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Dorothy Dinnerstein

Dorothy Dinnerstein earned her place as a major feminist thinker with her groundbreaking 1976 book The Mermaid and the Minotaur: Sexual Arrangements and Human Malaise. Dinnerstein studied at Swarthmore before earning a PhD in psychology at the New School for Social Research in 1951. She taught at Rutgers University from 1959–1989 and cofounded the Institute for Cognitive Studies there in 1966. In Mermaid, her most famous work, Dinnerstein argued that patriarchy and misogyny are rooted in women’s monopoly over childrearing. Drawing on Freudian psychoanalysis and Gestalt psychology, Dinnertein claimed that the mother’s role as both nurturer and disciplinarian makes the child want to reclaim power by subjugating women. She believed that only a radical shift in gender roles could fix humanity’s core problems, but also thought there would be deep resistance to such a change, since traditional childrearing still served “defensive psychological functions.” In her later work, Dinnerstein shifted her focus to ecology and nuclear disarmament. When she died, she was working on a new project called “Sentience and Survival,” examining how human cognitive processes interfere with people taking action to save the environment and prevent nuclear destruction.

Date of Birth
April 4, 1923
Place of Birth
Bronx, New York
Date of Death
December 17, 1992

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Dorothy Dinnerstein." (Viewed on December 9, 2018) <>.


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