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Posted in: World Events

Published on Jul 30, 2020 by Phyllis Chesler

Published by Phyllis Chesler

The great Dr. Diana Russell died on July 28th, 2020

Dearest Diana:

And now, at 81, you too, are gone from us, too soon, and forever. But not your work. We will always have that.

Your work on sexual violence towards women was prescient, powerful, and peerless, as was your activism. You fought against apartheid in South Africa so nobly that you had to flee your birthplace; you were the only feminist professor who managed to get herself arrested many times in the United States. I was so excited when you organized the International Tribunal on Crimes Against Women in Brussels and then co-edited and published the Proceedings in 1976. There, there, was the beginning of our feminist government in exile. There, too, was a woeful example of feminist women behaving badly.

But it was a beginning.

Oh, how your work shone, in academic book after book, about marital rape (1982), child sexual abuse, sexual harassment at work (1984), incest (1986), as well as books about pornography (all through the 1990s) which you had a hard time getting published. That did not stop you. When necessary, you self-published. And then, you wrote about South African women in the anti-Apartheid movement (1989). You wrote increasingly about “femicide” and wanted others to use this word; you were overjoyed when I used “femicide” to describe the honor killings I was studying. You believed that using this word was crucial.

Tall, patrician (your mother was a British aristocrat, something you mentioned only casually long into our relationship), you studied in London and at Harvard, and then became a professor at Mills College. You were working on your Memoirs when you died. You sent me bits and pieces of it and I treasured you trusting me.

Diana: You were mistreated, both at Mills College, in publishing, and in our movement. You suffered from a crippling depression impervious to all medications. And still you soldiered on. You struggled financially. And still you soldiered on. My heart broke for you, again and again.

You had a dry wit, were stoical in the face of adversity—but still, like all mere mortals, you had a hard time accepting the ravages of aging.

I feel guilty, no I feel that I’ve failed you and cheated myself by not calling you more often, especially in this last year. So many beloved feminists have died but somehow, with your passing, I feel my own mortality upon me in a new way.

Know that you were greatly admired by your peers. May you finally rest in peace.



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