Chesler, Phyllis 1940-
CHESLER, Phyllis 1940-
PERSONAL: Born October 1, 1940, in Brooklyn, NY; daughter of Leon and Lillian (Hammer) Chesler; children: Ariel David (son). Education: Bard College, B.A., 1962; New School for Social Research, M.A., 1967, Ph.D., 1969; New York Medical College, graduate study, 1968-69. Religion: Jewish.
CAREER: New York University, New York, NY, intern in psychotherapy at Washington Square Institute for Psychotherapy and Mental Health, 1968-69; Metropolitan Hospital, New York, NY, clinical research associate, 1968-69; College of Staten Island of the City University of New York, Staten Island, NY, assistant professor of psychology, 1969-98, emerita professor, 1998—; Research Associate, International Research Institute on Jewish Women (founded by Hadassah), Brandeis University, Waltham, MA, 1997—. Lecturer at institutions, including Institute for Developmental Studies and New School for Social Research, City University of New York; psychotherapist in private practice. Cofounder, Association for Women in Psychology, 1970; cofounder, National Women's Health Network, 1976. Member of board of directors of Women's Action Alliance, 1972—, and Center for the Study of Psychiatry, 1974—.
MEMBER: American Association for the Abolition of Involuntary Mental Hospitalization, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Psychological Association, Association for Women in Psychology (founder), American Association of University Professors, National Organization for Women, Eastern Psychological Association, New York State Psychological Association.
AWARDS, HONORS: Positive Image of Women Award, National Organization of Women, 1978; Feminist Book Fortnight Award (London, England), 1990, for Sacred Bond: Motherhood under Siege; Medal of Honor Award, Veteran Feminists of America, 1993; Nike Prize, International Book Fair, 1998, for "distinguished achievement, in recognition of work to promote the rights of women."
Women and Madness, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1972, twenty-fifth anniversary edition, Four Walls Eight Windows Press (New York, NY), 1997.
(Author of interpretive essay) Wonder Woman, introduction by Gloria Steinem, Holt (New York, NY), 1972.
(With Emily Jane Goodman) Women, Money and Power, Morrow (New York, NY), 1976.
About Men, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1978.
With Child: A Diary of Motherhood, Lippincott-Crowell (New York, NY), 1979, revised edition, including a new introduction by son, Ariel Chesler, Four Walls Eight Windows Press (New York, NY), 1998.
Mothers on Trial: The Battle for Children and Custody, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 1986, revised edition, Four Walls Eight Windows Press (New York, NY), 1998.
Sacred Bond: The Legacy of Baby M, Times Books (New York, NY), 1988, published as Sacred Bond: Motherhood under Siege, introduction by Ann Oakley, Virago (London, England), 1990.
Patriarchy: Notes of an Expert Witness, Common Courage Press (Monroe, ME), 1994.
(Editor, with Esther D. Rothblum and Ellen Cole) Feminist Foremothers in Women's Studies, Psychology, and Mental Health, Haworth Press (New York, NY), 1995.
Letters to a Young Feminist, Four Walls Eight Windows Press (New York, NY), 1997.
Woman's Inhumanity to Woman, Thunder's Mouth Press/Nation Books (New York, NY), 2001.
(Editor, with Rivka Haut) Women of the Wall: Claiming Sacred Ground at Judaism's Holy Site, Jewish Lights (Woodstock, VT), 2002.
The New Anti-Semitism: The Current Crisis and What We Must Do about It, Jossey-Bass (San Francisco, CA), 2003.
Contributor to numerous publications, including The Radical Therapist Collective Anthology, edited by Jerome Agel, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1971; Women in Sexist Society: Studies in Power and Powerlessness, edited by Vivian Gornick and Barbara K. Moran, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1971; Psychology for Our Times: Readings, edited by Philip Zimbardo and Christina Maslach, Scott, Foresman (Glenview, IL), 1973; Psychology of Adjustment, edited by James F. Adams, Holbrook, 1973; The Encyclopedia of the Future, edited by George Thomas Kurian and Graham T. T. Molitor, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1996; and For Women Only, edited by Gary Null and Barbara Seaman, Seven Stories Press (New York, NY), 2000.
Also contributor to periodicals, including New York Magazine, Ms., Psychology Today, Radical Therapist, and Village Voice. Contributor to professional journals, including Journal of Feminism and Psychology, Journal of Mind and Behavior, Criminal Practice Law Report, and New York Law Journal. Past editor-at-large and columnist for On the Issues magazine.
SIDELIGHTS: Radical feminist Phyllis Chesler has been "an articulate and consistent critic of American culture for over twenty-seven years," according to Feminist Writers contributor Mary A. Hess. "Her candor and incisive prose style have [provided her with] a reputation as one of America's most articulate and thoughtful feminist writers, while her activism in representing women who are marginalized by illness, poverty, and exploitation has not diminished despite personal hardship." In her writings, Chesler has sought to expose what she believes to be the unfair and unequal treatment of women in the health care and criminal justice systems; her 1972 book Women and Madness was "instrumental in initiating reforms in the mental health establishment," stated Hess. In other books, she has focused on motherhood and society's changing attitudes toward women and children. In addition, she has written books and essays in defense of controversial female figures such as Mary Beth Whitehead—the surrogate mother in the Baby M case—and Aileen Wuolnos, a prostitute who killed four men in self-defense.
Chesler documents her mixed feelings about pregnancy and motherhood in With Child: A Diary of Motherhood. Linda B. Osborne wrote in the Washington Post Book World: "At thirty-seven, Phyllis Chesler gave birth to a son, and With Child is a diary of her pregnancy, the birth and her first year of motherhood. It is an informal, very personal narrative, charged with nervous energy, enthusiasm and anxiety, and marked by the ambivalence towards motherhood that grew out of the feminist movement over the last fifteen years." Chesler's pregnancy also led her to write Mothers on Trial: The Battle for Children and Custody. While awaiting the birth of her child, she began exploring the assault on women's custody rights. Because of that book, related Hess, Chesler is now "often approached by women seeking her advocacy, as she was by numerous mothers whose experiences as both traditional and non-traditional mothers were challenged on the basis of their fitness as caregivers and as a result of the non-custodial parent claiming rights to the child." Hess further reported that whenever possible, Chesler uses "oral histories to grant silenced women their own voice, believing strongly in their power to persuade the reader."
Chesler continues her exploration of the oppression of women in Patriarchy: Notes of an Expert Witness. In this collection of previously published essays, she documents the effects of what she sees as the patriarchal bias in the health care and criminal justice systems. Included are stories of women in custody battles, women on trial, and women imprisoned in psychiatric institutions. Reviewing the book in the New York Times Book Review, Anndee Hochman rated it "provocative but uneven" and explained that the essays are bound together by Chesler's contention that the media, the court systems, and the mental health system "all operate on a sexist double standard that punishes women." Therese Stanton, a reviewer for Ms., called Patriarchy "thrilling and devastating reading—thrilling because of the explosion created when truth is spoken, and devastating because of the harshness of that truth."
In 1997, Chesler published a book written in a series of twenty-two letters to young girls titled Letters to a Young Feminist. The book is part memoir in that Chesler reflects on her participation in the feminist movement and seeks to share what she learned with young women of today. She also uncovers what she calls the "failings" of her movement, such as the concept of women hating women. Kim France, a critic for the New York Times Book Review, suggested that Chesler may be a bit "out of touch with the ways that feminism has evolved." France claimed that the author may offend the modern young woman by implying that she is "far from free," while she believes that she has only ever known complete freedom. However, Meg Daly of Tikkun noted that "Chesler's heartfelt and unflinching letters come as a welcome antidote to young women," and "addresses real empowerment and tells the truth about the continued injustices rampant in women's lives."
Chesler expanded on an idea she referred to in Letters to a Young Feminist in her 2001 book Women's Inhumanity to Women. Using twenty years of research on women and feminism, Chesler seems to come to some realizations about her gender, which are backed by scientific and historical evidence. She begins by explaining how even primate females were extremely competitive, often attempting to damage the reproductive organs of other females. They also were known to kill the babies of potential competitors. Chesler sites other historical examples of Chinese and Indian mothers-in-law abusing their sons' wives, and examines rituals such as female genital mutilation in Africa and dowry disputes in India. These rites of passage are all supported by other women. More modern examples of women on women aggression include gossip, manipulation, and backstabbing. Chesler uses many anecdotes from her own life, and Kay S. Hymowitz from Commentary suggested that the stories are a bit "self-serving." However, as the author writes, "Only recently have I been able to acknowledge that my own bold ideas and my passionate, direct style are probably very threatening to other women." Eleanor J. Bader of Library Journal called this book a "groundbreaking look at how women perpetuate oppression."
In 2003, Chesler published The New Anti-Semitism: The Current Crisis and What We Must Do about It, a book that surmises that anti-Jewish hatred has reemerged in the guise of being politically correct among "many liberal feminists, intellectuals, and Jewish leftists," stated a reviewer for Publishers Weekly.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Bailey, Martha J., American Women in Science, ABC-Clio (Santa Barbara, CA).
Feminist Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Booklist, February 1, 1998, Mary Carroll, review of Letters to a Young Feminist, p. 882.
Chicago Tribune Book World, October 28, 1979.
Commentary, May, 2002, Kay S. Hymowitz, "Femme Fatale," p. 79.
Library Journal, October 15, 1994, p. 75; March 15, 2002, Eleanor J. Bader, review of Women's Inhumanity to Women, p. 98; December, 2002, Marcia Welsh, review of Women of the Wall: Claiming Sacred Ground at Judaism's Holy Site, p. 137.
Ms., January, 1995, p. 72.
New York Times, March 9, 1978.
New York Times Book Review, October 21, 1979; February 26, 1995, p. 16; April 26, 1998, Kim France, "Passing the Torch," p. 10.
off our backs, February, 1998, Carol Anne Douglas, review of Letters to a Young Feminist, p. 8.
Publishers Weekly, April 3, 1978; February 25, 2002; November 25, 2002, review of Women of the Wall, p. 60; June 23, 2003, review of The New Anti-Semitism: The Current Crisis and What We Must Do about It, p. 58.
Signs: Journal of Women and Culture in Society, Volume 14, number 1, 1988.
Tikkun, July-August, 1998, Meg Daly, review of Letters to a Young Feminist, p. 75; May, 2002, Miriam Greenspan, "When Women Injure Women," p. 77.
Washington Post Book World, December 23, 1979.
Jewish Lights Publishing,http://www.jewishlights.com/ (July 24, 2002).