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Praise for earlier editions: "Intense, rapid, brilliant. A pioneer contribution to the feminization of psychiatric thinking and practice."--Adrienne Rich, Front Page, The New York Times Book Review "Challenges the definition of madness itself. No serious future studies will be able to ignore its theories or its very existence."--Gloria Steinem, Ms. Magazine "A stunning book...absolutely fascinating...necessary to every woman in America."--Los Angeles Times
About the Author
Phyllis Chesler is the author of seminal works including the 2.5-million copy bestseller Women and Madness, as well as Letters to a Young Feminist and Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman. Her most recent book, The New Anti-Semitism, has won her international acclaim and sparked huge debate. She is an Emerita Professor of psychology and women's studies, the co-founder of the Association for Women in Psychology (1969), the National Women's Health Network (1974), and the International Committee for Women of the Wall (1989). She is currently on the Board of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East and is also affiliated with Haifa and Bar Ilan Universities. She lives in New York City.
Phyllis Chesler (born 1940) is an American writer, psychotherapist, and professor emeritus of psychology and women's studies at the College of Staten Island. She has written many other books.
She wrote in the Introduction to this 1972 book, "This is a book about female psychology... This is a book about the dramatically increasing numbers of American women of all classes and races, who are seen, or who see themselves, as 'neurotic' or 'psychotic,' and who seek psychotherapeutic help and/or are psychiatrically hospitalized. This is a book about the many 'whys' of such help-seeking behavior; about 'what' is experienced and viewed as in need of help; and about 'how' those women are---or aren't---helped."
Here are some additional quotations from the book:
"Today more women are seeking psychiatric help and being hospitalized than at any other time in history... There were significantly more women being 'helped' than their existence in the population would allow us to predict." (Pg. 33) "I think (Dr. Thomas Szasz) underestimates the deeply conditioned nature of woman's compliance with her literal and psychological self-sacrifice. Many female mental patients ... commit themselves, quite voluntarily, to asylums or to private psychiatrists. The fear of economic, physical, and ... punishment teaches women to value their own sacrifice so highly that they quite 'naturally' perform it." (Pg. 106) "Each woman, as patient... wants from a psychotherapist what she wants---and often cannot get---from a husband: attention, understanding, merciful relief, a personal solution---in the arms of the right husband, on the couch of the right therapist." (Pg.Read more ›
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Dr. Chesler casts her clear eyed vision over the field of psychiatry/psychology and unveils the sexism that underlies the history and the practice of the "art." Who knows how much untold damage has been caused by those who understand little about women as a sex and could care less, as long as they establish their careers? Incorporating the mythology of women as metaphor, Chesler also paints a picture of how we, as women, have paid the price for patriarchal privilege. I read this book 20 years ago, and I just read it again. It was an enjoyable this time as it was then, maybe even more so, with the deeper understanding I have now about the roots of feminism. The only thing I wish she had addressed in this revised edition is deinstitutionalization and its affects on women. Perhaps another time? Soon?
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Every woman should read this, not just women who are interested in psychology. The title can be a bit misleading--it's relevant to ;any woman's life. It was an amazing work the firsdt time, and the updated version is every bit as much of an eye-opener. Plus Chesler's writing is fresh an accessible. No jargon or pop-psych here, just solid and faxcinating insights.
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Disclaimer: This review is based on the 192 edition of this book
Beyond Chesler's core concept that women are considered mad when they do not conform to man's concept of women-hood, which I can agree on, she states that the idea of monogamy works against women and is a very male idea, which makes women who have close relationships with men feel threatened by. Tied to this concept is her statement that there is a biological fact and significance of heterosexual rape and pregnancy as the primary factors in the formulation of the patriarchal family coupled with a primary factory that man's need for proof of his genetic immortality was so great that he felt entitled to colonize women's bodies.
I find fault with her theories on monogamy and patriarchal relationships. If anything I strongly believe, and there is just as much evidence to support my belief as there is her concepts, that the patriarchal family was a construe of the female race to protect themselves and allow them to control a particular man and related revenue stream. The t6raditional patriarchal woman has positioned herself to a situation where she can exist on someone else's life effort. It is to her best interests to have a monogamous relationship. The requirement of his mate's monogamy has more to do with ensuring he is supporting his genetic offspring and not someone else's.
Furthermore, she also states that the certain type of "mindlessness" and "superficiality" that men attach to female to female communications which is neither "mindlessness" or "superficiality" is in fact a higher level of communications that provides a vehicle to an emotional resolution in which their feelings are embedded which itself is "abstracted" and "summarized" in a non-verbal and/or non-verbalized form.Read more ›
Why are so many women labeled (correctly or incorrectly) "mentally ill". Certainly, there seems to be a double standard as Ms. Chesler attests. However, what are the causes of this double standard? Ms. Chesler attributes it to an oppressive, patriarchal culture. Maybe. What is more likely is a combination of factors that include male aggressiveness and female passivity, both of which are personal choices not the responsibility of outside input. Yes, over the millenia, women have chosen to be passive and that "sets the deck" against new generations of women. But, for those females who are cultured passive and not genuinely mentally ill, the ultimate choice lies within themselves not on a psychiatrist's couch. Overall, this book was well worth the read, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in mental health. Though rare I believe, there are real abuses that take place inside some therapists' offices, and those abuses, whether they involve women or men, should be exposed and the perpetrators punished. Ms. Chesler should be lauded for bringing up the disparity of the treatment of women versus men in the mental health field. Disregarding personal choices is however a fatal mistake in her argument.