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The Death of Feminism By: Jamie Glazov
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, January 04, 2006


Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Phyllis Chesler, the author of classic works, including the bestseller Women and Madness (1972) and The New Anti-Semitism (2003). She is the author of the new book The Death of Feminism: What’s Next in the Struggle for Women’s Freedom. Her website is www.phyllis-chesler.com.

 
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FP: Dr. Chesler, welcome to Frontpage Interview.

 

Chesler: As ever, it's my pleasure to be with you.

 

FP: What inspired you to write this book?

 

Chesler: I had been saddened for a long time by the failure of academics, including feminists, to celebrate, not merely tolerate, "difference." I am not talking about class, gender, race, or sexual preference diversity but about intellectual and ideological diversity which is sorely lacking in the western academy--which has been thoroughly Palestinianized.

 

I have also been wrestling with anti-Semitism on the left since the late 1960s. What compelled me to write this book at this time was the western intelligentsia's refusal to acknowledge the dangers of anti-Semitism and Israel-bashing even post the 2000 Intifada; and their refusal to re-evaluate their own obsessive hatred for America, post 9/11.

 

Finally, based on my own captivity in Afghanistan long ago, I understood that the lessons I learned at such perilous cost to myself were lessons that I now needed to share with others. Primarily, neither America nor Israel, not even Europe, are responsible for Islamic or Third World barbarism--especially Islamic gender Apartheid; that we cannot abandon women and dissidents living under Islamist tyrannies because we cherish our ideas about cultural relativity more than we cherish our obligation to try and bring more justice and freedom into the world. 

 

FP: So how and why did leftist feminists end up sacrificing the plight of their sisters under Islamic gender apartheid?

 

Chesler: In the beginning, feminists were not anti-activist isolationists. We saw the plight of women world-wide as a common plight. As feminists became more colonized by left and postcolonial ways of thinking, they revised their original vision of universal rights for all to a culturally relativist and mea culpa way of thinking. Who are we to judge others, there is CIA blood on our hands, we, who believe in the rights of victims everywhere must therefore support the victims rising everywhere.

 

Thus, left feminists came to support, romanticize, or not think clearly about Third World tyrants whom they sometimes confused with liberators. They also had one very high standard for America and Israel and another much lower standard for Muslim countries. I view this as both racist and sexist but in turn, saying so has rendered me vulnerable to charges of my being a racist. Many left feminists confuse my stand against multi-cultural relativity and its attendant isolationism with a stand against multi-cultural diversity.  Often, in the battle of ideas, one's great opponents include groupthink, rigidity, stupidity, as well as evil.

 

To be fair, feminists did rail against the Taliban, female genital mutilation, honor killings, etc. but they did not manage to forge a feminist foreign policy that would incorporate these concerns--mainly because they refused to work with a Republican administration. I hope this can change. I begin to spell out what a feminist foreign policy might be like in the last chapter of the book.

 

FP: H-mm. Myh experience is a little different I am afraid. Not one leftist feminist I know or have read anywhere has ever mouthed a criticism of FGM, the Taliban or honor killings, etc. And if they have, it has always been in some reluctant passing reference to a bitter condemnation of America and its foreign policy. The main theme is always about how no matter what injustice occurs anywhere in the world it is because of us and we are worse.

 

In any case, let me get back to your own life experience for a moment. Even after your own captivity in Afghanistan you remained a member of the Left and held on to many of its principles and assumptions. How did you rationalize this?

 

Chesler: At the time, both civil rights and left anti-Vietnam war activists espoused principles of social justice that I believed would surely apply to the disenfranchised and wretched of the earth. But I underestimated the possibility of Jew-hatred among some Christian and Muslim African-Americans and among Caucasian leftists as well as misogyny among leftists.

 

I did not think that conservative libertarians were a philosophical option at that time since political and religious conservatives strongly opposed feminist ideas. (This has changed to some extent today). But also: I was so busy teaching, lecturing, researching, publishing, testifying in court cases and working as a part time therapist that I was simply too busy to properly note and did not study the long-term consequences of left and gender-neutral thinking among feminists, especially in the academic and activist worlds. 

 

Although I had not studied the history of colonialism, imperialism, or capitalism, I assumed that such systems were antithetical to freedom, especially to women's freedom. This was the cultural "sea" in which I swam and which eventually drowned freedom of thinking among intellectuals. And only feminists really cared about women both at home and world-wide; only we raised the issues of incest, rape, domestic battering, and the issues of poverty and disease and tribal barbarism (female genital mutilation, arranged marriage, polygamy, etc.) that afflicted women in the Third World. Leftists insisted that America was primarily to blame for this. I never did. I already knew too much.  But I also knew that western values and civilization had not and would not, ipso facto, end misogyny either.

 

I did not feel I had to rationalize anything. I held an honorable minority position on many feminist issues e.g. religion, motherhood, pornography, prostitution, surrogacy, etc. And, when it came to the arts, music, literature, painting, I admit I have always been an elitist i.e. appreciative of excellence. This meant that I was never a Natural Born Leftist. And, I also believed that feminism's cause was just--I still do--and I did not break with a movement that was still vital, still evolving, still activist, and still under siege.

 

Also, leftists (and anthropologists) did not take over academic feminism immediately. Many pitched battles had to be fought. To some extent, America has harmed people in our pursuit of our own interests; to some extent, local governments have harmed their own people even more. Viewing the spread of western culture as a disease--as opposed to a cure--is a serious academic failing. Second wave feminism was born in the USA and to deny or minimize this would be foolish. 

 

FP: So why do you think the Left is so totalitarian in its thinking and so hopelessly incapable of accepting intellectual pluralism and diversity?

 

Chesler: From a psychological point of view, perhaps the kind of person most attracted to both Left ideology and Islamism is someone who needs their ideology to function as a Total Institution, as a way of life which will provide community, employment, and answers to the most perplexing questions, even if the answers are wrong or do not work.

 

Also, many leftists, like Islamists, view themselves as "good" people who are trying to help others. Even if it means slandering, ostracizing, exiling, or killing others it is "for their own good," and for the good of the world. 

 

Many extremists exist on both the right and left--designations and polarities which may no longer serve us well. Academic leftists simply cannot stop blaming America as an evil empire and demonizing President Bush as more dangerous that Al-Qeda. How is one to reason with those who are not acting rationally but emotionally and in a very primitive way? 

 

FP: The Left is vicious with those who think outside of its permitted intellectual boundaries. It is especially malicious toward a former comrade who has had second thoughts and chooses to think differently. Can you tell us some of your own personal experiences at the hands of the Left?

 

Chesler: Oh dear, I might have to write another book to answer this question, my own personal Darkness at Noon or 1984.  

 

It is important to note that some feminists have strongly and courageously supported what I am saying in The Death of Feminism. They have interviewed me on radio shows knowing that they would come under friendly fire themselves for having done so. Most recently, Marcia Pappas, the President of NOW-New York State stood up to the bullying and intimidation that Katha Pollitt of Nation magazine and her ally, Pam Martens visited upon her for having invited me (someone who voted for President Bush and who supported the war in Afghanistan and Iraq) to speak. Since then, Pappas has written a good review of Death which I believe she has been circulating among NOW officials. Pollitt et al persuaded WBAI to tape my lecture which they then spliced-and-diced for a one hour program in which they denounced me on-air as a "racist." They described me as "the Christopher Hitchens of the women's movement"--and then proceeded to denounce me.

 

Privately, the feminists who are behind this persuaded a television producer to pull an interview with me on another subject entirely; she did, but she is fighting back.  A while ago, Womens E-News interviewed me about David Horowitz's Bill for Academic Freedom. They did not allow one word I said to surface in print but they did run my photo next to one of David's to position me as "the conservative feminist whom left feminists must learn to hate." Very Orwellian.

 

And, while Womens E-News does run important pieces about Islamic gender Apartheid, so far they have not reviewed The Death of Feminism or called to interview me. The temporarily defunct but now returned Womens Review of Books did not review The New anti-Semitism and when I called and suggested that they might consider interviewing me about the issues raised by the book the editor said: "No thanks."  

 

 Like everyone who has dared tell the truth about Israel, who is an American patriot, and who opposes the hypocrisy and double standards of the political correckniks, one must endure very strange looks, unexpected and ferocious confrontations, turned backs, heavy silences, and the ending of political friendships.

 

So far, my books about anti-Semitism and about Islamic gender Apartheid, in both Muslim countries and in the West,  which is what Death is about, has not been reviewed nor have I been interviewed in most mainstream media venues where once I was more than warmly welcomed, nor have I been invited to speak by Women’s Studies programs on campuses. 

 

However, both books have been praised in important conservative venues. But such mainstream/liberal/left censoring or silencing is a small price to pay for telling the truth. It is also a measure of one's power. One makes new friends and allies. One keeps learning and evolving. For me, it is very important and sustaining that my feminist beliefs are respected in conservative libertarian circles where I now share other overriding beliefs about national security and jihad.  

 

FP: Let us suppose that your book helps change the climate within feminism. Let us suppose that within 10 years you write a book called The Resurrection of Feminism. What would be the state of the feminism at that time to merit this title?

 

Chesler: I am surprised that you are such an optimist. But, assuming you are right: I would hope that feminists, both men and women, would learn how to disagree in civil ways and to respect intellectual differences. I would hope that "right-wingers" and "left-wingers," who share a vision of freedom and dignity for women would work together.

 

Finally, I would hope that feminists would work with the American government, no matter who is in office, on feminist foreign policies. For example, we must peg every peace treaty and trade agreement to women's rights. We must peg every micro-lending program to a promise not to genitally mutilate the girls in the village, to educate them, and not to force them into arranged marriages, etc.  And, we must consider the use of military force when all else has failed. Feminists understand that you have to call the police when a man is beating his wife to death or when a rape is in process; it is contradictory for feminists to resist the use of military force when women are being stoned to death, hung, jailed and tortured--repeatedly gang-raped both in Iran and Sudan (and of course, in the past in Bosnia and Rwanda). Terrorists, jihadists, torturers, and tyrants are not open to reasonable "dialogue." 

 

I expect to be working with Muslim feminists even more in the future. For example, I was recently on a panel together with Iranian and Afghan women and managed to quiet a fairly anti-American audience afflicted with "Third Worldism" by talking about the stoning of a particular Iranian woman whose tragic fate had absolutely nothing to do with American Empire. 

 

A few weeks ago, Iranian feminists recently invited me to testify about Islamic gender Apartheid in the Senate in a briefing which was beamed up live via satellite into the Middle East and central Asia and translated into Persian, Arabic, and Kurdish. The Committee for Democracy in the Middle East co-ordinated this impressive event at which nine Senators were represented. Ramesh Sepehrrad, a leader in the National Committee of Women for a Democratic Iran said of my speech: "Finally, an American feminist leader who will not abandon us to her theory of cultural relativity."  

 

FP: Well, I am not really an optimist. I said "suppose" to crystallize what would have to change in feminism. Although it would be great if it happened -- thanks to people like you.

 

Dr. Chesler, thank you for joining us today.

 

I would just like to end by saying that you are an amazing person and a true courageous warrior. Thank you for giving us hope. I will tell you that as the son of Soviet dissidents, what I learned from many of those who were persecuted is that nothing is as demoralizing and depressing than thinking that, while in your own captivity, you have been abandoned by free peoples. The victims of Islam’s gender apartheid have a sparkle of hope because of heroes and soldiers like you.

 

Thank you for setting this noble standard and dignified example not only for Western feminism but for all humanity.

 

Chesler: Thank you Jamie.

 

Previous Interviews:

 

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Jamie Glazov is Frontpage Magazine's editor. He holds a Ph.D. in History with a specialty in Russian, U.S. and Canadian foreign policy. He is the author of Canadian Policy Toward Khrushchev’s Soviet Union and is the co-editor (with David Horowitz) of The Hate America Left. He edited and wrote the introduction to David Horowitz’s Left Illusions. His new book is United in Hate: The Left's Romance with Tyranny and Terror. To see his previous symposiums, interviews and articles Click Here. Email him at jglazov@rogers.com.


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