The author of Women and Madness (1972) looks back with a sharp eye at her sometimes-contentious engagement with the second-wave feminist revolution launched in the 1960s.
Working from evidently voluminous diaries, Chesler (Emerita, Psychology and Women’s Studies/CUNY; Islamic Gender Apartheid: Exposing a Veiled War Against Women, 2017, etc.) constructs a frequently scattered and highly entertaining account of her undomesticated life. Born in 1940 and brought up in Brooklyn by Orthodox Jewish immigrant parents, she rebelled early and often and was delighted to find fellow rebels among other mid-20th-century feminists. Though she made some lasting friends, her delight wasn't enduring, and she devotes much of the book to settling scores with former friends and delineating the “incomprehensibly vicious behavior among feminist leaders.” She was scorned by many of her peers because she was a “man junkie” and “hopelessly straight.” Readers familiar with figures like Gloria Steinem and Andrew Dworkin will either be delighted or appalled by gossipy accounts of consciousness-raising groups where, for example, lesbian activist Jill Johnston “cried and made a scene—she actually threw potato chips at us—then left and refused to return.” Chesler describes one of her comrades as a “lesbian lush” and another as “a hot Jewish tamale.” Those who don't already know the major players are likely to be confused, since the author tends to drop names without much elaboration. Some of her claims—e.g., that “every woman I knew had had an abortion”—strain credulity, and the chapter titles suggest the author’s chatty, rapid-fire approach to narrative: “Fame Hits Hard, Thousands of Letters Arrive, I Marry Again”; “I Travel the Wide World, Pray at the Western Wall, and Come to the Aid of Lesbian-Feminists Under Siege in Mississippi.”
Often scattershot but never boring, Chesler's memoir will raise more than a few hackles.