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How a Feminist Prophet Became an Apostate—An Interview with Dr Phyllis Chesler

Dr Phyllis Chesler has never been afraid to be unpopular. During 60 years as an academic, feminist campaigner, and psychotherapist, she has frequently courted controversy. Her new memoir, A Politically Incorrect Feminist, details her experiences as a leader of the Second Wave feminist movement in the United States. Readers are introduced to a star cast that includes household names such as Andrea Dworkin and Gloria Steinem, as well as women such as Kate Millett, Robin Morgan, Ti-Grace Atkinson, Mary Daly, and Shulamith Firestone, women who produced influential work that is now often forgotten, or else misremembered by Third Wave feminists keen to distance themselves from their feminist foremothers. But Chesler refuses to be misremembered. She’s here to give her side of the story, and she doesn’t pull her punches.

We spoke over Skype from her home in New York. Chesler in conversation is just the same as Chesler in print: warm and razor-sharp. At the age of 78, she is both a prolific writer and an energetic campaigner. Most of her campaigning interests are concerned with feminism—she has a particular interest in motherhood (she describes herself as a “proud mother and grandmother”) and has published several books on surrogacy and child custody. She is also engaged with politics more broadly, and in recent decades has written extensively on antisemitism and Islamism. Her interests have ranged widely over the course of her career, but she has steadfastly remained a radical feminist—albeit an unorthodox one.

Born into a Jewish immigrant family in Brooklyn in 1940, she was in precisely the right time and place to be at the centre of the Second Wave. She was part of a generation of women who were teenagers during the stifling 1950s and came of age during the counterculture movement. The high point of the Second Wave was a period of intense creativity in the late 1960s and early 1970s, in which a relatively small group of (mostly young) women developed an astounding number of new ideas. Some of these became mainstream—for instance, the existence of ‘sexual harassment’ as a distinct category of mistreatment, and the recognition that rape is often committed by intimates rather than strangers. Other radical ideas were never accepted outside of a small circle of dedicated activists, including the legal campaign against pornography made famous by Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon.

Chesler was immersed in this frenetic activity and has spent the decades since campaigning on a wide range of issues. Although Chesler believes she was never truly accepted in the academy, describing herself and other radicals as “howling hungrily” outside of the mainstream, she has nevertheless published 18 books, spent three decades teaching psychology at American universities, and lectured all over the world. And she has not shied away from provocative debate. In fact, she seems to have revelled in it.

Here follows a non-exhaustive list of people that Chesler has infuriated over the course of her career.

  • Anti-abortion campaigners. In the 1960s she helped women to obtain abortions as part of an ‘underground railroad’ within the United States. Chesler and other activists moved women from house to house to avoid arrest and sympathetic doctors taught feminists to perform illegal abortions themselves. This was a time when women suffered from intense stigma: “Every woman I knew had had an abortion,” writes Chesler, “it was something we didn’t discuss.”
  • The psychotherapeutic establishment. In 1970, Chesler provoked international headlines when she gave a speech at the American Psychological Association convention demanding reparations for women who had been victims of medical malpractice. She went on to write a bestselling book, Women and Madness, detailing the sexism inherent to psychiatry, particularly the abuse of female patients by clinicians. The book went on to sell more than 2.5 million copies and propelled Chesler to fame in the 1970s.
  • The Regressive Left. Since the turn of the century, Chesler has focused on the rise of antisemitism, the demonisation of Israel, and the refusal of progressives to recognise the oppression of women under Islam. Several of her books have tackled this topic head on, and Chesler has predictably been accused of Islamophobia and widely vilified, which has included enduring efforts to no-platform her in recent years.

And here’s another group she has come into conflict with: feminists. In 2002, Chesler published Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman, which described the ways in which women perpetrate abuse against other women. Those feminists who clung to a naïve view of feminine virtue accused her of betraying the movement, and a few sought to block publication of the book. Chesler tells me that, when asked by another feminist if she was going to “name names” in detailing misbehaviour in the movement, she laughed and replied that she had no intention of “publishing the phone book.” This response typifies her style—funny and candid, but also rather melancholy.

She is particularly upfront in speaking about the dark side of the feminist movement. This darkness is rooted, she believes, in the dysfunctional ways in which women often relate to one another. Although Chesler used to believe that “all women were kind, caring, maternal, valiant, and noble under siege, and that all men were their oppressors,” she now knows this to be false, as do all except the most starry-eyed feminists. In fact, as she tells me, “women are hugely aggressive—but mainly towards other women. Unlike men, most women have been taught to deny this in themselves and to remain unaware of their own behaviour. Usually, the aggression is ‘indirect’… It consists of spreading gossip about and then socially ostracising a target girl or woman, especially one who is perceived as ‘prettier’ or more talented or simply ‘different’.”

In Politically Incorrect Feminist, Chesler describes the communitarianism found within Second Wave feminist circles as reminiscent of the Chinese Cultural Revolution: “Many feminists came to believe that feminist ideas and activism belonged to the movement, not to any individual, and especially not to the feminist who did the writing or organised the protest.” Achievements never belonged to a particular woman, but rather to “‘the people, the sisterhood, the boundary-less merging of one with all.” Anyone who defied this dictum was liable to be trashed—that is, bad-mouthed and exiled from the movement. In the 1980s, Chesler interviewed women who had been involved in the Second Wave and many of them spoke about the experience of being trashed, “and then at the end I’d say ‘and did you ever do this to another woman?’” The answer was always ‘no’: “the amnesia was total, the denial was total, because it’s not nice, it’s not ‘good girl’ behaviour.”

To a large extent, this is the sort of behaviour typically found on the Left, and Chesler is keen to stress that interpersonal aggression manifests itself in any revolutionary movement in which a “take-no-prisoners ethos” is at play. Indeed, much of the worst in-fighting was imported directly from the Left, since Chesler believes that some feminists brought with them “its tactics of intimidation and interrogation.”

The difference though is that, unlike men, women tend to take such conflict deeply personally. Chesler diverges from many other feminists in recognising that there are some average psychological differences between men and women. She now feels that her fellow Second Wave activists failed to recognise “that men and women are different in certain ways”—including their resilience in the face of conflict.

Chesler writes that most of the women involved in the Second Wave were “not psychologically prepared for such intense and overt battles, and experienced them personally, not politically—and sometimes as near-death experiences.” These were conflicts that could be “breathtakingly vicious” and eventually served to undermine the movement.

One chapter of Politically Incorrect Feminist deals with a particularly painful truth that Chesler has not previously written about: the high rates of mental illness among Second Wave feminists. Having written so critically of the tendency of doctors to pathologise female emotion, Chesler knows full well that such claims should not be thrown around lightly. When she writes of the madness of some of her fellow feminists, she knows what she’s talking about: “I don’t mean neurotic, difficult, anxious, or eccentric. I mean clinically schizophrenic or manic depressive, suicidal, addicted to drugs or alcohol, or afflicted with a personality disorder.” Her description of Kate Millett’s long-term suffering is particularly shocking. Although Chesler is not averse to acid comments (for instance, quipping that Millet “spoke with a slight British accent—just to make sure you knew that she’d been to Oxford”) she writes of the anguish these women experienced with real feeling. For all of their conflict, the bonds between second wave activists were precious: “we were all lost in a dream,” Chesler writes, but “only now, looking back, do I remember how much of the early years of second-wave feminism was painful.” This memoir serves as a useful rejoinder to any feminist tempted to idealise the past.

One shocking episode that Chesler details in her memoir highlights this with particular clarity. In 1979, Chesler was raped by her then-employer, Davidson Nicol—a senior official at the United Nations and dignitary from Sierra Leone. She tells me that this rape proved to be less traumatic than the subsequent behaviour of her fellow feminists. When Chesler disclosed what had happened to Robin Morgan and Gloria Steinem—some of the most powerful women in the movement at the time—they refused to support her in confronting her attacker. Chesler writes that Morgan told her that it would “look bad for feminism” for a “white feminist to charge a black man with rape and sexual harassment,” and that Steinem backed up this decision. Even Andrea Dworkin failed to stand up for her, telling Chesler that in her opinion “accusing a black man would make feminists look like racists.” This, despite the fact that several women of colour were supportive of Chesler’s desire to confront Nicol, particularly given that he was well known to be predatory.

This was a betrayal that hurt Chesler deeply. It is also a betrayal that Steinem has repeated since, infamously supporting Bill Clinton in the face of allegations of predatory behaviour because—her critics suggest—it suited her interests to support the Democratic Party. It seems that there have always been instances of feminists putting political loyalties over personal ones, even from the earliest days of the Second Wave. This is a form of treachery that is by no means unique to the present day.

Chesler and Steinem have since parted ideological company. Steinem became, Chesler believes, over-eager to embrace a brand of feminism that was “less about violence against women and more about racism, prison reform, climate change, foreign ‘occupations,’ and nuclear war.” In recent years, Steinem has also been a close ally of Linda Sarsour, the Women’s March leader who has been accused of acting as an apologist for Sharia law and has made statements widely interpreted as anti-Semitic.

In contrast, Chesler has been strongly critical of Islam and has written a number of books on the abuse of women in Muslim-majority countries. This is partly influenced by her own experiences, detailed in her book An American Bride in Kabul. Aged 20, Chesler married a fellow student and travelled with him back to his native country of Afghanistan. On arrival in Kabul her passport was removed and she spent five months effectively imprisoned in her husband’s family home. There she witnessed what she describes as gender apartheid: “polygamy, purdah, women in burqas who were forced to sit at the back of the bus, arranged first-cousin marriages, child brides, honor killings.” Chesler has no compunction in calling such practices “barbaric.” She almost died of dysentery before eventually being allowed to return home, pregnant and weighing only 90 pounds. She had an illegal abortion.

This is not an experience shared by Chesler’s feminist contemporaries in the United States, and this may in part be why she refuses to conform to the orthodox view of Islam on the Left. As she tells me, “What passes for feminism today, at least in the academy, is faux feminism. It is far more concerned with racism than with sexism and anyone who does not toe this line is called out as a racist. Faux feminism is far more invested in condemning America, the Enlightenment, Western Civilization, Western-only imperialism, colonialism, and capitalism; in condemning truth tellers like Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali.” As she sees it, feminists who refuse to stand up against the treatment of women in Muslim majority countries are simply lacking in courage: “They’re afraid they’ll be ostracised if they don’t follow the party line.”

Such fears are not without basis. It is the issue of Islam, more than any other, that has attracted controversy for Chesler in recent years. She tells me that she now needs security on campus when she lectures, and that she has been disinvited and from a number of events. Where once she was given front-page coverage in the New York Times, now she cannot get published in the Left-leaning media. Instead she writes for conservative outlets in which she can be certain that her work won’t be “rendered into some ‘politically correct’ form.” Some left-wing feminists told her that they would never read her work because of where it was published, but when she asked them to suggest an alternative platform “they could not do so.” What choice does she have?

Chesler is not optimistic. She speaks of feeling “aghast, heartbroken, outraged” at the state of contemporary feminism and the new threats facing women. She is particularly concerned about abuses within the surrogacy industry and is currently campaigning against proposed legislation that would legalise commercial surrogacy in the state of New York. We also spoke about the transgender movement, which Chesler sees as a progressive obsession which has “totally supplanted all or any remaining interest in biological women’s special woes.”

The issue of prostitution remains no less urgent than it was in the early days of the second wave, and Chesler continues to campaign for abolition.

“Decriminalising prostitution,” she tells me, “is about refusing to understand the extent to which most prostituted women are female children, and children who have been impoverished and raped in childhood and then trafficked by pimps into drug and alcohol addiction, necessary drugs to withstand the killing field that most prostitutes, both male and female, must face.”

She now recognises the naïveté of the Second Wave: “We really believed that we could accomplish a revolution in a decade, certainly within a quarter-century. We did not plan for a future in which we would have to keep on fighting … primarily as unpaid volunteers, even as we aged, became disabled or ill, became poor, became no longer ‘relevant’ … Some of us have lived long enough to see our work disappeared, forgotten, maligned.”

Chesler partly uses her memoir as an opportunity to set the record straight, which sometimes includes airing the movement’s dirty laundry. But the book also reads as an elegy for the women of the second wave, many of whom have now died, sometimes in tragic circumstances. Chesler ends with moving tributes to each of the feminists mentioned in the book. They all believed so sincerely in the righteousness of what they were fighting for, and although the activists of the Second Wave achieved remarkable things, most of their goals have not been realised. Chesler now looks back on their idealism with a note of sadness: “None of us understood that this work would occupy us for the rest of our lives and that all we would be able to claim was the struggle, not the victory.”

 

Louise Perry is a freelance writer based in Oxford, U.K. You can read an excerpt from Phyllis Chesler’s memoir, A Politically Incorrect Feminist, here.

74 Comments

  1. Darwin T of BC Humanists says

    Gloria Steinam is a wave rider, she knows when and what kind of wave to ride for the mood of the times. Mood wise however does not mean she is worthy of deep lasting respect. She never critiques Islam or dictators as far as I know.

    Dr. Chesler is a keeper. Her experiences and knowledge are of great value the world over. Thank you Dr. Chesler!

    Why does it take so long to learn the same lessons of life over and over again. Where is the commitment to helping us live better together?

  2. Galileosdaughter says

    Thank you, Louise Perry for this great article. I have been a fan of Chester ever since I read “An American Bride in Khabul”. I admire that she is honest about the betrayal of feminism by most of the Second Wave and virtually all of the Third Wave. If only more on the left would engage in thoughtful examination of ideas rather than follow the ideological line, feminism and women wouldn’t be in the dire straits they are today.

    Gloria Steinem betraying women by becoming a close associate of Linda Sarsour, an advocate of Sharia law, and the increasing push to admit Sharia law into Western societies. Trans gender men trampling on women’s right to be safe in female spaces. The refusal of left feminists to speak against the oppression of women in most Muslim countries. The continued trafficking of women, and, yes, vulnerable young men, into prostitution. All these should be of continuing concern to feminists but seem to have been kicked under the bus.

    I thought after Betty Friedan and Germaine Greer wrote their earth shaking books, there was hope for women’s potentials to be recognized. Third wave feminism, with its obsession with intersectionality and other SJW ideas has destroyed that hope and Chester seems to be one of the few feminists to realize it.

    • James W Krych says

      Sadly, and Dennis Prager brilliantly wrote about this, ideas will always matter more to progressives than people and have been like that since Karl Marx.

      Well written.

      • J Seagull says

        James, Marx didn’t invent the Left prioritizing ideas over people. The French Revolution is basically this point of view being played out fully, in the process devouring its children.

    • Achem says

      Excellent observations re where we as women find ourselves today & why. Helps me explain it all to the younger ones, & if they get it in numbers, maybe it’s not too late to change it for the better. Thx for your post.

  3. bumble bee says

    What all SJW causes fail to do, especially feminism, is that they make exceptions to their cause. If like Chesler, who was raped, why should anything associated with perpetrator give cause to “give up the cause”? Once causes make exceptions, be they for political reasons, racial, culture, public stature, they damage and incur the label hypocrite to what they have been working towards.

    Sometimes causes are not just about getting something changed legally/politically, but it is about teaching society exactly what your cause is trying to achieve. You cannot teach people when there are inconsistencies and exception that run counter to everything you stand for.

    If as a society we started to adhere to what we preach regardless, there would be no exceptions. Wealth, power, status, race, every discriminatory category would also be abolished as a byproduct if fidelity to a cause would again remove exceptions and excuses.

    • David of Kirkland says

      Indeed, women and blacks have always had a right to vote, for example, per the Constitution. Previously, their rights were simply abused and not protected by government. It just needed to be litigated that they are clearly “Persons” and then no special amendments were needed (like how gay marriage didn’t require an amendment) because the Constitution’s rights speaks of Person/People, not males or whites or heterosexuals or the like.

      • Good point.
        Btw, don’t you think there should be a “like” button here?

      • Rev. Wazoo! says

        David of Kirkland
        A very astute point, if true, I hadn’t previously considered. I suspect states determined voting eligibility but will check if Wyomings early rights to female suffrage extended to federal elections.
        You have put your finger on a very. Important legal point.

    • Cedric says

      @bumble bee

      You make an excellent point about causes like feminism being inconsistent. It would do feminists a lot of good to (1) decide who their leaders are, and (2) adopt a list of feminist tenets drafted by those leaders. After that, adherence to those tenets is what drives feminism.

      For example, my wife and I would love to declare ourselves feminists, but we have no idea what it means. For example, too many high-profile feminists are okay with the way women are treated in the Middle East for fear of being labeled an Islamophobe. Does feminism trump having warm, fuzzy feelings for people who abuse women in the name of their religion? If Mormons reverted to polygamy, would that be okay with feminists, or is it only non-Western religions that get a pass?

      Some “feminists” are okay with late-term or even partial-birth abortions. Can someone ever be pro life and still be a feminist? These are the types of questions that have no real answers. Anything one person tells you will differ from what another says.

      Probably too late for feminism to truly codify… but it sure would be helpful.

      • bumble bee says

        There is nothing I can’t stand more than habitual hypocrisy. That is what is happening to feminism. Then to top it off, the whole movement has become bastardized because you can’t be a feminist and advocate for feminist issues unless you support every other movement coming from the left. They have definitely lost sight of what they want and what their goals are to be. In fact, I will go so far as to state that all liberal movements have a lack of clarity and a clear set of goals.

        Without clarity and goals for feminism, and all liberal movements, how is one to begin to acknowledge success/progress. We see this in the BLM movement, civil rights, equality, everything. Then there is the stark question each of these movements must ask themselves, when is the job complete. Are these issues going to be a permanent social white noise at best in perpetuity? That to me is the downfall of all these movements, they have no end plan, exit strategy. They will just get more and more ridiculous and radical as time goes on, because they cannot determine when the job is done.

        Then of course there is the basic concept that nothing is 100% when dealing with anything involving humans. There will always be racists, there will always be sexual harassment, there always be people who don’t like others because of one reason or another. So will there ever be a time when the signs and slogan will be retired or is that not the objective.

        • thatsmysecretcap says

          You are too generous. The failure to develop an exit plan isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. Imagine that you spend years getting an education in women’s studies and investing yourself in outrage culture. You are exceedingly well qualified to become an outrage broker, but little else. A position of leadership within the movement provides not only money, but unlimited opportunities for virtue signalling and peer congratulations. After building an identity around this, what exactly are these people going to do once victory is declared? Their very existence depends on the continuation of the war, even if that requires inventing more and more ridiculous injustices to rail against.

          • Kencathedrus says

            @thatsmysecretcap: you’re extremely correct. There’s a whole cottage industry surrounding outrage culture. There are people in my life who seem perpetually offended. I’m not sure what can be done for them.

          • Ms. D says

            So you think that people who spend their lives fighting to make change don’t actually want that change because they are not qualified to do anything else. I disagree. I think there are many women who devoted their lives because they want to see positive change. If they had put themselves out of business they could have moved on to other countries (not that this is non problematic) or writing history books or lecturing in universities. People say the same thing about cancer researchers— that they don’t actually want to see cancer eradicated because then they would be out of a job. This cynical perspective does not fit with the profile of the passion that one has to have for an issue to get to the top of that field. (Although of course there are always going to be rare outliers.)

          • Jim Pelton says

            This is a fair description of environmentalism.

        • Heike says

          If they ever admitted the problem had been solved and ills cured, they’d be out of a job.

          It is never more difficult to convince a man of something when his livelihood depends on him not understanding it.

      • Heike says

        It’s not for fear of being labeled Islamophobe. It’s for fear of being on the same side of the argument as The Other (Western conservatives). Anything which strengthens this enemy is haram and must be avoided.

        Look at Gloria Steinem’s defense of Bill Clinton. He was on her side, therefore he got a pass. Bill Clinton is a rapist.

  4. Bab says

    Ah, Phyllis. I remember reading her 2002 book about female madness, which was roughly equal amounts of backbiting stories about her fellow feminists and complaints about being subjected to their backbiting in return. Not to mention that everyone was neurotic back in the 70s except for her. Of course that raises the question of why exactly did she decide to go to Afghanistan and live in a Bedouin tent anyway? And then suddenly discover that it wasn’t the greatest country on Earth to be a woman. I mean no shit right?

    She blames Blacks for having an obsessive sense of their own victimisation, and then goes onto to wax lyrical about how prevalent anti-semitism is and how “Jews are the niggers of the world” (direct quote). She maintains that it was necessary to tear down the European canon of primarily male writers, but laments that the resulting vacuum has since been occupied by people other than her and her radfem friends. It had apparently never occurred to her that if you objected to the Western canon being predominantly male, you could equally object to it being white, or straight, or cissexual or any number of other things.

    I’m not complaining about the piece; I quite enjoy these latter-day jilted radfem memoirs, its all amusing knockabout stuff. But I personally wouldnt hang a dog on a damn thing she says.

    • Cassandra says

      Well, she was only twenty, and I think that twenty years old then was far more naive and , well, softer than now. And there was a lot more romanticism about the Middle East, it was Lawrence of Arabia and the Ruhbyiat of Omar Khayam rather than The Taliban and their ever worsening successors. So maybe soft peddle the contempt for what was then not even an adult’s misconceptions.

      • Graham says

        Cassandra: A person of 20 is not an adult? How old do you have to be to become an adult? Seriously.

  5. I first came across Chesler in the 90’s. She is too deep for feminists today.

  6. Erik Buntaro says

    The title is misleading. Please publish the text of the interview. Thanks

  7. Fran says

    Thank goodness I got on with an exciting and rewarding life, only vaguely aware of the Feminist battles that were going on in the 70’s and 80’s.

  8. Robin says

    “I don’t mean neurotic, difficult, anxious, or eccentric. I mean clinically schizophrenic or manic depressive, suicidal, addicted to drugs or alcohol, or afflicted with a personality disorder.”

    An excellent descriptor of all feminists! Thank you Ms. Chesler I couldn’t have put it better myself… although you forgot to mention sociopaths and psychopaths… Of course if I had said it I would be immediately be declared a misogynist. However, since you are all drug-addicted, depressing and have personality disorders, I can safely ignore it.

    The better question might be why do so many find you appealing?

  9. Pingback: Le féminisme n’est plus ce qu’il fut. Phyllis Chesler, féministe historique | Laconnectrice's Weblog

  10. Richard says

    “[Fe]minism is far more invested in condemning America, the Enlightenment, Western Civilization, Western-only imperialism, colonialism, and capitalism; in condemning truth tellers like Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali.” Yeah, we reprobate members of the patriarchy have been saying that for a very long time. Whatever good “feminism” did, it was and is a Commie front. To borrow a phrase from Mary Mapes, “FEA!”

  11. TarsTarkas says

    When power is the objective, causes become merely vehicles to attain it. No surprise that the Regressives and the Third and Fourth Wave operate that way. Rules, etiquette, common courtesy, and win-win outcomes are for losers.

  12. Ken Kant says

    “Like menstrual cramps and labor contractions, feminism comes in waves.” Jim Goad

  13. V 2.0 says

    Feminism should have been about one thing, the removal of vagina-based restrictions on economic independence and freedom of movement.

    Also, not a fan of abolishing prostitution. Does a woman not have the right to do what she wants with her body even if that means selling it or removing a fetus from her uterus? Sure there are problems that need to be addressed but no one tells us to stop wearing clothes because some of them are made in sweatshops.

  14. Lightning Rose says

    People keep trying to re-jimmy Human Nature and keep failing dismally. It’s becoming rather tedious. You can knock yourself out defying all the mandates of evolution, and you’ll lose. I maintain that well-adjusted people accept the world as it is (preferably in early teens) and find their place within it rather than trying to “change” it. At the end of the day what works is a product of the intersection between economics and culture. If you want to live outside the mainstream paradigm, well good luck with that, but be prepared for a difficult life. Many of these crusaders need to be introduced to the idea that sometimes sitting in the sun with a fresh newspaper and a perfect cup of coffee is all it takes to be happy. If you want to nurture your sense of injustice forever, don’t be surprised if only a few validate that. If you choose to lie on a bed of thorns, that’s your choice, don’t blame everyone else because the world won’t conform to your Utopia.

    • Oh, there’s a hell of thorns waiting for anyone who (even supposedly) opposes Utopia these days, make no mistake.

      “Only a few more bodies to go and then we’ll make it to paradise, have no fear!”

      Utopias are for the young and the foolish. Life is closer to an extremely long roller coaster: ups and downs are a natural part of it and not one human being is exempt from those experiences.

      We’re in for quite a ride, however we react to it on the way. 😉

  15. dirk says

    As with Marxists and libertarians, there are also two types of feminists
    -the ideal (virtual) type
    -the concrete groups and associations, where tribalism plays (must play) its part in the palavers and cohesion and propaganda.

    Where one wants more clarity or honesty about feminism, this should always be kept in mind. Apostates, of course, are deemed to be not tribal enough. Ali Hirsi is an apostate, not tribal, she fears nobody (in Somalia not uncommon).

  16. Pingback: How a Feminist Prophet Became an Apostate — An Interview with Dr Phyllis Chesler | The American Tory

  17. Will says

    It is rather shocking how the application of intersectionality to feminism has lead to starkly misogynistic positions at times.

  18. Progressive Leap Forward says

    The dystopia of women being shut down by fellow feminists and progressives after being victims of politically inconvenient crimes is blood boiling and reminiscent of cult behavior. It also occurs much too often.

  19. Dennis Aster says

    Oh my goodness, this ““Decriminalising prostitution,” she tells me, “is about refusing to understand the extent to which most prostituted women are female children, and children who have been impoverished and raped in childhood and then trafficked by pimps into drug and alcohol addiction, necessary drugs to withstand the killing field that most prostitutes, both male and female, must face.””
    Clearly she’s has no idea.
    I’ve been with 4 prostitutes. The first was a super privileged only child of parents who spoilt her, and who had no intention of working in any other way than picking up a few hundred bucks for an hours mediocre sex. The second was an ex-dental nurse who had a model friend on the game who told her about the easy money, and found that she liked it. The third was from an upper middle class family who was wryly amused that men would pay for much for something that was for her so trivial. The fourth was a “bad girl” who got a sort of thrill out of doing naughty things, and mostly liked to chat about her parental family (who seemed very nice). No pimps, no drugs, a bit of alcohol but no addiction, no rape, no trauma. Go figure.

    • SaintLeRat says

      “Oh yeah, if you’ve seen four you’ve seen ’em all”
      Whatever wipes the blood off…

      • Kencathedrus says

        @SaintLeRat: I love your sanctimonious outlook on things.

        • SaintLeRat says

          @Ken
          Look for sanctimony & ‘outrage’ everywhere, you’ll find it…

      • staticnoise says

        @SaintLeRat
        Well, his experiences maybe considered anecdotal but it doesn’t mean it’s wrong. In his small sample size he never encountered the stereo-typical prostitute. I find it interesting. I’ve heard tell stories from my mates about being with college age girls doing for tuition money, again they were all anecdotes but not a one fit the description of an abused, drug out sex slave.

    • While I find myself agreeing with the majority of the article, I’m also very opposed to the abolition of prostitution. I believe Chelser’s reasons for abolishing prostitution make perfect sense in a historical context, but not in a modern context.

      The business of prostitution has been very largely transformed since the introduction of the Internet to our lives. Prostitutes can self-manage now. They don’t need pimps. They don’t have to take any drugs. They keep all of their money. They can screen their clients. They can meet clients in locations that are safe and comfortable. They can establish networks friends that will check on them and know where they are when they’re working. Some of them even claim their earnings on their taxes, vaguely listing their occupation as “entertainer” or some such. In other countries and in poorer areas of inner cities, the situation may still be like it was before, but things are changing very rapidly, and prostitution is absolutely a viable career option with much less risks involved compared to working on a construction site or in a factory.

      How do I know this? I’m a former prostitute myself, and I started in this modern, safe and self-managed era of the business. I’ve never had to answer to a pimp, and as far as drugs go, I may have had a beer or two and smoked a joint with some clients, but nothing crazier than that. Just enough to loosen up, not enough to lose complete control over myself, and nothing I wouldn’t do casually with friends, anyway. I’ve had nothing but positive experiences from all of my clients. One even took me to an amusement park and rode roller coasters with me all day long. Out of all the jobs I’ve held in various fields, that was the most fun day of work I’ve ever had, hands down. The client himself was an incredible person — highly intelligent, well-traveled and very polite. I know it’s part of the business to not get attached, but I actually still miss him, and it’s been years since I’ve turned my last trick. I hope he’s doing well.

      Don’t get me wrong, pimping has to end. Prosecute people who sell others for sex. As for those who sell themselves for sex, as well as those who hire them, leave them alone. They’re just conducting business. It’s a private affair, so stay the hell out of it. Otherwise, sex workers will feel afraid to utilize police resources on the occasion that they are abused by a bad client, for fear of being arrested for prostitution. When sex workers are afraid of cops, pimps and bad clients will capitalize on that, and the only people who end up getting hurt are the people society is claiming to protect with these laws.

      In short: Abolish pimping, but don’t abolish prostitution. You can have both. And yes, this means putting the “madames” out of business, too. Just because you’re a woman doesn’t mean you’re allowed to be a pimp. It’s wrong no matter what your gender.

      • Uab says

        Also, just to add to what you’re saying in regards to “sex workers will feel afraid to utilize police resources on the occasion that they are abused by a bad client”.

        I’ve always wondered, if it is decriminalised. Doesn’t that mean we can track it better and clamp down on abuse? Some feminists say that in countries that has decriminlised it, it leads to more abuse because there are more reports of it in countries like Holland but…

        I don’t get how they measure this against illegal sex work, which is more hidden, harder to track and obviously abuses will be much less likely to be reported to the law. So, couldn’t the uptake in more people reporting abusive behaviour actually be a good thing as more people feel comfortable in doing so (I obviously don’t know myself, but it would be interesting to see if modern sex negative feminism has further research proving their interpretation is more correct)?

        Also, I think “they” make the mistake of thinking that keeping it illegal will somehow stop women being prostiutes (and men paying for it). There’s a reason why it’s called the oldest profession. You might as well argue for getting rid of sex drives altogether to stop rape and abuse, which is an argument that is just as non-sensical.

        • First of all, “decriminalized” is not the same as “legalized”. When you decriminalize something, it downgrades an offense that would land you in jail into an offense that would result in a fine (which, if unpaid, leads to jail). Prostitutes make decent money, but the people hiring them are loaded with cash. If the clients got fined for solicitation, it’s no skin off their back. If we get fined for prostitution, we may have to make a choice between starvation and eviction depending on how large the fine could be. Decriminalization is not the answer to prostitution because of these complications and this imbalance of power — full legalization is the only way to go.

          Also, reports always go up when the law is relaxed on prostitution. Feminists are very well known for their world-class, record-breaking ineptitude in grasping simple principles of statistical correlation, so that should have been your first red flag. More reports doesn’t mean more crime, more reports simply means more reports. If you want to read further into this, it means that people are getting more comfortable with reporting the crimes, as I see you have already figured out. More reports also means more investigations, which means more police resources, more arrests and more convictions. So yes, you are correct, this is most definitely a good thing! There will always be an up-tick in these statistics immediately following legalization or decriminalization; what’s more important to measure is how much those statistics go down over the next 10 or 20 years afterwards.

  20. Geary Johansen says

    I enjoyed this article.

    It reminds one that not all within an ideological movement necessarily subscribe to all the views that the movement ultimately devolves into. Many conservatives and centrist free thinkers, often find that they associate with individuals who later go on to express views or comments that most traditional conservatives would baulk at- only to find themselves vilified for their association by a media intent on disingenuously causing maximum reputational harm- so we should remember to be better, in welcoming those who ultimately dissent from the more ideologically zealous extremes.

    Many of the social upheavals that occurred during the 60s and 70s were for the good, especially those which related to equality under the law- but the one thing that feminism as a whole got wrong was the importance of fathers. And by fathers, I mean that in the truest sense of the word, not men sharing in early maternal duties for the first nine months, but fathers in the sense of paternal love, providing the rough play so vital to childhood development, gruff boundary enforcement, teaching delay gratification and imparting the empathy infants are required to learn when surrounded by adults not instinctively wired to indulge their every whim, As you may possibly guess, I am a big fan of Dr Warren Farrell’s work, and find it particularly telling that in an era of fatherlessness, in which men are often accused of being aggressive, that children who grow up without fathers very often find it difficult to differentiate between assertiveness and aggression, and present as aggressive when trying to be assertive.

    In Stanford’s recent study on social mobility, the most important criteria for upward mobility for those born into the bottom quintile of the population is a stable two parent family. But according to Dr Raj Chetty, a child born into a two parent family in a predominantly single parent neighbourhood will do less well than a child born into a single parent family in a neighbourhood with a high ratio of fathers. I believe that this may indicate that a high percentage of productive, admirable, older males may provide a positive example that counteracts the way many young males react adversely to inequality, in believing that the system is rigged against them. In this, fathers act as an immunising agent much like the MMR vaccine, in protecting the community as a whole from a youthful descent into delinquency, crime and indolence through the mechanism of a disaffected peer group, buying into jaded standard narratives.

    Often a poorly funded and poorly designed progressive educational system and the unfortunate necessity of targeting pro-active policing resources to address high crime, only reinforce this fundamentally flawed narrative and create a viscous feedback system of negative social outcomes. The tragedy of our times, is the failure of the left to correctly diagnose structural disparities as a symptom of cultures damaged by the lack of cohesion a lack of productive fathers inherently brings, and fulfil their role as representatives of the dispossessed by championing fatherhood and providing mentoring programs that act as a surrogate for fathers.

  21. Insominous Coward says

    “What passes for feminism today, at least in the academy, is faux feminism. It is far more concerned with racism than with sexism” was shown in spades after the Cologne affaire, with the liberal media not touching the story and feminists siding with the Asian “refugees” rather than the abused German women (It was Breitbart that broke the story eventually!). Typical response was for eg UK Labour MP Jess Phillips’ comment “the recent attacks in Germany are no different to the situation women find themselves in the centre of Birmingham”.

    • dirk says

      There you are so right, insom, c., I still remember the crippling confusion in reactions of the different feminist sections in Germany (and abroad) as reported in my newspaper at the time. How to react now on this? What to say? And what not? And what to feel? Poor women!

  22. Anj says

    Thank you Quillette! Finally, a #notallfeminists piece celebrating this magnificent human, Dr Phyllis Chesler.
    Given she most likely reflects the ideals & values of most women today, it’s important the likes of her are given coverage rather than a minority of hard liners.
    Is it any wonder young women reject being associated with feminism & men have become so hysterical & resistant to it when they are forced fed a phantom diet that feeds their insecurities?
    More truth please, we’re starving here…

    • Memetic Tribe says

      @big anj

      Here’s some truth: Love the way you slipped in the word “hysterical” and aimed it at men. It had been used against women for many years. Still, its exceedingly rare to find a “hysterical” man. We geberally go nuclear before hysteria sets in. Unless you count this rebuttal as hysteria, but I feel its more mansplaining.

      Women have bodies equipped to create and nurture life, yet wetsern women have stopped doing this in the name of modern feminism. How glorious and brave! Now we unwittingly import hostile populations from other countries to keep our society from imploding…temporarily.

      Feminism is a narcissistic lie, designed to sow division.

      Now stop killing babies.

      • Anj says

        Little Mem,
        We never stopped, we just occasionally take out the trash out for nature when she has her day off . But from time to time the odd loser slips thru as your comment proves.
        Now stop killing our brain cells.

  23. Abortion wasn’t discussed in the sixties, yet despite this Chesler was aware that “every woman [she] knew” had had one? And, come on. Every woman?

    Curious to read the book, though. The more I hear about Steinem, the more I conclude she’s a real piece of work.

    • Curious Mayhem says

      Abortion was discussed in the sixties, and there had been steady steps toward liberalization since the late 1950s. It was mostly legal in Puerto Rico and available in many circumstances in some states, like California, New York, and a few others. (One of the California laws liberalizing abortion was signed by Reagan when he was governor.) It had been liberalized in many Western countries starting in the late 1930s. Abortion wasn’t viewed as a national political issue until Roe v. Wade in early 1973. But, say, watch Rosemary’s Baby, a movie released in 1968.

      Not every woman had an abortion, of course, not even the majority of women. But many people knew or had heard of one or two women having one. I remember my parents talking about it. If you go back to before the late 1950s, an American woman seeking an abortion would take a brief “vacation” on a train to Miami, then a cruise ship to Havana or San Juan, along with a girlfriend.

      I will say many people were naive or in the dark about this issue before the late 1960s. But far from everyone.

  24. Barney Doran says

    I am bit worried for our four legged friends. Will Fifth Wave Feminism somehow be about animals?

  25. dirk says

    For the Holland fans here (and I see to my satisfaction ever more pingbacks in my own language, a very small language of only a few millions worldwide, though, in the early days of Manhattan, 400 yrs ago, much more important and spoken there than the local Algonquin and Mohican): we have our own apostate feminist of old standing, also of ripe age (my age), with her recent book -Roses and Bread-. She does not agree with all those youngsters figthing for this and for that (the balance in high esteem echelons like university and managerial functions), and strongly abhors identity politics. It’s often all at the cost of the ordinary women at the bottom lines, she thinks.

    What I think here: logical, that, where you grow old, especially when a woman,finally, you can afford not to belong anymore to a wave, a hype, a tribe, a homogeneous group on twitter , facebook or instagram.

    Small detail: Dr Chesler looks a great deal more impressive, glamorous and arrogant than our Anja Meulenbelt!

  26. Daphne Patai says

    With so many other writers and thinkers today in thrall to identity politics and double/triple standards, what sets Phyllis Chesler apart are a few crucial traits that seem to be in short supply these days:
    1) She pays attention to what is actually going on in the world, rather than viewing everything through an ideological prism that makes only some problems count, in accordance with the identity politics of the moment. That’s why she’s consistently critical of the excuses made by so-called feminist and anti-racist SJWs careful to never criticize Islam and/or Arab countries but always eager to lambaste Israel and indulge in familiar old anti-Semitic tropes.
    2) Related to Chesler’s attentiveness is an even more unusual characteristic: having the courage to change one’s mind and acknowledge new realities. The definition of an ideologue is precisely the opposite: new information doesn’t cause an ideologue to reconsider anything. Thus, some famous feminists who made excuses for male violence (when committed by their allies, say) decades ago are still doing so today.
    3) What seems to drive so many of the people eager to overlook some abuses is a need to avoid even hinting that there is anything worth defending in western culture, above all in white culture–the culture of the Enlightenment, which gave us abolition of slavery, women’s rights, etc. Any criticism of non-white non-western individuals and societies apparently strikes too close to valuing the west, and that is not allowed today. In today’s real-world context, this is a suicidal attitude.
    4) The ostracism Chesler has experienced — for her willingness to defend Israel, call out anti-Semitism, denounce feminist (and other) hypocrisy, and so on — should cause deep shame among those who claim to be feminists and reformers. But it doesn’t. Instead of engaging people like Chesler in open debate, they prefer to try to shut down others’ speech, deplatform them, and so on.
    Chesler’s fundamental commitment, which permeates all her works, is to universal principles of human rights, not to the noxious identity politics that has most people these days running scared.

    Fortunately, Chesler has a surplus of energy, brains, and talent, and thus keeps on writing and speaking out.

    • dirk says

      Trait 5: both Chesler and Hirsi Ali are preaching about life experiences, blood and tears, personal humiliation. Most feminists have the luxury to talk and preach idle and rather abstract thoughts, good will, benevolence.

  27. Ernesto says

    Shulamith Firestone? How interesting is to be influenced by a person who thinks that a prostitute is on higher moral ground than a mother once the former is at least paid for the sex she provides.
    This is complete nonsense. What to say about a group of people who are clearly in a some sort of collective hysteria for decades. Following one mental case after another.

    • Ta-nehisi Rabinowitz says

      One can consider Shulamith Firestone’s end as a guide to the extent to which she should be taken seriously: alone in her Upper West Side apartment, her body not found for a week until the smell tipped off her neighbors.

  28. Pingback: The End of an Era—A Feminist Firebrand Looks Back - Quillette

  29. Photondancer says

    Thanks for this article. I’ve read a lot of the 2nd wave feminists but Chesler doesn’t ring a bell. I’ll see if I can find her book.

  30. Micha Elyi says

    Sometimes, marrying a Muslim then moving to Afghanistan with him (as Phyllis Chesler did) can clarify the thoughts of even the most dogmatic of feminists (as Phyllis Chesler was).

    Yes, I read the books she wrote Back In The Day–books she might be wishing we’d all forget.

  31. David Longfellow says

    Chesler’s evolution is what happens when a true believer actually experiences the real world rather than living in the protected cocoon of the academic environment.

  32. Sharon says

    Wow. This was a great interview. As a woman somewhat younger than Ms. Chester, I was fascinated. I am now reading her book which I will send a few more women.

  33. Pingback: How a Feminist Prophet Became an Apostate—An Interview with Dr Phyllis Chesler – Wince and Nod

  34. Intriguing article. It is good to be reminded that there were(and are) feminists who were not dogmatically adherent to the party line, that they see the revolution they participated in became a cult-like institution that allows no dissent.

  35. Pingback: [Imposture féministe ] – Le « patriarcat » est né en 1970 – Eromakia

  36. Max York says

    I should report that, even before Friedan’s book, my female classmates who wanted to study law or medicine were already doing so. They did not consider themselves “feminists,” because the term was not yet common parlance. Moreover, they would not have claimed the mantle of victimhood.
    Very soon after its publication, I read Friedan’s book, The Feminine Mystique. I thought Friedan’s complaints sounded reasonable enough. Accordingly, I adopted the attitude that women should be treated just like men.
    My introduction to actual live feminists occurred three years later, at university. The feminists I met there all had “issues,” to say the least; it was obvious that most of them hated men. To me, it was also obvious that the feminist “movement” was going to hit the rocks sooner or later. And clearly it has.

    • Curious Mayhem says

      That is true, although in the 1950s and early 1960s, women wanting a career in something other than nursing, education, and social work often faced discrimination in the sense of arbitrary treatment and barriers. (Not always, but often.)

      That was legally ended by the 1964 Civil Rights Act, although it took another generation before the change became fully accepted. The first female justice on the Supreme Court (Sandra Day O’Connor) was put there by a conservative president (Reagan) in the 1980s. Much of the change depended on men who were willing to think and act in a fair-minded way and on exposing ridiculously prejudiced attitudes. It doesn’t mean men and women, collectively, are the same. Of course, they’re not. It does mean treating people fairly, as individuals, and free of prejudgment.

      Framed in abstract terms, what Friedan wrote in her book sounded reasonable enough. However, the wave of feminism that began in the mid-1960s did feature major baggage of personal problems masquerading as political positions. Personal-as-political, indeed. I remember those days and the weird way that political arguments were often proxies for deep (and real) personal problems — mental illness, substance and sexual abuse, etc.

      Nowadays, “awokenness” is mostly a fad, a manifestation of herd psychology, status seeking, and snobbishness. A powerful fad, but a fad nonetheless. The gaping holes and hypocrisies of this movement are obvious to all but the most fanatical.

  37. J Seagull says

    I find it interesting that the author and the commenters all seem to accept her rape as “a fact.”

    Yet it is only an allegation by a single person, presumably disputed by the person accused.

    Was she raped? I don’t really know, but then neither do any of the rest of us.

    I think it’s reasonable to note that being raped at the time did not get you nearly as many social credits as it does today.

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