Why do contemporary women often have such a hard time getting along with each other, at work, and within the family? Why is female friendship so important to women, despite the prevalence of female betrayals? How does the mother-daughter relationship impede women’s growth? This book—destined to be a controversial classic—draws on recent biological, psychological, and anthropological research, as well as hundreds of original interviews, to redress the complicated silence that has prevailed about woman’s inhumanity to woman. While women may not be aggressive in the same way that men are, cross-cultural studies confirm that girls and women are equally aggressive in “indirect” ways, and mainly toward each other. Women envy and compete against other women, not against men—and tend to deny this, even to themselves. Like men, many women also hold sexist beliefs; often, they are unaware of it. Women depend upon each other for emotional intimacy and bonding, but their power to form cliques, gossip about, and shun one another enforces conformity and discourages self-confidence and psychological clarity from girlhood on. Are women oppressed? Yes. Do oppressed people internalize the oppressor’s attitudes? Without a doubt. Women, therefore, must acknowledge their own sexism and gender double-standards before they can practice sisterhood, resist sexism, treat other women ethically, and forge realistic and compassionate personal and political coalitions. “Chesler’s work is our public conscience.”—Letty Cottoin Pogrebin
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Chesler, author of the bestselling Woman and Madness, explores the "shadow side" of sisterhood: women treating each other badly. How could her own mother have been so mean to her? How could someone who "borrowed" published ideas from her not acknowledge her or say "thank you"? In this treatise on breaking the "cycle of cruelty" between women, controversial feminist Chesler addresses why sisters fight, why some women prefer to work for men rather than for women, and other highly subjective cases of woman/woman cruelty. From the "demented Demeters" and "murderous Electras" of Greek mythology to modern-day Mommie Dearest, Chesler warns, mothers and daughters are doomed. Whether they acknowledge their mothers' viciousness, as Chesler does, or whether they're "unconscious" and suffer "amnesia" about the hurt, she says, the patterns are set. Throughout girlhood and into adult life, women repeat the basic lesson in Chesler's words, "maternal envy teaches daughters to be passive, fearful, conformist, obedient as well as similarly cruel to other women." Thus, she says, "an assertive woman manager might be viewed as bitchy and non-maternal." This comment is certainly more digestible than, say, "what complicates the aging process is a woman's life-long experience of all other women as rivals and potential replacements." Chesler draws her evidence from interviews with an unspecified group of women with horror stories: backstabbing by feminist colleagues, sadistic gynecologists, battering lesbians, etc. Needless to say, her book sometimes comes off as quite cynical, despite her claim that "I would like women to treat each other in good ways." (Mar.)Forecast: It's prickly and contentious, but it's Chesler so expect some buzz in the academic feminist circles she inhabits.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.Review:
"Chesler has painted a revealing masterpiece of Woman's dark side." -- Lou Marinoff, Ph.D.
"No intelligent discussion of the provocative issues she raises will ever be the same . . ." -- Alan M. Dershowitz
"Phyllis Chesler has written a healing book to teach us how to love ourselves and each other." -- Erica Jong
"This is a brave book. Her work is our public conscience." -- Letty Cottin Pogrebin
"[A]n exciting and thought provoking argument about the other side of sisterhood." -- Vivian Gornick
Chesler offers astute literary criticism . . . Women readers will recognize their own experiences in Chesler's examples. -- Deborah Tannen, The Washington Post, March 10, 2002
Chesler read everything and thought deeply about it . . . Along with social commentary and psychological insight, Chesler offers astute literary criticism. -- Washington Post Book World, Sunday, March 10, 2002; by Deborah Tannen.
Groundbreaking, fascinating, resonant, and unsettling. It is highly recommended for all public and academic libraries. -- Library Journal, March 15, 2002
She has done her homework . . . An intriguing analysis. Feminists and sexists alike should find the package challenging. -- Kirkus Reviews 1/15/02
[A]n important book, in large part because of who Chesler is: a veteran and luminary of the Second Wave Feminism. -- Laura Miller, Salon.com, March 29, 2002
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