The Death of Feminism
by Alicia Colon
Whenever I mentioned to anyone that I was planning to interview Phyllis Chesler, they immediately recognized her as one of the most respected feminists, a pioneer of the second wave of the women's movement. But I set out with some trepidation to meet her at her Upper East Side apartment. I confess that when it comes to feminists, I've always been completely uninterested in anything feminists had to say. The fight for women's rights was initially waged on a bitter anti-male battleground that held little interest to me as a young woman. Protesters eschewed serious issues and instead railed at the use of words such as "broad," "honey," and "sweetie," which were anathema to liberated females. This was as silly as the notion that I should burn my bra.
But I needn't have worried about holding my disdain in check, because Ms. Chesler is that rarity- a rational, charming feminist with a sense of humor - and we bonded instantly. The fact that her latest book is titled "The Death of Feminism" may have helped considerably in breaking down my defenses. That and her beautiful apartment. I have a real weakness for custom-built, ceiling-high bookcases, and her apartment evoked the warmth and ambience I've always coveted in well-appointed libraries.
Ms. Chesler is an emerita professor of psychology and women's studies, a psychotherapist who has lectured and organized various human rights campaigns here and abroad. Although women's groups have long heralded her as a founding feminist for her classic book, "Women and Madness," the bloom has apparently been off the rose since she admitted she voted for President Bush. Yes, Ms. Chesler has done the unimaginable. Her book calls for a new feminism, one that requires independent - not group - thought, and a single standard of human rights for men and women everywhere on earth. What a concept.
In her book, Ms. Chesler exposes the realities of Islamic gender apartheid and tells what happens to real women in the Islamic world who struggle for freedom every day. These women are ignored by the old school of politically correct, leftist feminists. Ms. Chesler herself was, years ago, a young bride who escaped captivity in Kabul, Afghanistan - a harrowing experience she describes in her book. What we both found amazing are recent reports that French women increasingly are converting to Islam. The idea of women from a nation obsessed with style and culture voluntarily opting for a life under Shariah seems far-fetched, but as with all things French, "c'est inexplicable."
I discovered another sign that Ms. Chesler has become a tainted feminist when I researched her books after my interview. The New York Times, which had reviewed her works routinely in the past, has not yet reviewed "The Death of Feminism" three months after publication. Nor did it review her previous book, "The New Anti-Semitism," published in 2003, which charges that Western intellectuals and misguided academics who refuse to recognize the sovereignty of Israel are embracing anti-Semitism. More hard-hitting truth that is not "fit to print" in the fading gray lady of the press.
In the past, Ms. Chesler has appeared on "The Today Show," "Oprah," CNN, NPR, "Nightline," and "Good Morning America," but one suspects her future appearances will be restricted to Fox News and "The O'Reilly Factor." In an article in the Village Voice last month, Ms. Chesler told a reporter that WBAI had dedicated an hour to vilifying her, calling her the Christopher Hitchens of the feminist movement. Clearly, many who regard her vote for Mr. Bush as unforgivable consider Ms. Chesler a traitor.
But when I asked her about that, she said, "What good is it if we achieve all our social goals only to have been bombed back to the sixth century?" Have I mentioned before that I found Ms. Chesler both rational and charming? Those qualities are in short supply among the women who are so incensed by my new best friend that they raise a hue and cry over her every speaking appearance. I've long held that feminists lost all credibility when they gave President Clinton a pass by dismissing the claims of women accusing him of sexual assaults. Caring little for women who threaten their social agenda, those feminists deserve to be called hypocrites.
But I would be just as guilty if I didn't acknowledge the wisdom and sincerity of a radical feminist like Phyllis Chesler, a brave woman who deserves to be heard by all.
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I recommend this book be put on the reading list of every American school.
--Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Author of Infidel and Nomad
This is a bold book, intimate and rich in detail… Chesler is a voice crying out for women. She will never stop
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