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Woman's Inhumanity to Woman Paperback – May 1, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Second Wave feminists have for 30-plus years operated under the assumption that sisterhood is powerful. Indeed, women acting in concert have forced society to redefine gender, domestic relations, and the workplace. Still, despite huge gains in public visibility, female ascendance has been hampered by a rarely acknowledged reality: women often betray, hurt, and humiliate one another. Mothers stymie daughters, biological sisters compete, girlfriends gossip maliciously, and women bosses exert arbitrary and capricious authority. Chesler (Women and Madness, etc.) has been studying this phenomenon for 21 years, and her research is fascinating, resonant, and unsettling. While the book focuses on psychological rather than political factors and pays too little attention to race and class, it is nonetheless a groundbreaking look at how women perpetuate oppression. Anthropological, biological, literary, and sociological theories are also tapped, giving the book added heft. Although the text is somewhat repetitious and self-congratulatory, it is highly recommended for all public and academic libraries. Eleanor J. Bader, Brooklyn, NY
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Chicago Review Press (May 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1556529465
  • ISBN-13: 978-1556529467
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 1.2 x 5.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #353,033 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

95 of 103 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 8, 2002
Format: Hardcover
For a long time I thought I was an oddity for feeling cautious around women, particularly women in the workplace, and that my experiences of betrayal and cruelty at the hands of women were fairly unique. Margaret Atwood's "Cat's Eye" helped me to understand that my experiences were not mine alone; this book went one step further, not only giving additional anecdotes, but also explaining some of the psychological reasons for woman's inhumanity to woman. Especially fascinating were the chapter on females in various species and the analysis of the mother-daughter relationship. Every page of this book had me thinking, "Yes, that's so true!" It also made me examine my own less-than-ideal behavior toward other women, my inclination to judge women more harshly than men, and resolve to improve on these fronts. Toward the end of the book, Chesler provides a set of guidelines for changing women's behavior to other women -- which was very helpful, given the enormity of the problem.
The book does have some weaknesses. For example, certain passages are repeated almost verbatim, and the house copyeditor must have been on vacation throughout production of the book. Content-wise, Chesler does tend to oversimplify and generalize certain situations. I took particular issue with the recurring theme that women always resent the smartest, prettiest, boldest woman in the room, and find a way to turn against her. I don't think it can be written off simply as 'resentment.' Probably it has more to do with the "smartest, prettiest, etc" exhibiting a superiority complex than women envying what they do not have, or have less of. Humility about one's gifts is just as desirable in women as it is in men, and lack of it seems just as obnoxious in women as it does in men.
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40 of 42 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 19, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Woman's Inhumanity to Woman is an important new addition to the feminist canon, analyzing underlying dynamics between women and exposing realities of what has and hasn't worked within feminism. The uncomfortable truths of the human condition with which Phyllis Chesler engages have too often been silenced and suppressed--subsumed beneath feminist rhetoric--leading to unnecessary antagonism and divisiveness that sabotages true solidarity and sisterhood. Through Chesler's dynamic diagnosis and powerful prescriptions, this book empowers readers to move forward in forging a movement that can authentically embody feminist ideals.
Chesler wonderfully weaves in compelling examples from psychology and primatology, folklore and fairytales, literature and life in order to illuminate the points and principles she is making. She doesn't pull punches in revealing hard truths, but she doesn't end her analysis at critique--she furnishes concrete examples of how sisterhood functions at its finest, and provides proactive approaches to more ethical behavior, which will enhance women's ability to flourish independently and in relationship with one another.
The clarity of Chesler's thinking and the resonance of her writing make Woman's Inhumanity to Woman a riveting read--and one that just might change the way you understand and engage with the world we live in.
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56 of 61 people found the following review helpful A Kid's Review on July 13, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Phyllis Chesler's book is highly readable and she has some good points n her book. As a black man I may not be in the target audience for this book neverless O still found it to be a good read. However reading page after page of the shady things that the women in the book had done to each other was kind of depressingI think it is good to know what people are capable of but to dwell on it can be bad for your soul.
Some other revewers did mention that most of the anecdotes are subjective and heresy, also we are only read onesided views of events. However it is still good to hear those thigs. Though as I was reading about how women can be backstabbing, envious, man stealing career wrecking one-woman-uping :-)and otherwise conniving and power hungry i couldn't help but think men do these very same things too. Though we may tyr and destroy our rivals in a verly slightly different fashion.
I think many of these types of behavior are part of human nature everyone wants to be the top dog and I think anyone who expects women not to have many of the same drives as men does not understand human nature and is actually dehumanizing women by expecting them to not have the same complex natures characteristics as men.
I will also add that if I was to think that every black man and woman I met is my friend and will look out for me it would be very foolish. Why should any woman expect all women to care about her?
Though men and women have some differences I have always believed that in many ways we are alike and expecting anyone to treat you right simply 'cos they are the same gender/race/ethnicty/religion/whatever as you will get you in a lot of trouble
Other things that I was able to learn more about Virginia Wolf Florence Nightingale Sojourner Truth and other remarkable women.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Diana M. Rodriguez on July 16, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is one of the most important books any woman can read. I think all women, especially young women, should be required to read this book.
Phyllis Chesler shows amazing courage and insight. She writes about a subject no one wants to deal with- Women and their maltreatment of other women. This is something that all women must confront. It is a dirty little secret which needs to be dealt with in our time in order to erradicate this phenonmenon from future generations.
I feel the most sexist and patriarchal attitude is that women are "too loving and too nice" to be inhuman. Women are not one dimensional cut-outs. We are complex beings with complex issues.
To see women as either all good, or all bad is not helpful to women. We must see the how's and why's of women's inhumanity to other women, especially the mistreatment of daughters by mothers.
This book is a treasure.
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