An excellent accompaniment to any compendium of women's issues, academic or personal, Phyllis Chesler's Letters to a Young Feminist
may at first appear to contain things we've previously heard. But have we remembered? Chesler reminds us that, while feminism (she includes women and men) may appear to have fulfilled a purpose and run its course, the issues of unequal social power and unequal treatment are still real (against both women and men). Her discussion of the "traditionally" masculine art of teamwork, in comparison to feminism's ultimate democratic goal of multiple voices making universal decisions, illustrates that problem solving and distribution of power are qualities of both approaches. Like Virginia Woolf in A Room of One's Own
, Chesler admonishes individuals to seek economic freedom. And like Rainer Marie Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet
, Chesler's book offers an introduction to feminism as well as recollections of social history.
Libraries with active gender studies collections will want to acquire these missives directed to a new generation of feminists and potential feminists from a psychology and women's studies professor whose other, groundbreaking books include Women and Madness
(1972), With Child
(1979), and Mothers on Trial
(1986). In brief essays, using a conversational tone and frequent details from her own life, Chesler examines society and feminism, speaking "strong truths . . . in a loving voice," describing feminist gains and "what remains to be done," helping younger women (and men) "to see [their] place in the historical scheme of things, so [they] may choose whether and how to stand [their] feminist ground in history." Chesler's is a strong but nuanced position: in considering patriarchy, she consistently points out that even successful women seldom have access to real sources of power, but she readily admits that support from women strengthens patriarchy, and that women (including feminist women) can be as cruel to their sisters as any man. A provocative message from one generation to another. Mary Carroll