Dr. Phyllis Chesler is described as a “legendary feminist” and she has earned the title through decades of activism and purposeful work. She founded the course curriculum for Women’s Studies at City University of New York, where she is professor emerita, was profiled in Feminists Who Changed America, co-founded several organizations including Association for Women in Psychology, The National Women’s Health Network and The International Committee for the (Original) Women of the Wall, and she has written 20 books so far, including the landmark feminist classic, Women and Madness, Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman, her memoir—A Politically Incorrect Feminist, her ongoing studies in honor killing as a fellow at Middle East Forum, and her most recent book, Requiem for a Female Serial Killer.
Phyllis said that she was lucky to be born at a time in history when women like her were involved in the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam War movement, but being girls, they were discounted and considered expendable. So, the women, often referred to as “radical feminists” started a movement of their own. She said that she has been a rebel all her life and was perhaps waiting for the moment, “I was certainly a politically incorrect on each issue that I chose to write about or pioneer in.”
Women’s Advancement Then and Now
Phyllis said that she had to fight hard from 1969 on, especially since publishing was valued for male professors, but was held against females. She wrote about how hard it was once she got her Ph.D., in A Politically Incorrect Feminist, but she never stopped. She kept researching and publishing. She said, “I had to fight for each promotion, for each salary upgrade. And my feminism and my growing fame were held against me.” She said there were other wonderful feminists at the time, but their work has disappeared to be supplanted by less radical work. Dale Spendor from Australia wrote a very important book, Women of Ideas and What Men Have Done to Them, documenting the systematic disappearance of feminist knowledge from the patriarchy. She says that they were a threat and on the move, but then it ended. Now, there are little trickles, which is how she refers to the #MeToo movement, but she said that she doesn’t see much changing for women today and makes the analogy of one step forward two steps back.
Why Write Requiem for a Female Serial Killer
Phyllis said that women are sexist just like men are sexist. They do not have life experiences of playing on a team where one superstar can make the basket and everybody wins, so they take loss personally. She said that women need to unlearn behavior that makes them react toward criticism like its war and confront the critic to their face. In this vein, she said that most women – including feminists – don’t have much understanding or compassion for girls and women who are trafficked into prostitution. She said that they perpetuate the myth that the women could have said no, or they didn’t have to lift their skirts, or they could have done something else for money than have sex. She called it the darkest reading and said, “I trolled the dark side, but the darkest reading I’ve done yet is prostitution—the lives—the real lives. It’s no-exit hell. And also, the serial killing literature. Serial killers are essentially men who prey on prostitutes. That’s part of the job description.” Our job is to support women who fall prey to abuse and sex trafficking and provide more shelters and supports that help them to escape and build new lives. We have to understand that any of us could be victimized in this way. No one asks for it or wants it.
More on Needed Culture Change
Listen to this conversation for more of what Phyllis sees as successes and failures in supporting women. How she feels the Biden administration needs to support women’s legislation in the U.S. with funding and political will. And the hope she has for the next generation as feminist mothers educate their sons and daughters. Check out Phyllis’ website for a complete listing of her books, and start collecting and reading for an eye-opening education into what must be done to activate feminism and humanity among men and women, and right the many cultural wrongs that victimize too many people. Her numerous titles present a timely expose into perspectives of the society where we live and work.