Sexism at The Nation? Surely not!


Then don't bother writing for The Nation, darling!

Via TalkLeft, we learn that Katha Pollitt is (once again) shocked, shocked to find there’s sexism at the house organ of the so-called American “Left,”  The Nation magazine!

It’s been a long time since anyone seriously maintained that women in power, simply by virtue of their gender, are reliably less warlike than men—how could they be, given that men set up and control the system through which those women must rise? But apparently Nation blogger Robert Dreyfuss has just noticed this fact.

In a post entitled “Obama’s Women Advisers Pushed War Against Libya” (originally titled “Obama’s Women” tout court) he’s shocked-shocked-shocked that UN Ambassador Susan Rice, human-rights adviser Samantha Power and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were keen on intervening militarily in Libya. The piece is dotted with arch and sexist language—the advisers are a “troika,” a “trio” who “rode roughshod over the realists in the administration” (all men) and “pushed Obama to war.” Now it’s up to the henpecked President to “reign (sic) in his warrior women.” Interestingly, the same trope—ballbreaking women ganging up on a weak president—is all over the rightwing blogosphere.

.       .       .       .      .       .      .       .      

[C]an you imagine a piece in The Nation titled “Black President Opts for Bombs” or “Qaddafi, a Man, Threatens to Massacre Rebels, Most of Whom Are Also Men”?

Misogyny—it’s the last acceptable prejudice of the left. 

Yeah, you tell them, Katha!  (Only, did you sleep through all of the coverage your rag and its contributors provided of the 2008 Democratic primary?  And all of those stereotypes about what a horrible nut-crusher Clinton is, and what a horrible, bloodthirsty monster she is for voting for the 2002 AUMF?  I guess what I’m saying is that some of us were pointing this out more than three years ago, and some of us remember.

Yes, this is the same Katha Pollitt who wrote this paragraph last winter, too:

I’m still glad I supported Obama over Hillary Clinton. If Hillary had won the election, every single day would be a festival of misogyny. We would hear constantly about her voice, her laugh, her wrinkles, her marriage and what a heartless, evil bitch she is for doing something–whatever!–men have done since the Stone Age. Each week would bring its quotient of pieces by fancy women writers explaining why they were right not to have liked her in the first place.Liberal pundits would blame her for discouraging the armies of hope and change, for bringing back the same-old same-old cronies and advisers, for letting healthcare reform get bogged down in inside deals, for failing to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan–which would be attributed to her being a woman and needing to show toughness–for cozying up to Wall Street, deferring to the Republicans and ignoring the cries of the people. In other words, for doing pretty much what Obama is doing. This way I get to think, Whew, at least you can’t blame this on a woman.

It looks like several of your dear colleagues on the “Left” have found a way to blame a woman anyway!  Cherchez la femme, toujours mes amies, cherchez les femmes.

What do you think, friends:  is Pollitt suffering from Stockholm Syndrome?  (She is something of a captive–it ain’t easy for feminist writers to make an honest living by their writing any more (and it probably never was), and I don’t hear mainstream rags like The Atlantic, The New Yorker, or The New York Review of Books clamoring to publish a biweekly witty feminist column.  Maybe try Newsweek now that La Divine Tina edits it?  Because I’d advise her to start a blog if it could pay the bills, but alas.)  Although I usually like Pollitt’s work–brain farts like the comments from last February above aside–it seems like captivity is taking its toll.  I don’t think the boys read her work or care about it, because despite her senority her work certainly doesn’t change the tenor of the coverage over at The Nation. 

UPDATE, MARCH 23:  See Pollitt’s responses in the comments below, in which she reminds me of the columns and blog posts she wrote about the sexism displayed during the 2008 Democratic Primary.  It was hyperbolic and unfair of me to wonder if she had “sle[pt] through” the primary, because she wrote about the coverage of Clinton and was particularly critical of the sexism on the left and in the pages of The Nation.  I appreciate that she took the time to correct me and to engage in the conversation below.

36 thoughts on “Sexism at The Nation? Surely not!

  1. umm… who still reads _The Nation_?

    I totally missed the Hillary nutcracker thing back in the 2008 primary. I must be doing a good job of avoiding unwarranted and unnecessary exposure to the news…

    But you are right, where is the magazine that has (or had) a weekly feminist columnist? (You can’t count MS Magazine) It would be refreshing if even the troglodytes at Newsweek had one.


  2. That second link was a bracing dose of the presumption that characterized the Long March spring of ought-eight. I was thinking recently about climbing up into my high office window to take down my Hillary sign from that time, risking both my neck and a bunch of cool lesson plans and shrewd assessment instruments onto which I might topple in the process. Think I’ll just rest a spell now before I do that.


  3. 2008 marked a particularly steep drop, but Pollitt had lurched downhill before that. Maybe her deterioration as a pundit + the arrival of Steven Lukes as her partner was a coincidence. Before Lukes, credit where credit is due. Pollitt had an awesome run.


  4. Who is Lukes? Is that her boyfriend or a writing partner or both? What’s he got to do with her work for The Nation? (I’m genuinely curious–lots of news doesn’t make it asross the Mississipi.)


  5. Steven Lukes is an English political theorist now on the NYU faculty. He and Pollitt got married about five years ago, I think. I wasn’t snarking–I genuinely wonder whether the Lukes relationship and her decline are related.


  6. I wouldn’t expect much good to come from the Tina Brown led Newsweek. She has brought Andrew Sullivan, misogynist-extraordinaire, on board. Hiring Sullivan is never a good sign.


  7. After filling up on the gossip, I too remember 2008, from February to September and than some. Indeed, it was a very long march and once again I voted in the primaries for the losing candidate. (Kerry? I am not crazy.)

    If Hillary were Jewish, 2008 was Nazi propaganda year. THEY don’t learn, they don’t forget, they don’t listen, they don’t see and they don’t.


  8. I didn’t see the Pollitt piece but I did see the original Nation post. It took me a minute to realize it wasn’t the Onion. Then my wee lady brain imploded.


  9. What a shame. Three women–who by chance are among the tiny number of Americans most qualified to be making policy on these matters–make policy. Daring actually to use all the research they’ve done and the experience they’ve had. These girls, they just poke in everywhere. And what a surprise that the boys are unhappy.

    I sure hope they’re right. But that is a whole nother issue.


  10. Nikki–how funny. (Of course it reads like The Onion!)

    And Tony’s exactly right: who knows if this will in retrospect look like they saved Libya from being another Rwanda, or if it will come to look like the neverending war in Afghanistan in another decade? The policy is completely open to criticism and doubt, but the sex of the policy’s advocates is irrelevant.


  11. Actually, I wrote many times about sexism against Hillary Clinton during the 2008 campaign, including sexism on the left and at The Nation. A sample

    See also “Dowd versus Clinton, chapter 3465” here

    My longest piece on anti- Hillary misogyny was “Hillary Rotten” in
    “Thirty Ways of Looking at Hillary” ed. Susan Morrison (2008), a shortened version of which appeared in Elle: .


  12. Katha, thanks for your comment. You indeed covered the sexist commentary on all sides in 2008–I’m sorry for snarkily dismissing all of this. (I guess I am more prone to remember the outrageous and ugly things that Eric Alterman, Tom Hayden, et al persisted in writing and believing about Clinton.)

    You were the voice of one crying in the wilderness, as it were. Why don’t your fellow writers care? Why is misogyny the “last acceptable prejudice of the left,” as you wrote yesterday?


  13. Some of my fellow writers do care! And so the editors. But the Nation is pretty hands-off with its regular writers. That’s a good thing and one of the reason I love to work there — but it means that a writer who is valued for, say, investigative journalism or deep subject knowledge or just being a good reliable prolific reporter and commentator, gets to express their id without a lot of editorial pushback. The blogs are not edited and tend to be written quickly, so that’s where it tends to show up the most.
    Why is there so much sexism on the left? Many reasons, but I would say basically its because the left is part of the larger society, where misogyny is rampant both at the conscious and unconscious levels, and among both sexes and all genders. In its policy positions, the left is well ahead of the rest of America — it’s not easy to find a leftist who is anti-choice, opposes welfare, thinks Rihanna had it coming and single motherhood is ruining the nation, all of which are popular positions in the US. At the personal level, it’s another story.

    Thanks for the snark retraction. I’ll be out there enjoying your blog.


  14. Thanks again, Katha. I hear you on the advantages of employers who leave you alone to write what you want. I still am aghast at the marginalization of feminist voices even on the so-called “Left.” I think you are right about the place of feminism among so-called leftists. Men’s liberationist movements (Civil Rights, Gay Rights) are sacred to the left’s identity, whereas women’s liberation is never respected or defended as necessary or the American Way.

    One of the reasons that I started to blog on top of my “day job” is the absence of feminist commentary in mainstream publications and websites. There’s a widespread belief out there that “things are better” now, but if we compare what the WaPo and NYT editorial pages (or indeed The New Republic and The Nation and even Mother Jones) and columns looked like in 1961 versus 2011, the change isn’t so evident. White men’s voices are privileged everywhere, and the representation of women and men of color is pathetic.


  15. I hear you! It’s the unending struggle. Back to my original reason for writing, I would really appreciate it if you could correct the record in the body of your blog, not just here on the comments page. Your blog is quite respected, and it troubles me to think of people reading, and reposting, an inaccurate picture of what I’ve written.


  16. I reiterate, I do not understand why people still see such huge differences between Obama and HRC, or think things would be going very differently if she were President.

    Libya, we need them for the oil, right? And general ME strategy? We finally get to push out Qaddafi and put in someone more reliable for our purposes? We justify this by emphasizing his barbarity?

    This is not a new tactic and it was not new in 1901 when Mark Twain wrote this great essay on interventionism / imperialism:


  17. Your blog is quite respected, and it troubles me to think of people reading, and reposting, an inaccurate picture of what I’ve written.

    If the quote above (“I’m still glad I supported Obama …”) is by you, then I’m afraid there’s not much inaccuracy here. That quote is so stupendously crazy that it overshadows everything else. In fact, even after noticing and recognizing the sexism, you could still make that comment. That makes it worse, not better.


  18. Kali–I disagree with you. I also disagree with what Pollitt wrote in February 2010 and stand by my commentary then, but I owe her a correction (which I have now made.) She covered the sexism of the 2008 primary in real time, and was concerned about it although she was openly an Obama supporter.

    In fact, one of her most memorable lines from the winter of 2008 was something like, “if you people don’t knock it off, I’m just going to have to go out and vote for Clinton” in protest of the grotesqueries of the political coverage from the left, right, and center that year. (I’ll see if I can find the link in the listed links above.)


  19. I agree with Kali. And with Z, to a point. Clinton was measurably to the left of Obama on domstic policy during the campaign, most relevantly at this point on health care and the mortgage crisis. Would she have been measurably different as President? I don’t know.

    As I see it, regardless of Obama’s and Clinton’s differences or not, to write, as Pollitt did, IMO, “I’m glad I voted for the man because woman-hating is so *hard* for me!” is an abdication of her reponsiblity as a public feminist writer.


  20. And, while Pollitt did blog about the sexism against Hillary, she always seemed to make it Hillary’s fault while lionizing Obama. To wit, after Hillary withdrew from the race:

    “It’s incredibly important for Clinton to do the right thing and rally these women to Obama, and I wish I felt surer that she would rise to the occasion.

    She could begin by pointing out that Obama is pro-woman and prochoice and as President will pursue policies to benefit all women–on labor, healthcare, sexual violence and many other issues.”

    How’s that working out for you? Hillary did her job at the convention. Obama, that supposed paragon of choice, has sold out women at every opportunity. It’s not the support for Obama I can’t forgive, it’s the absolute vapidity of that support combined with the graceless, mean-spirited backbiting against Clinton while pretending to excoriate sexism in others.


  21. Have you written since, Katha, about how Hillary, who you doubted would rise to the occasion, graciously campaigned for Obama after the nomination, knowing full well, as some of us did, that the FL and MI votes were rigged by the DNC Credentials committee in favor of Obama?

    Hillary, who has been vilified for decades, is the woman presidential candidate with the “hide of a rhinoceros” of whom you speak. And you missed supporting her because Obama was gifted and charismatic? You held those traits awfully high while disregarding Obama’s thin resume.

    Being no coward, President Hillary Clinton would have been able to handle the criticism during her presidency. You write that you wouldn’t have been able to. That comes across as the silliest reason I’ve heard for Obama voters to be glad he won.


  22. I don’t think it’s necessarily sexist. (After all, it’s widely recognized that Abigail Adams and John Adams–like other couples–influenced each other intellectually and politically.) I didn’t read The Nation for more than the Bush II years, but Pollitt didn’t seem to me to change her tune overall from 2001-2008 or so.


  23. Why fight among ourselves? Is that safer than actually taking on the misogynists? I really hate some of those guys, like Tom Hayden, for instance. I almost lost it when Naomi Klein had to be interviewed with him. Yuck.
    Pollitt nailed it when she said the men of the left loved public assistance, because it relieved them of their obligations to the women and children in their lives.


  24. Thanks, Emma. As preposterous as I find the notion that we could appease misogynists if we’d just give them what they want and go away quietly, I think it’s even more shocking that a public face of feminism would single out the country’s only-ever viable female candidate for a unique obligation to deliver her votes. I don’t recall this heavy burden devolving upon, say, Ted Kennedy or Howard Dean, neither of whom suffered much in the way of consequences for failing to assist their primary opponents in any significant way, and I frankly can’t imagine any major left publication having the chutzpah to declare that:

    “It’s incredibly important for Obama to do the right thing and rally these men to Clinton, and I wish I felt surer that he would rise to the occasion.

    He could begin by pointing out that Clinton is pro-civil rightsand as President will pursue policies to benefit all men–on labor, healthcare, voting rights and many other issues.”

    And if any publication did have the chutzpah to address the nation’s second major African American candidate thus, and put such a unique and unreasonable burden on him? I imagine they’d regret it, as the outcry would be rather prodigious.


  25. Pingback: Slinkies « Grumpy rumblings of the untenured

  26. Carenna & all–but isn’t the point that it’s completely unfair and unnecessary that Pollitt is “the public face of feminism” in the U.S.? My point is that it’s totally unfair and unreasonable that there’s only ONE bimonthly column space for ONE feminist writer in mainstream U.S. magazines.

    Feminism is a diverse movement and feminists frequently disagree with one another. Feminists don’t vote in a bloc and we frequently support different candidates in primaries and in general elections. Pollitt had her views on the relative merits of Obama v. Clinton–I disagreed with her and with the magazine she writes for, which appeared to be engaged not just in partisanship or boosterism for Obama (forgivable) but vicious character assassination frequently built on sexist tropes against Clinton (baffling and unforgivable, IMO).

    The solution is for more feminist voices in the mainstream press so that a *variety* of feminist viewpoints are represented. But, no one except feminists–who are already almost completely shut out–care about this, even on the left. Leftist men are completely OK with high profile news magazines and elite opinion being decided entirely by men.


  27. Historiann,

    Pollitt wasn’t “the” public voice of feminism. She was “a” public voice of feminism. Other voices were out there: Gloria Steinem and Robin Morgan to name two. Of course, there was also Samantha Power who, I suppose, could be called a diverse viewpoint on the relative merits of Clinton v. Obama.

    Nonetheless, in my view, as either “a” or “the” public voice of feminism, Pollitt fell down on the job by writing about how glad she was that Clinton didn’t win because, you know, it just would’ve been too hard to watch. Is is unfair to say that? I don’t see how.

    IMO, Pollitt’s writing about Obama v. Clinton really came off as Pollitt looking for any excuse not to support Clinton. Why she wanted that excuse is anybody’s guess, I suppose, but it certainly doesn’t seem to have been based in policy differences.


  28. Historiann: “She covered the sexism of the 2008 primary in real time, and was concerned about it although she was openly an Obama supporter.” No, she didn’t.
    You got Rickrolled by Katha Pollitt. 3 of the 8 articles she provided links to are from 2007. She didn’t do much at all in 2008 and did you not read the link to the Tom Hayden article? Where she confesses she’s been biting her tongue to do her part for Obama, biting her tongue and ignoring sexism?
    Third Estate Sunday Review wrote about this yesterday:

    And unlike you, they’ve covered reality for some time. In 2007, The Nation featured 491 bylines by men, 149 by women. Third Estate did a year long study. In addition, they’ve called out Katha repeatedly.

    You really need to read the articles Katha provided links to. They do not back up the claim that she defended Hillary. The one with Nader in the title is calling — despite Katha’s opening — for Hillary to drop out the race in March 2008.

    Next time, don’t be so thrilled “Katha reads me!” Next time stick to your guns. You were right the first time. You’re wrong now.


  29. I read the links–I didn’t think the publication date was as important (2007 v. 2008). I remember reading a column of hers in the print edition in which she wrote something like, “If people don’t STFU with the sexism about Clinton, I may just have to go ahead and vote for her!”

    I remember the Tom Hayden article quite clearly. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back about (not) renewing my subscription to the magazine.

    Thanks for the link & intel about Tina Fey’s book. And, for the record–this ain’t my day job, so I don’t really care who reads or who doesn’t. I’m a lot more excited about the impressive historians who read me anyway–people most Americans have never heard of, but they’re more important to me than any other readers.


  30. Pingback: Looking for sexism in the coverage of women candidates for office? Try a mirror. : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

  31. Pingback: Looking for sexism in the coverage of women candidates for office? Try a mirror. | Historiann

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