“Women are sexists too” is the not-very-surprising thesis of this reference-packed tome from psychologist, feminist, and author Chesler (Letters to a Young Feminist, 1998, etc.).
While male crimes against women tend to be direct and violent, the introduction notes, the wrongs women inflict on other women are more indirect but can also have tragic consequences. The female style of aggression is examined first in primates, whose favored strategy is sabotage of the reproductive cycle, and then in humans, who use gossip and shunning as weapons of choice. Chesler examines those tactics at length in chapters on the behavior of young girls and teenagers, whose primary motive for punitive behavior is the desire to become intimate and bond with other girls, and of adult women, who are competing for men and their resources. Also under the glass are mother/daughter relationships in myth and reality, including Chesler’s conflicts with her own mother, who “never had a kind word to say to me,” and with her “intellectual daughters,” some of whom betrayed her. A look at women at work and in volunteer groups offers an intriguing analysis of women-only enterprises, which may not be as gratifying as they appear from the outside. The splintering of the feminist movement in the 1970s is discussed from a first-person perspective, and the narrative closes with some advice on how women can stop undermining each other. Although this often seems a vehicle for Chesler to vent her personal injuries, she has done her homework, digging into psychology, anthropology, law, primatology, economics, and feminist studies, as well as drawing on her own case studies and a series of interviews conducted specifically for this book. There are footnotes and references for each chapter.
The material is familiar, but feminists and sexists alike should find the package challenging.