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Katha Pollitt has written in, responding to my post yesterday. Here’s her letter. My response follows.
A friend directed me to your website, which I had not read before. I appreciate the urgency of your concern about the issue of women, writing, magazines and blogs. However, you make a number of assumptions about me which are quite unfair. In my Nation column, to which I link on Political Animal, I do discuss blogs, and the invisibility of women’s blogs to male bloggers. The Washington Monthly discussion is supposed to last all week — why assume that because my first post discusses print, that is all I plan to discuss?
More important, you suggest, on the basis of no information at all, that I do not promote women writers at The Nation, and may even prefer to be a solitary voice. Fact is, I have written about the paucity of women (and African-American) writers in The Nation and elsewhere for YEARS, including columns in The Nation about The Nation’s own lack of diversity. Although I do not have ANY POWER at the magazine to hire staff or assign pieces, I have worked hard to put this issue on the front burner. (When I did have a little power, as the literary editor for two years in the early l980s, I reviewed books by women constantly, and assigned pieces to women constantly, and did a special issue on feminist books — a first at the magazine. The only columnist I was permitted to hire was a woman, the wonderful dance critic Mindy Aloff). I raise this ancient history only to suggest that I have been plugging away at this for a very long time! We now have equal numbers of male and female columnists and much more coverage of feminist issues, and –not to take away from the gifts of the writers or the commitments of the editors, who are almost all women now by the way — I do think I get a little credit for putting the issue on the table and keeping it there.

For several decades now, I have tried to help women writers in every way I can, and not just at The Nation either. I believe a lot of women writers would testify to that. I propose their books for review, I blurb their books, I spread the word about women’s blogs I like (feministing and echidne of the snakes for example),I suggest women writers to editors at other magazines, when I have sat on prize committees I make sure books by women get a fair hearing, I try to help younger women, I suggest article topics about women, I always ask that other women be asked to sit on panels I am asked to be part of, and on and on.
I think it would have been a good idea for you to have e mailed or called me before accusing me of lack of sisterhood. As you admit, you don’t know me.
Katha Pollitt
My response:
Ms. Pollitt:
There is hardly a woman breathing in the late 20th century who is not familiar with your work or the causes you have embraced, specifically feminism. If she isn’t, she’s a fool. I well remember you being the book editor at The Nation when I was in college in New York (I babysat the Navasky kids, Arthur Danto’s daughter was my roommate briefly).
You have indeed been plugging away at this for a long time and while I may not “know” you, I am very familiar with your work. I was attempting to make that very point with my opening paragraph….but I gather the joke fell flat.
Given that, I am unsure how to respond as you appear to be taking a general observation about the state of magazine journalism — in which I pointed to The Nation and The Washington Monthly — as a personal affront (I so wish you had added The Atlantic; they have yet another issue this month with only one female by-line, not in the feature well either).
I am not making assumptions; I am reacting to what you wrote, looking back at the conversation that has been taking place here on the web, much of it around Kevin Drum’s previous columns. I am writing in response to what you wrote and I expect readers who read me to do likewise; you can see Marc Cooper’s comments on his site today for an example.
To be very blunt, your Washington Monthly repeated what’s already been said. And you say it without any acknowledgment of what has gone on — what has been discussed — before. If this had been a back-and-forth among magazine editors or writers taking place on paper, say between the NYRB and The Nation, you would have at a minimum nodded to what had been said before you entered the fray.
But let me suggest some ground that hasn’t been covered: You clearly did your level best to recruit, keep and train women writers. Where are they? Where did they go? WHAT HAPPENED? Twenty years after your recruitment efforts, those women’s voices should be in full flower. They’re not. Clearly.
One answer is very easy to provide and it’s true. We got very little help that you described to me in your note from women like you. I’m not suggesting that you didn’t try. I’m suggesting that the spirit of feminism that you embraced — indeed you articulated — did not spread as quickly or as thoroughly as magazine editors and writers in New York would like to think. Many, many women pulled up the ladder behind them and just as many men were happy to have the whole discussion about “more” women put to rest by hiring one (usually very good looking) girl on whom they could dote. Perhaps you can address this in your next post? The institutionalization — and therefore the dilution — of feminism?

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