Author: Phyllis Chesler

The Only Thing Necessary for the Triumph of Evil is for Good Women to Do Nothing

In my pre-feminist days, sexual harassment and rape were so common, so pervasive, so accepted, that they were virtually invisible. The shame clung to the victim or to the whistle-blower; the abuser almost never experienced any consequences for his actions. In fact, he was rarely named and when he was all ranks closed to protect him and to destroy his accuser. Back then, people had very stereotypical ideas about who a rapist might be. He was a monster, a stranger, a loser—not the boy next door, not one’s husband or boyfriend, definitely not a wealthy celebrity, a diplomat, or the employer of hundreds. Like most young women in the 1950s and 1960s, I was sexually harassed, almost every day, certainly a few times every week—by strangers on the street, men on trains and in movie theaters, employers, neighbors, and professors. Like others of my generation, I was bred to accept it, keep quiet about it, and blame myself if something about it bothered me. For years I did this, until the feminist movement in the late …

Gilead Resembles an Islamic Theocracy, not Trump’s America

Margaret Atwood, whose work I have long admired, is now being hailed as a prophet. It is quite the phenomenon. According to the pundits, Atwood’s 1985 work, The Handmaid’s Tale, which Mary McCarthy once savaged, and the recently-published 2019 sequel, The Testaments, are dystopias which aptly describe the contemporary climate change crisis, toxic environments, the rise in infertility, and the enslavement of women in Trump’s America. Is this all Atwood is writing about? Do the increasing restrictions on abortion in America parallel the extreme misogyny of Gilead, the theocratic state in Atwood’s saga? Is the unjust separation of mothers and children, a la Trump on the southern border, what Atwood has foretold? Every review and interview with Atwood that I could find strongly insists that this is the case. Michelle Goldberg, in the New York Times, attributes the current popularity of The Handmaid’s Tale to Trump’s ascendancy. She writes: “It’s hardly surprising that in 2016 the book resonated—particularly women—stunned that a brazen misogynist, given to fascist rhetoric and backed by religious fundamentalists was taking power.” Michiko Kakutani recently reviewed The Testaments for the New York …

The End of an Era—A Feminist Firebrand Looks Back

After 9/11, I felt as if the Afghanistan I’d fled so long ago had followed me right into the future and into the West. That distant and dangerous country began to dominate American and European headlines. Muslim women started wearing burqas (head, face, and body coverings) and niqabs (face masks) on the streets of New York City, London, and Paris. As global violence against women gained horrendous momentum, many Western feminists became increasingly afraid to criticize that violence lest they be condemned as colonialists and racists. This fear often trumped their concern for women’s human rights globally. This was not the universalist feminism I helped pioneer. We favored multicultural diversity; we were not multicultural relativists. We called out misogyny when we saw it and didn’t exempt a rapist, a wife beater, or a pedophile because he was poor (his victims were also poor) or a man of color (his victims were often also people of color). We had little sympathy for a perpetrator because he had suffered an abused childhood (so had his victims). Fighting for abortion …