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Subject to Debate

Sense and Dissents on Women, Politics, and Culture

Subject to Debate by Katha Pollitt
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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.

From the Trade Paperback edition.
Random House Publishing Group; December 2007
368 pages; ISBN 9780307431875
Read online, or download in secure EPUB
Title: Subject to Debate
Author: Katha Pollitt
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.

From the Trade Paperback edition.
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