain why Oklahoma has just passed a law requiring not only that women seeking abortions be forced to view sonograms of their fetuses but that the picture be taken in the way most likely to reveal the clearest picture--often up their vaginas. In other antichoice news, an abortion ban will be on the ballot again in South Dakota, this time with narrow exceptions for rape and incest. And mark June 7 on your calendar -- it's Protest the Pill day, brought to you by the American Life League and other antichoice groups, which claim, despite the evidence, that "the Pill kills babies" by preventing implantation of fertilized eggs. Maybe it's good that the antichoice movement is outing itself as opposed to contraception, as prochoicers have long maintained and not many pundits have noted -- but it also shows that they believe they can come out of the closet and not be dismissed as lunatics. Look for more struggles over government birth-control funding -- already way down, thanks to budget cuts and inflation--as the antichoicers move the goal posts of how "life" is defined.

Yes, women are still making gains in education and -- slowly -- in politics and other areas. But longstanding feminist gains are eroding: battered women's shelters, for example, are closing for lack of funds. And the advances haven't made the difference once hoped for. There are more powerful female Hollywood executives than ever, but as Manohla Dargis pointed out in a splendid rant (her word) in York Times, the movies are relentlessly male-focused: the conventional Hollywood wisdom is "Women can't direct. Women can't open movies. Women are a niche." Culturally, there's misogyny wherever you look: Grand Theft Auto IV, which offers players the opportunity to have sex with prostitutes and kill them, got rave reviews and is expected to have $500 million in sales its first week out. If there's a pro-woman cultural event with that kind of reach and impact, I'd like to hear about it. It certainly wouldn't be Vanity Fair's photo of tween icon Miley Cyrus, clad in nothing but a bedsheet at all of 15 years old -- or the daily media onslaught urging women to focus on their babies like a Zen master contemplating a rock -- when not taking pole-dancing lessons, getting Botoxed or catching up on the latest "studies" purporting to prove that they lack the drive and brains to do anything better with their brief time on earth. Feminism, please call home!

A Campaign to Stop Stoning

Iranian judges apparently didn't get the memo about the moratorium on stoning issued in 2002 by Ayatollah Shahroudi, head of the judiciary. According to Amnesty International, nine women and two men are currently in prison awaiting this cruel and barbaric punishment, which is usually meted out for sexual transgressions.

In May of 2006 a man and a woman were reportedly stoned in Mashhad and the government has officially confirmed the stoning on July 5, 2007 in the village of Aghche-kand of Jafar Kiani, convicted of "adultery" along with Mokarrameh Ebrahimi, with whom he had two children. She has been sentenced to stoning also and is currently in prison with one of her children.

In the most recent case, two sisters, Zohreh and Azar Kabiri, have been sentenced to stoning for "adultery." (This sentence came after the ninety-nine lashes meted out for "inappropriate relations," which came after a trial notable for its lack of due process). Equality Now has the whole horrific story, with addresses of officials to address letters calling for a ban on stoning and the decriminalization of "adultery."

The Iranian activist group Stop Stoning Forever has been pressing for a ban since the 2006 stonings. It was their network of volunteer lawyers, in fact, who identified the prisoners facing this punishment, and took up their cases. So far they have saved four women and one man; the sentence of another woman has been temporarily stayed.

The courage of these activists is breathtaking; several are currently under indictment for participating in a demonstration in support of women's rights. You can sign Stop Stoning Forever's online petition here.

Women Living Under Muslim laws has more information about the Stop Stoning campaign, and a sample letter about the case of the Kabiri sisters.


Happy Holidays!