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Woman's Inhumanity to Woman (Nation Books) Hardcover – January 11, 2002
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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.
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.
Top customer reviews
Chesler reminds us:
"We all have the capacity to act in ways that oppress, dominate, wound (whether or not that power is institutionalized) therefore it is the potential oppressor within that we must resist."
Any woman who has been wounded, betrayed, shunned, targeted or abused by another woman, can appreciate this engrossing and educational read. You will learn that you are not alone in your perceptions of rage and aggression by women towards other women and you are not, in fact, a misogynist by recognizing it. You might also understand more of your own tendencies or if not, those of the women who behave in these ways to other women.
I highly recommend this book to every woman - mothers give it to your daughters and granddaughters, your sisters and all the women you know. I highly recommend this book to every man because men also instinctively know there is something underneath the surface but don't always quite understand what that is. This book is not a condemnation of women though there were feminists who wanted no part of this book at its inception and actively discouraged the author in her attempt.
From the anthropological, sociological, psychiatric, and holistic, these are vitally important findings from more than thirty years of research. Bravo to Chesler for the tireless research which culminated in this book.
The crucial takeaway from this might very well be that this silence of woman's inhumanity against other women must be addressed first and foremost, it must be broken then addressed, before any expectation that mans inhumanity to woman can be repaired.
Chesler's work shows us that internalized misogyny, inter-woman hostility, and internalized oppression in general is what has greatly helped sabotage the women's movement to the point where we find ourselves now: in a global settlement of neoliberal patriarchy with fake feminism all over the place. Those of us who are warrior women have survived girlhoods and adulthoods of betrayal by other women in the name of patriarchy, often starting with our own mothers. Chesler heavily cites the 1983 paper "Betrayals Among Women: Barrier To A Common Language" by Karen Mercer Fite and Nikola Trumbo, a herstoric Journal article that went into great depth about the class-based angles of women's internalized oppression, the racial, social, and political contexts. She also draws upon feminist anthropology and first-person accounts of what went wrong in the leadership of second-wave feminism which resulted in the women's movement grinding to a halt by the late 1970s, such as Joreen Freeman, Ansellma Dell O'lio, and Ti-Grace Atkinson.
The last chapter of this book proposes a Feminist Psychology of Ethics and suggests that women who care about real feminism proceed by starting informal study groups on the topic of internalized oppression/betrayals among women, anchored by two group leaders who simply open and close the meeting and provide discussion Qs. I think we need such study groups in every city all over the world - because ideologically radical women as well as young feminists seeking a stronger women's community are continually thwarted by internalizations that do the job of the oppressor.
There's no magic potion - but this is not to say we are powerless. We have the stories of our foremothers, and the prayers of our grandmas and great-grandmothers. Women's liberation is the only hope for our planet - and banishing internalized oppression among women is very important work.