I have been rereading Phyllis Chesler’s Women and Madness (Doubleday 1972), and wonder if it is still relevant, and how Chesler’s Jungian, mythic approach to female sex-roles and role models fits into the second wave of feminism.
This blog will focus on the promise of sexual liberation as opposed to what experience hath shown are more realistic approaches to the demands of motherhood and the welfare of children.
First, we examine the context of second wave feminism. College-age women, active in the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s, deeply resented being relegated to waitresses and secretaries, serving the males coffee and typing manifestoes, while such heroes as black power advocate Stokely Carmichael relegated them to sex objects (though his intended meaning is contested by allies; in 1964 he had declared “”The position of women in the movement is prone”).
So the second wave of feminism came out of the Left, and then some argued about whether or not they should be “Marxist-feminists” or “Feminist-Marxists.” At the same time, real communists (Stalinists) were dismissing feminism as a bourgeois deviation. As I have suggested here, the intellectual ancestors of feminist stars were not 1930s leftists, so much as anti-killjoy womanizers of the 1940s social democratic “left”; i.e., anticommunist “liberals” who admired Jung, but not his mentor Freud, another killjoy with his settling for “everyday unhappiness” as opposed to the adrenalin rush of Romantic defiance. (See https://clarespark.com/2015/03/16/who-were-the-precursors-of-the-new-left-the-wasp-establishment-or-communists/. The New Deal-affiliated social psychologists I studied all identified Hitler with Romanticism, e.g., Byron.)
Enter numerous feminists (arguably the progenitors of the gay rights movement) who were averse to what was imagined as the humdrum life of MOM, stuck indefinitely in boring marriages and chained to motherhood. Unlike the leftist feminists, they were attracted to Goddesses and “spirituality,” and aroused the ire of the (materialist) Left. But whatever the flavor, feminists were of course reacting (indirectly?) to “attachment theory” as presented by John Bowlby in 1958. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attachment_theory, and note that Bowlby was describing the infant’s need for object constancy, but not a jail for ambitious women that would last forever.)
Numerous activist women in the arts and humanities saw a chance for instant fame when they promoted a distinctive woman’s sensibility and the loveliness of free love, including lesbianism. Of all these book-writing young women, psychologist Phyllis Chesler remains relevant today, for she has not only offered a Goddess/Amazon book in her youth (who doesn’t enjoy the pagan, naughty Greek myths and Jungian archetypes?), but she claims expertise in the “new antisemitism” that speaks to renewed fears for the safety of Israel. But even more, Chesler saw Muslim abuse of women up close in her marriage to an Afghani (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phyllis_Chesler). So while her competitors are either mocked, deceased, or forgotten, Phyllis Chesler has developed an appreciative lay audience for the emancipation of women.
Meanwhile, feminism seems to have adopted Chesler’s brand. The Hunger Games trilogy is a boffo success with youngsters and mothers alike (at least in my family), and the challenge of monogamous marriage and competent child-rearing is taken up all too rarely, and when it is, as in the NBC miniseries The Slap (the intelligent woman’s guide to motherhood: exhausting, negligent, over-indulgent in turn), it arouses howls of rage in television critics, who don’t want to tamper with archetypes of the Happy Mother and/or “likeable characters.”
I helped promote the women artists’ movement on the radio, and considered myself to be one of them. I continue to believe that it is a man’s world, and bitterly resent all double standards.
It is only in retrospect that I have come to realize how intellectually and emotionally demanding motherhood (like marriage) really is. Moreover, the time frame when developing youngsters need ’round-the-clock mothering and fathering is shorter than young, single women realized in the salad days of second wave feminism.