Taking the City by Storm
In her article about reform in New Orleans following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Rebecca Solnit could have mentioned that Barack Obama’s policies have only followed George W. Bush’s preference for neoliberal economics and corporate solutions [“In the Shadow of the Storm,” Easy Chair, August]. Obama and his appointees are strongly in favor of charter schools. His education secretary, Arne Duncan, said it clearly: “I think the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina. That education system was a disaster, and it took Hurricane Katrina to wake up the community to say that ‘we have to do better.’ ”
Solnit writes that “New Orleans has seen a number of progressive victories over the past decade,” but the facts point to an evisceration of the city’s working class. The poverty rate among African-American children living in the city is nearly 40 percent, 17 points higher than the national average, and higher than the rate before the storm. According to reports by the Data Center, 37 percent of renters in New Orleans now spend at least half of their income on housing. Moreover, the rentals available are mostly substandard — nearly 50,000 apartments in the city require major repairs.
New Orleans’s decreased incarceration rate is a positive development, but this doesn’t erase the disheartening destruction of the public-school system and the firing of 7,000 teachers. If Katrina prompted “reform” and “transformation,” the residents of New Orleans still haven’t seen it.
Mothers of Contention
The introduction to “How to Be a Parent” [Forum, August] claims that the contributions that follow are “not prescriptive, but descriptive,” but the collection falls immediately into a polarization that divides parenthood filially, financially, and emotionally between the haves and the have-nots. “Those who have not passed through the gauntlet of motherhood cannot be equal in experience to those who have,” writes Sarah Manguso. Michelle Tea’s picture-perfect lovefest (“What have I done to be this lucky?”) and Emma Donoghue’s jocular reflection on genetics lead us to believe that the experience of parenthood means being happy, successful, and in love.
Salt Lake City
Battle of the Sexes
In his history of the modern war narrative, Sam Sacks writes, “The female experience of warfare has barely been broached” [“First-Person Shooters,” Reviews, August]. He could benefit from a broader perspective. In fact, literature began to consider the symbolic fallout of women in modern armed conflicts as early as 1905, with George Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara. Literary examinations of women’s experiences in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars include the novels Sand Queen, by Helen Benedict, and Be Safe I Love You, by Cara Hoffman; the play Grounded, by George Brant; and the memoirs Hesitation Kills, by Jane Blair, and Eyes Right, by Tracy Crow.
The presence of women combatants changes the political contours of the contemporary war story — and not because women write with more empathy or sentiment than men. Women long represented the home front in war novels, and so their movement into the combat zone has meant that the responsibility to care for the wounded falls to the military institution instead of to nurses and mothers. And while combat in the traditional war novel is framed around the male body, the appearance of female soldiers can represent the overcoming of physical limitations with new equipment and technologies.
I agree with Angela Davis, however, that “feminism does not say that we want to fight for the equal right of women to participate in the military, for the equal right of women to torture, or for their equal right to be killed in combat.” These wars are awful, and it would be best for all of us if they were to end.
Robin Truth Goodman
Professor, Florida State University
“What Recovery?” [Kai Wright, Letter from Georgia, August] misstated the official poverty line for a two-adult, two-child family in 2013. It was $23,550, not less than $12,000. We regret the error.