Katha Pollitt. Learning to Drive And Other Life Stories. New York: Random House, 2007.

Twenty years ago you’d go watch a group of feminists debating among themselves and sooner or later one of them would mention having read a few chapters of Kapital with that apologetic coquettishness her mother might have used to mention she’d once smoked pot. Marxism was something feminists knew was good for them in a political kind of way, but they weren’t quite sure if it was good for them in a personal kind of way.

How times have changed. Katha Pollitt’s come out with a collection of essays. One of them tells how she stalked an ex. The other one tells how she briefly participated in a Marxist reading group. There’s a certain redundancy there.

But, as I said, times have changed. Twenty years ago the rich white feminists would rant about how mean the Marxists were—how men. Now Marxism, like stalking, is something Pollitt knows to be good for her in a personal kind of way: just not in a political kind of way. Her essay (the one about the reading group, I mean) describes the warmth, the protective sociability of a group of men and women gathered to read about Worker’s Council Communism in a cozy Greenwich Village apartment.

Well, gee, I thought that was what feminism was all about: you know, the kinder, nurturing side? There’s a funny paragraph in which Pollitt complains that her boyfriend had invited all his exes to participate in the reading group: It’s funny because a) it suggests the girls weren’t there for Marx alone, which I rightfully resent as a slur on all women; and b) I can imagine Pollitt’s fury should her boyfriend resent her in turn for socializing with her own ex-lovers. It turns out all that talk about Equality and Liberation was just that: talk.

There was a time we all thought feminism was the new Marxism. It turns out Marxism is the new feminism, and that suits Katha fine since now she can reject everything feminism stood for once under the pretense of rejecting Marxism. And Pollitt, by the way, is that contributor to the Nation Magazine who opposes the anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan’s decision to run against Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi; not that Pollitt supports the War, but rather, it seems, that peace, like sex and Marxism, is a little bit too good for her.

As I said, Pollitt tends to repeat herself. Tired ideologies often do.

[October 20, 2007]


Martha Stewedrat


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