Phyllis Chesler has had a curious career. Back in the 1970s, along with Betty Friedan, Germaine Greer, Kate Millett, and company, she was a leading “second-wave” feminist, whose 1972 book Women and Madness sold 2.5 million copies. Yet, in some respects, she always differed from her activist sisters. For one thing, she didn’t idealize non-Western cultures, or seem deluded into thinking that she and her fellow middle- and upper-class American women were the most oppressed creatures on earth. For another, she didn’t hate men. On the contrary, far from buying into the notion that women are morally superior to men and that they get along with one another in deep, rich, and wonderful ways that men cannot, she wrote a whole book, Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman (2009), about the manifold ways in which women hurt, exclude, judge, and abuse one another.
There was always some distance, then, between Chesler and the feminist establishment, and, over the decades, it has only widened. While the women’s movement of the 1970s at least boasted some tough, smart leaders who stood up for their less privileged sisters around the world, today’s feminism is first and foremost an academic phenomenon—rife with caution, careerism, and conformity, drenched in political correctness, steeped in rhetoric about capitalism and American hegemony, and at least as focused on race and class as on gender.
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