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Over the past few years, Katha Pollitt’s lucid essays on aspects of women in American society have appeared in major periodicals, and this collection of nineteen of her best makes excellent reading. Pollitt successfully takes on major issues facing modern women including health concerns, economic status, social stereotypes, media biases, and attitudes toward gender differences.
Pollitt’s depth and range is extensive. Several essays were written in response to specific news stories, such as the Baby M case, the Palm Beach rape trial, the publication of Germaine Greer’s book on menopause, or the increasing violence of antiabortionists. Some are humorous but with a serious message, such as “The Smurfette Principle,” in which she discusses the predominance of male characters in cartoons and toys, where boys are still seen as the norm and girls as the stereotyped variation. More than one essay makes it clear that society must immediately deal more sensibly with the growing issues surrounding embryo implants, surrogate mothers, and other variations from “traditional” birthing and childrearing.
Pollitt takes her title from a line in Mary Wollstonecraft’s A VINDICATION OF THE RIGHTS OF WOMAN (1792): “I wish to see women neither heroines nor brutes, but reasonable creatures.” As Pollitt adds, this is the position of seeing women as “Human beings, in other words. No more, no less.” The particular strength of Pollitt’s essays individually and collectively is precisely her concern for—and her intelligent discussion of—women’s entitlement to full human rights.