In “Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman,” Phyllis Chesler tackles a difficult topic for many women to think about, let alone talk about – female aggression. This book took Chesler a little over 20 years to complete and is an immense sociological study about the way women’s relationships work, the language women use to speak to one another and how who we are affects our relationships.
Now, many of you may be thinking that this book is ridiculous. Maybe you think you already know that women are hateful to one another so you don’t need a book to tell you or, if you’re a feminist, you may think Chesler is being anti-feminist by writing a book about the things women do to survive in a patriarchal society. I would say you’re wrong on both accounts.
Chesler herself is feminist and never discounts the fact that women are considered lesser and that the way our society is structured certainly contributes to the hostility women have for each other. This in-depth analysis of women’s relationships is eye opening. Chesler explores everything from friendships to sister relationships to work relationships to, of course, the mother daughter relationship, which is just as fraught with peril as you thought it would be.
At times, Chesler gets deeply personal, sharing her own stories about her relationships with women and with her mother. These personal stories are part of what make this book so good. Not only does Chesler take a look into women relationships in general, she turns the microscope on herself and seems to gain a deeper understanding of herself in doing so.
I was hooked by this book from the beginning. This book espouses ideas I’ve attempted to talk to feminist friends and family members about. I was largely, and sometimes summarily, shut down when I brought up these ideas. This book made me feel as if I hadn’t lost my mind nor was I a “bad feminist.”
Chesler mentions that often the argument for the way women treat each other in the feminist world is that women are just doing what they can to survive in a world against them and/or yeah women are mean to one another, but men are worse. Chesler challenges these long held ideas and posits new ideas about why women’s behavior toward other women can be just as harmful. This book isn’t necessarily easy to read from an emotional standpoint. Chesler will make you think about who you are as a person and why you behave the way you do. She will also force you to dig up some memories you probably would have rather stayed buried. Regardless of how comfortable the book is to read, it’s necessary for anyone who is a woman, a feminist or anyone who wants to understand women better. This book will make you think and will open your eyes to possibilities you may have never considered.