Today, I had the pleasure of speaking to Phyllis Chesler, about her new book, “A Politically Incorrect Feminist.”
Phyllis Chesler, known as a feminist psychologist, is an American who was born October 1, 1940. She is a writer, psychotherapist, and professor emerita of psychology and women’s studies at the College of Staten Island (CUNY). She is a prolific author, having now written 18 books, including the best-seller Women and Madness, published in 1972.
The topics of her books include gender, mental illness, divorce and child custody, surrogacy, second-wave feminism, pornography, prostitution, incest, and violence against women.
More recently, she covered anti-semitism, Islam, and honor killings. Chesler says many things that clash with what we’ve been recently hearing from most feminists. She argues that many western intellectuals, including leftists and feminists, have abandoned Western values in the name of multicultural relativism. She says this led these intellectuals into an alliance with Islamists, an increase in antisemitism, and to the abandonment of Muslim women and religious minorities in Muslim-majority countries.
Her latest book, “A Politically Incorrect Feminist” was released in August 2018. Chesler provides a powerful group portrait of many of feminism’s major players and world-changers.
Dwight L. Schwab, Jr., Newsblaze columnist: How many books have you written during your long career?
Phyllis Chesler, Author of “A Politically Incorrect Feminist:” This will be my eighteenth. The more you publish, the more you must be humble to discover topics to write about. (Laughter)
Schwab: Of those eighteen books, how do you rate your latest?
Chesler: Well, I have written certain books over the years that are classics in certain areas. “Female Psychology” was one. It included motherhood and other issues usually not identified with feminism. This book was meant to be an intellectual and emotional collection of ideas. It exposes the war of idealists, ideologues, organizers and feminists. It shows, that like male politicians, for complex reasons, so are the ideas of the women’s movement. I cannot rate my previous books since they are all quite different. I think my ideas have evolved and it is reflective in the book.
Schwab: In terms of feminism in this country and the movement, who has benefited and who has not in your opinion?
Chesler: Interesting question. The feminist vision of female human rights has benefitted everyone in the world. You can see that in fundamentalist countries where women are crying for freedom. In terms of America, we are much better off than most and have much better opportunities to succeed than most. That means women who have been able to get more jobs that were strictly in the hands of males than at any time in history. That does not mean every woman may want that, but the opportunity is there that did not exist before.
It also includes reproductive rights where a woman, a couple or a family can decide how many children they will have. That bodes well for female entitlement in its best sense. Now I know feminists in many ways have dwelled on the abortion issue that has taken away a lot of the focus on the former. There are also child custody battles that many times award the children to dangerous fathers.
Feminists have been accused of destroying the American family. There are many kinds of families. Black families have come from being indentured servants and marginalized minorities. On the other hand, you have privileged families with a mother and father with nearby relative support. There are those who run afoul of the definition of family who molest children and others that use the Bible to teach children their own separate style of education. They teach children in a moral way. There is a wide diversity of feminist opinion as there is a wide diversity of the word “family.”
Schwab: That is a good lead-in for my next question. Why is it that over 80 percent of American women and a much higher percentage in Great Britain reject the feminist movement?
Chesler: That’s like saying why don’t all men join a particular religion or philosophy? In many ways feminism became a dirty word and many women just wanted to get along. Whereas college-aged children embraced feminism for reasons like not having to marry a man old enough to be your grandfather or being turned into a domestic servant by your family, feminists were painted as man-hating and troublemakers.
Feminists tend to represent single women, women alone; not married women and mothers. The former is attempting to find their place in the sun whereas their mothers and grandmothers dating back to the 1930’s most likely never had that chance at their own brand of independence. Many women may not identify with the label of feminism, but they certainly do with the ideals it presents.
Schwab: What are the positives and the negatives feminism has brought to you personally?
Chesler: It gave me a voice above the norm and for that I am eternally grateful. I was lucky it came at a time in American history where a group could come together and be responsible for significant changes in people’s lives. I was able to meet extraordinary women who shared my concerns, not just women I met in high school or something. I am very loyal to that moment in history.
If you are a whistleblower by nature, you are going to have to fight for your rights over major adversity. I have a story in the book which was my first major speech, in 1970. I remember my mother saying to me after the speech, “If you’re going to say those things out loud, who’s going to marry you?” There is always the family with their set ideals and you must overcome that.
The negatives are my ideas that move against me in the academic world, That was the way it was from the late 1960’s, through the 1970’s and up until I began to reach a variety of media outlets around 1985. My plight is not unique to feminists.
I remember being in an elevator with a minority colleague who had just won a major writing award. I congratulated him on his achievement and he began to cry. I asked why this was happening and he said I was the first and only one to have mentioned his award. We were not the only group singled-out during this era. This was indicative of the female situation after WWII and into the fifties.
Schwab: You have been a part of the feminist movement for many years. You have also met many personalities. Who would you say are best remembered and who might be ones you hope you don’t.
Chesler – (Laughter) I would direct anyone reading my book to turn to the last chapter. I cherish all these women mentioned.
Schwab: Come on Phyllis, are you running for office? (Laughter) Are you saying you cherish all these women?
Chesler – Those in the last chapter, yes. (Laughter) They were a marvelous group of women. I think of Judy O’Neil in particular. She is living proof that our generation of feminists were also noble. I describe her as an angel. Women like that are not necessarily looking for glory, but rather to create an idea.
She was a pioneering feminist. She showed me that women of faith, not necessarily traditional faith, could be leaders of our country. She was one of many we will never see the likes of again.
Schwab – I was born in the early 1950’s. I distinctly remember watching TV shows in the later part of the 1960’s and early 1970’s where some of these leaders of the movement had gone way out on a limb. They began to be parodied on comedy shows and nightclub routines. My mother, who had a professional career before she met my father, which was highly unusual for the 1930’s and 40’s, was deeply saddened by the portrayal of some of the leaders like Bella Abzug in her wide-brimmed hats. Don’t you feel some of these women were hurting the cause with their own egos? What is your take on that era?
Chesler – Women of ambition were ridiculed in what was a very distinctive man’s world. No matter how smooth their presentation was, they were a definite threat to many men’s masculinity and working environment. I applaud your working mother who was a professional, it was very unusual for those times.
There are generous, noble and humble feminists I have worked with who have done their best to break through traditions that are very challenging to change. No matter what they say or do, there will be a backlash to their efforts. It has become a decisively easier task over the years, and one only need to look at some of the brave pioneers in the last chapter of my book.
Yes, there have been what are called, “pushy broads,” but then it takes that sort of energy sometimes. We all know there are men like this, but it seems unique to some that females can be that way too. Men can be this alpha, while women, even if an astronaut, must be able to bake a cherry pie.
Schwab: I myself have written a paltry two books. Since I deal with domestic politics and foreign affairs, both were on those subjects, particularly Barack Obama’s presidency and the 2016 presidential election. I think my audience would be curious to know who you voted for in the last election, if that isn’t a secret you wish to keep.
Chesler: I am so glad you asked that question. I wrote in my own candidate for president, Winston Churchill.
Schwab: (Laughter) Would he have been able to serve?
Chesler: Write-ins are allowed where I vote in New York State. I hope at least one other American had Churchill as a write-in vote. I must say, in regard to your question about naming names of those I disliked, all these women were advocates. The personalities were as varied as those of men. Some were single, others married or had boyfriends. They were diversified and so were the personalities behind them. It would be unfair for me to single out any given woman for her style or personality.
Schwab – I applaud that thinking and wish more had your attitude. The book is “A Politically Incorrect Feminist,” by Phyllis Chesler. You are a very lovely lady and it has been a pleasure speaking with you. Good luck with the book which will be released in late August.
Chesler – Thank you for having me.
“A Politically Incorrect Feminist,” by Phyllis Chesler will be available on Amazon the last week of August.