Phyllis Chesler on Gloria Steinem – Tablet Magazine
Fashion feminism Gloria Steinem Jewish News & Politics Kate Millett LGBTQ Phyllis Chesler Shulamith Firestone United States

Phyllis Chesler on Gloria Steinem – Tablet Magazine

When did I first meet Gloria Steinem? That’s misplaced within the mists of time. I used to be impressed by her 1964 exposé in Present journal of a bunny’s life on the Playboy Membership. Nevertheless, that wonderful piece sparked no motion, nor did it free Gloria from what I perceived because the tyranny of getting to take care of a perfected feminine look.

Gloria has a “little girl lost” attraction about her that will get individuals to need to assist and deal with her. It affected me that method too. She would typically lookup at me with a trusting, even barely helpless look, and it labored like a appeal. The impact is considerably unnerving in addition to flattering. Neither of us was a lesbian, though it was a topic we typically mentioned. We have been each informed, time and again, that lesbianism was both a extra good type of feminism or a type of extreme man-hating.

The primary time I used to be interested in a lady (not that it led anyplace) I informed Gloria about it instantly, as if it have been some type of breakthrough.

She sighed and requested, “Do you think it will ever happen to me?” Gloria wasn’t a part of the downtown Manhattan feminist scene.

Her activism was preceded by the revolutionary speak-outs on abortion and on rape; the consciousness-raising teams; the sit-ins, marches, and demonstrations; the founding of NOW; and the big proliferation of feminist articles, books, and concepts. So did the publication of Betty Friedan’s The Female Mystique and lots of of wonderful feminist articles and books, together with Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Intercourse, Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics, Shulie Firestone’s The Dialectic of Intercourse, Germaine Greer’s The Feminine Eunuch, and Juliet Mitchell’s Lady’s Property.

Gloria got here to the get together a bit late, however when she did she desperately needed to be a part of it.

Bella Abzug pulled Gloria into the Nationwide Ladies’s Political Caucus. Bella was a civil rights lawyer and an antiwar-antinuclear activist in Ladies Strike for Peace. She didn’t begin out as a feminist, however she was a fast learner. The lady, the politician—the champion—in her noticed a gap in ladies’s struggle for equal rights. In 1970 she gained a seat within the U.S. Home of Representatives.

Bella was educating Gloria every little thing; she took Gloria in all places, launched her to everybody—a canny transfer as a result of Gloria drew the cameras and the laughter. Bella was a heavyweight; Gloria was her arm sweet. Bella bellowed; Gloria charmed.

Bella was a colourful New York character, slightly bit Damon Runyon, a bit bit Mollie Goldberg, perhaps even a bit of bit Mae West. Bella had a reasonably face, Jewish lungs, and New York chutzpah. Regardless of her bulk, she all the time minimize a trendy and colourful determine in her signature hats.

Gloria started talking publicly, often with African-American ladies. Dorothy Pitman Hughes, Flo Kennedy, and Margaret Sloan-Hunter have been amongst her talking companions.

Gloria’s partnering with African-American ladies was a principled act, even when it was solely a symbolic one, a method to reduce the very fact the too few African-American and minority ladies joined CR teams, marched, and made widespread trigger with white ladies—a minimum of, at the moment. For my part, psychologically, I’m guessing that maybe Gloria felt she wasn’t as robust, savvy, or street-smart as African-American ladies need to be to outlive. I feel that she felt she wanted that type of backup.

Gloria invited me to a gathering at Brenda Feigen’s Tudor Metropolis condominium. Years later, Feigen wrote that she had been handled badly as a scholar at Harvard Regulation Faculty within the mid-1960s, an expertise that turned her right into a “feminist by default.” At Harvard at the moment, sports activities amenities and consuming golf equipment have been off-limits to ladies. After she graduated, regulation companies refused to interview her as a result of “they were not hiring women.” Brenda went on to direct the Ladies’s Rights Venture of the American Civil Liberties Union with Ruth Bader Ginsburg and suggested NOW about abortion rights and the Equal Rights Modification. Brenda was additionally a founding member of the Nationwide Ladies’s Political Caucus.

Brenda married a businessman, gave start to a daughter, received divorced, took up with ladies, moved to Los Angeles, turned an leisure lawyer, and produced a film (Navy Seals). In 2000 she revealed a great ebook, Not One of many Boys: Dwelling Life as a Feminist. The assembly at Brenda’s house was about whether or not we should always all discovered a brand new feminist journal. The room was crammed with the wives and daughters of rich and influential males; the ladies themselves have been legal professionals, writers, and editors at ladies’s magazines. Clay Felker, the editor of New York journal, was concerned about serving to, and actually he revealed the pilot problem of Ms. journal as an insert in New York on the finish of 1971.

This was a time when feminists in all places have been founding teams, organizations, educational journals, financial networks and credit score unions (which didn’t final), and a ladies’s financial institution (which additionally didn’t final). Ms. was one other such heady enterprise. I favored it. I didn’t foresee how profitable the primary concern can be; how onerous Gloria must work to maintain it afloat; how demanding the feminist writers can be; and the way so many writers would really feel mistreated (as a result of their phrases have been modified with out permission and their charges have been late). Most of all, I didn’t foresee how Gloria’s very being would grow to be consumed by the journal, which more and more turned her child, her id, and her model.

On the time I assumed, Sure! However I additionally thought, What they’re after is a front-page New York Occasions photograph that includes an extended line of girls, civil rights type, all holding arms. On the far left is a smiling Angela Davis. On the different finish of this unlikely Rockettes line is Glad Rockefeller. The purpose: Sisterhood trumps class, race, and beliefs. Sounds nice, however is it potential?


The journalist Jill Johnston was a lesbian Pied Piper. Dykes adopted her all over the place. She was additionally one thing of a Kerouac determine, all the time on the street: Now she’s right here, now she’s gone.

Jill and I talked about Greek myths and psychoanalytic considering. We weren’t attracted to one another sexually; a minimum of, I wasn’t interested in her. However I used to be interested in her thoughts. In later years we gossiped up a storm about editors and e-book advances and the foibles of different writers.

Jill had come out within the pages of the Village Voice (“Lois Lane Is a Lesbian”). She stored asking me, the straight woman, why she had felt compelled to take action. She additionally confided in me.

“Don’t you think the Jews are taking over our movement?” she requested me.

“Why do you say that?” Answering her query with one in every of my very own was a sometimes Jewish response.

“There are so many loud and pushy Jewish feminists in New York City.”

“Do you have any idea what you’re saying?”

Jill insisted she was not anti-Semitic. “My very best friend, Shainde, is Jewish,” she defined.

“You’re digging a deeper hole for yourself, my friend,” I replied.

I took her feedback as racist and anti-Semitic. I resolved to go to Israel for the primary time.

Jill determined to atone for this dialog by giving a celebration and alluring some glamorous friends to her place in New Paltz, New York. She was nervous concerning the celebration, so she received drunk and couldn’t drive. She additionally couldn’t purchase celebration meals, so I did it for her on my approach down.

Once I received there Jill stated: “Phyllis, I want you to meet Martha Shelley, a Jewish lesbian. I invited her just for you.”

Martha was a poet and in addition a member of Radical Lesbians and the Homosexual Liberation Entrance. She had participated within the feminist takeover of RAT Subterranean Information, the Grove Press sit-in, and the Lavender Menace motion. Martha was lesbian feminist royalty. At Jill’s get together, Martha and I stood in a nook and talked revolutionary politics for an hour. From time to time we appeared over on the different ladies, famous that they have been getting drunk and never speaking feminism, and laughed. “Are we the only two Jews here? Is that it? The non-Jews get drunk and get into bed with each other, and the Jews analyze and organize?”

No; Susan Sontag was there too.

Susan was often known as the Darkish Woman of Letters and sometimes was the one lady whose identify was listed among the many in any other case all-male Manhattan glitterati. Susan sported a classy streak of white hair atop her lengthy black mane. In 1964, Partisan Assessment revealed her “Notes on ‘Camp’.” Years later, the co-editor of the journal, Edith Kurzweil, advised me that the piece had needed to be closely edited and that nobody had anticipated it to develop into a literary sensation.

When Susan and I first met I used to be shocked that she knew so little about feminism, given her fame. I’ll have been the one one that didn’t deal with her as formidable. I informed her, “You know, I read your book Against Interpretation. I loved it. And now here you are, not looking that much older than me, and you’re so naive.” She responded instantly by saying, “Listen, why don’t we get together and, you know, just talk or go to a movie or play records or whatever you’d like.”

It took me a yr to take her up on her invitation.

As soon as, Susan was talking on a panel about feminine energy. She requested me whether or not I assumed that Margaret Thatcher might characterize constructive energy for ladies. I informed her that, psychologically talking, even when a nonfeminist lady turns into a main minister, her achievement might exert an unconscious, constructive affect when it comes to ladies feeling empowered and males’s understanding that ladies might be highly effective. Susan stated that she’d have to consider that.

She launched me to her lover, María Irene Fornés, a Cuban-born playwright. In 1977, I attended certainly one of María’s performs, Fefu and Her Pals, which required the viewers to maneuver from one small stage to a different whereas the actors repeated the identical act 3 times. Who might ever overlook that? It was enchanting.

Years later, Susan and I met accidentally at a screening of Carl Dreyer’s 1928 masterpiece The Ardour of Joan of Arc. We stopped, smiled, and acknowledged one another’s presence. Susan stated, “Of course, you’d be here.”

“Well,” I responded, “you’re here too.”

Perhaps she was there as a filmmaker or as a movie critic, however perhaps, like me, she was additionally riveted by a warrior in feminine type, a lady in drag, a doomed visionary betrayed by the king she saved.


I used to be already seen as a feminist chief when a brand new, younger feminist appeared: Andrea Dworkin, whom I first met in 1974 when she was in disaster together with her writer. She turned to me for assist, and that remained the character of our relationship for greater than 30 years.

We’re all all the time in disaster with our publishers. We anticipate to vary the world instantly with the facility of our pen, and when a guide doesn’t garner good critiques, or any critiques in any respect, we panic; it seems like we’re failing the revolution, to not point out our personal ambition.

Like Kate Millett and Shulie Firestone, Andrea was a genius. Additionally like them, she was damaging, self-destructive, intense, demanding, paranoid, feared, despised, and misunderstood—but in addition deeply admired and beloved, somewhat passionately, by her followers. Andrea was a fire-and-brimstone feminist preacher and was seen because the feminist advocate towards pornography, prostitution, and sexual violence towards ladies. Andrea was a daring and gifted essayist and novelist. She carried out many campaigns towards pornography and wrote many necessary books, together with Lady Hating, Pornography: Males Possessing Ladies, and Letters from a Struggle Zone.

When her first guide, Lady Hating, was revealed in 1974, Andrea stated that she couldn’t persuade president Jack Macrae at Dutton to promote, promote, and distribute copies of the ebook in a fashion that might guarantee its visibility; she organized a sit-in at Dutton. Via a 3rd social gathering I heard that Jack stated, “Well, even important feminists like Phyllis Chesler don’t like the book, so what can I do?” I had stated no such factor; I hadn’t even learn the ebook. I referred to as Andrea and requested her, “Why haven’t you called me directly?”

Her reply was surprising. “Well, I suppose I thought you might have said that about my work, since I consider yours so superior.”

By then I had learn the e-book. I advised her to return over and I gave her a resoundingly heat endorsement for her writer to make use of. Her ebook deserved it.


Andrea and I turned pals. Sure, in fact, we quarreled—on issues of each fashion and substance, and on the character of coalition politics, plagiarism, intimate companion decisions, the damaging penalties of bad-mouthing colleagues, the hazard of cults—however we all the time made up. At the least we did for about 30 years. I assumed we had a privileged and fairly tender friendship, and I cherished it regardless of the difficulties.

The primary time Andrea met my mom was an unforgettable second. My mom stated to Andrea, who all the time wore denim overalls, like a farmer: “And who are you? The garbage man?”

Andrea and I have been shocked and tried to not snigger. My mom broke the ice by declaring, “My daughter is no better than you. She doesn’t dress like a professor. What is wrong with the women in your group?”

Now Andrea was shocked. “Mrs. Chesler, Phyllis is one of the most glamorous women in our movement.”

Who knew that Andrea observed such issues?

I didn’t consider myself as glamorous, however I did put on lipstick and I didn’t attempt to look scruffy or like an adolescent boy. Typically feminists held my look towards me.

A number of the sisters additionally objected to my being married to a person. Within the mid-1970s a gaggle of Australian lesbian teachers invited me to talk, then rescinded the invitation once they discovered that I used to be straight and married to a person, and doubtless deliberate to journey to Australia with him. (I had.) A radical lesbian-separatist Australian rock band got here to my protection: “No matter who she sleeps with, she’s still the author of Women and Madness and we want to hear her.”

Candy, candy ladies.


That is the second of 4 excerpts from Phyllis Chesler’s A Politically Incorrect Feminist. Learn the others right here.

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