Home Society & Culture A Bias Steam-Ironed into Women’s Lives: Conversation with Phyllis Chesler

A Bias Steam-Ironed into Women’s Lives: Conversation with Phyllis Chesler

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When author Phyllis Chesler’s famed book, Women and Madness, was reissued almost 50 years after its first publication last year, Dignity Editor Donna Hughes thought it would be important for the journal to mark the occasion and to interview Dr Chesler.

I first read the work when I was the same age of its author, at the height of the second wave of feminism in the US. Reading it today demonstrated to me what I had missed then – its thorough and maddening description of patriarchy and our culture’s efforts to maintain it. And it seemed to me that not much had changed since then. I welcomed the opportunity to find out if Phyllis Chesler agreed with me.

It all started at the American Psychological Association (APA) convention in 1970. Phyllis Chesler, who had co-founded the Association for Women in Psychology, made a demand of APA members for one million dollars in reparations on behalf of women who had not been helped by the mental health professions, but who in fact had been further abused. Chesler writes that women were:

‘Punitively labelled, overly tranquillised, sexually seduced while in treatment, hospitalised against their wills, given shock therapy, lobotomised, and above all, unnecessarily described as too aggressive, promiscuous, depressed, ugly, old, angry, fat, or incurable.’

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Jody Raphael is Senior Research Fellow, Schiller DuCanto & Fleck Law Center, DePaul University College of Law, Chicago, Illinois. 

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