Controversial views on women’s lives and nature that may appeal to Paglia’s fans but not win her many more.

FREE WOMEN, FREE MEN

SEX, GENDER, FEMINISM

Essays, reviews, and interviews chronicle the career of a self-described “libertarian feminist.”

Since Sexual Personae (1990), Paglia (Humanities and Media Studies/Univ. of the Arts, Philadelphia; Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars, 2012, etc.) has argued relentlessly against what she sees as puerile and uninformed ideas about sexuality, freedom, and gender. The pieces collected here, all previously published, include three sections from her first wide-ranging book on art, decadence, sex, and nature; various newspaper and magazine articles; and a few lectures, interviews, and book reviews. Unfortunately, to read a few is to read them all, as Paglia repeats views that have contributed to her reputation as “abrasive, strident, and obnoxious.” She critiques women’s studies programs, for example, as “a comfy, chummy morass of unchallenged groupthink.” Bereft of grounding in science, the programs began, she asserts, to bring more female hires into academia, by administrators who did not much care about the intellectual content. “Women’s studies is a jumble of vulgarians, bunglers, whiners, French faddists, apparatchiks, doughface party-liners, pie-in-the-sky utopianists, and bullying sanctimonious sermonizers,” she wrote in 1991. Paglia softened her assessment somewhat by 2008, when, in an address at Harvard, she proposed reasonable reforms for the programs that included science as “a fundamental component” as well as the “writings of conservative opponents of feminism.” Essays that touch on biography reveal elements of the author’s childhood and adolescence in the repressive 1950s, when her role models were Amelia Earhart and Katharine Hepburn; and that she imbibed “the essence of the Sixties, which is free thought and free speech.” With apparent delight, Paglia skewers some icons of the women’s movement, such as Gloria Steinem, Hélène Cixous (“that damp sob sister”), and Carolyn Heilbrun, reserving praise for Madonna (“the true feminist”) and Germaine Greer (“witty, learned, stylish, and sexy”). An album of media photographs suggests that Paglia would like to be described in exactly those terms.

Controversial views on women’s lives and nature that may appeal to Paglia’s fans but not win her many more.

Pub Date: March 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-375-42477-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Dec. 26, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2017

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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