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Posted in: Feminism, Gender

Published on Nov 17, 2014 by Phyllis Chesler

Written for

Bread Cast Upon the Waters


I was overwhelmed with gifts last week at the Rockland County Jewish Community Center, gifts of all sorts: a gorgeous gold and diamond bracelet--and even more precious than jewels, was the extraordinary warmth and organizational efficiency of Director Micki Leader and her team together with the unexpected testimony of a former student. She said that I had changed her life way back in 1969 after taking a course with me. She said that I had scared her with my "long black hair and high leather boots" but that my teaching had opened her eyes to a world and set her on her path, one that her small Catholic High School had not envisioned for her.

Bless you Linda Fitzpatrick for speaking out.

And, when I signed books afterwards, another woman told me that when she heard me speak in Rockland County in 1976, she knew she had to go to law school--and she did just that.

Thank you, Leslye M. Schlesinger, for telling me.

I was introduced by my friend and colleague, Dr. Robert (Bob) Brannon, long-time feminist sociologist, and co-founder of Men Against Sexism, and his words were so amazing that I am publishing them.

Introduction of Dr. Phyllis Chesler

Dr. Robert Brannon

March 12, 3014

I have been rather in awe of Dr. Phyllis Chesler, for the past forty-four years, and I remain very much in awe of her today. I first saw her at my first national psychologists' convention in Miami in 1970, when feminism was erupting on the landscape across America.

A young and determined Phyllis Chesler, in boots, long black hair flowing, strode to the plenary podium of the American Psychological Association, to demand of A.P.A. one million dollars, in reparations, to women abused by the mental health profession; or alternately, to create and fund: "A shelter for run-away wives."

I had no idea at that time how this fiery, "unstopable-force," radical feminist had come to this laser-like consciousness, what events, bad or good, what "clicks," had so enlarged and sharpened her awareness of women's low status within patriarchy. I knew nothing then of her shattering, almost unbelievable early-married experience, as a captive, powerless bride in remote Kabul, Afghanistan, of which we will hear more tonight. I'm sure many of you have already read her award-winning current book "An American Bride in Kabul," and for those who have not yet, you have a rich, and multi-layered treat in store.

The year after she had first surfaced at A.P.A., Dr. Chesler rocked psychology once again, with clear new evidence that numerous male psychotherapists, around New York City in particular, were sexually exploiting young female patients. This would eventually lead to changes in APA policies, and to changes in state laws.

In 1972 Dr. Chesler published her sensational, explosive best-seller, Women And Madness . She was the first feminist scholar to boldly confront the patriarchal world of clinical psychology and psycho-therapy, exposing the profound contempt for women which then pervaded clinical practice. Her courageous and brilliant book has been translated into many languages, and is today in every library, among the most famous and successful books of all time.

Over the next 40 years - often with little institutional support - Phyllis Chesler has become the most fiercely independent, productive, multi-issue, feminist thinker and writer since Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

She has addressed a wide range of women's and gender issues, in books like: Mothers on Trial: the Battle for Children & Custody; Letters to a Young Feminist; Sacred Bond; About Men; and "Woman's Inhumanity to Woman". In Patriarchy: Notes of an Expert Witness, she writes of the invisible women in hospital-prisons, of Mary Beth Whitehead, and the claimed-murderer, Aileen Wuornos. As Andrea Dworkin said: "Phyllis Chesler stands up for real women in trouble, in pain, hurt by patriarchy's cruel domination."

There is another deep and essential vein in Phyllis Chesler's work, which must be noted, and many of us feel, should be celebrated. We regrettably live in a time, in a climate in America, when a certain number of American Jews seem vaguely chagrined, seemingly almost embarrassed by their Jewish ancestry, in light of the massive unpopularity, in some circles, of the state of Israel. They thus join the chorus of the many who harshly condemn Israel, for each real or perceived infraction, brazenly denouncing the Jewish state as "fascist." (I will name no names, although certain editors of the New York Times do come to mind...)

Phyllis Chesler is among the few Western intellectuals, thinkers, and authors who have always proudly maintained their identity as religious Jews, and have never chosen to broadly-disparage Israel, to curry favor with those who despise it. In her powerful book, "The New Anti-Semitism", she perceptively examines the international scope and complexity of anti-semitism today, with so many illuminating correspondences to racism. As recently as last week, she was a prominent voice in the media, pointing to the unseemly travesty of an opera which glorified the terrorist-murderers of Leonard Klinghofer, an elderly Jew in a wheelchair.

Dr. Chesler has of course also struggled for women's equality within religious Judaism, as described in her brave and defiant book, Women of the Wall: Claiming Sacred Ground At Judaism's Holy Site.

Equally important, Phyllis Chesler has become one of the world's leading voices against the endemic violence against women throughout the Islamic world. Having suffered herself, as a young bride, from the cruel patriarchal norms of that world, she has a deep empathy for the suffering of Muslin women across much of Asia and Africa today.

Her large & active web site (www.Phyllis-Chesler.com) is a vital source of information about crimes against women in the Islamic world. She is now working on a major new fourth study of the nightmare of so-called honor killings, on five continents.

And in one of her most controversial books, "The Death of Feminism," Dr. Chesler challenged the many leftists, and sister-feminists, who - not wanting to ever side with Israel or the Jews - choose to ignore and give a de-facto 'free-pass' to the hideous and rampant gender-apartheid in the Islamic world.

These and other strong stances have gained Phyllis Chesler many detractors. Anyone who takes strong and principled stands, who casts a sharp shadow, will acquire enemies. But, Phyllis Chesler has inspired a large and unshakable base of admirers. As you may guess, I am proud to be one of those. So join me now, in welcoming one of the great thinkers and leaders of our time, Phyllis Chesler.


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