Dorothy Dinnerstein

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Dorothy Dinnerstein
Born (1923-04-23)April 23, 1923
The Bronx, New York, USA
Died December 17, 1992(1992-12-17) (aged 69)
Englewood, New Jersey, USA
Fields Psychology
Institutions Rutgers–Newark
Alma mater New School for Social Research
Brooklyn College
Known for The Mermaid and the Minotaur (1976)
Influences Melanie Klein

Dorothy Dinnerstein (April 4, 1923 – December 17, 1992) was an American academic and activist, best known for her book The Mermaid and the Minotaur (1976) (also published in the UK as The Rocking of the Cradle and the Ruling of the World). Drawing from elements of Sigmund Freud's psychoanalysis, particularly as developed by Melanie Klein, Dinnerstein argued that sexism and aggression are both inevitable consequences of child rearing being left exclusively to women.[1] As a solution, Dinnerstein proposed that men and women equally share infant and child care responsibilities.[2] Her theories were not widely revered at the time they were published.[3] Dorothy Dinnerstein was also a feminist, expressing her position by stating that “it's easier for women than for men to see what's wrong with the world that men have run".[3]


Born on April 4, 1923 in the Bronx, Dinnerstein was raised in a Jewish community with her two parents, both progressive Jews.[4] Dinnerstein went to Brooklyn College for her undergraduate degree and earned the Ph.D. in psychology from the New School for Social Research in 1951. After graduating in 1943, Dinnerstein then started her graduate studies at Swarthmore College earning a PhD in Psychology.[4] Dinnerstein worked as a research student under Solomon Asch, a prominent social psychologist, and later recruited Asch and co founded the Institute of Cognitive Studies where she worked at Rutgers University.[4] A resident of Leonia, New Jersey, she taught at Rutgers–Newark in New Jersey as a professor of psychology from 1959 until 1989, just three years before her death in Englewood, New Jersey after an automobile accident.[5] Beyond her work as a professor, Dinnerstein was well known for her book The Mermaid and the Minotaur, which became a classic and was later translated into seven languages.[5] Her book contributed to the women’s movement; working within the theories of the Freudian mode, she made important statements about men having the responsibility to raise children.[5] In addition to Dinnerstein’s passion for teaching and writing she also had a fervor for feminist politics. Dinnerstein was involved (1970s) in the Seneca Falls Women's Peace Camp and was an active participant.[4] Before her death in 1992, Dinnerstein was involved in a new project about environmental issues called “Sentience and Survival” which explored the ways in which human cognitive structures interfere with taking appropriate actions.[4] She was survived by a daughter and two step-daughters.[5] Born on April 4, 1923, Dorothy Dinnerstein grew up in a Jewish household located in New York City.[1] Nathan, her father, and Celia Moed, her mother, raised Dorothy. Nathan was an architectural engineer and Celia worked in administration at the Bronx Family Court. Unfortunately, Nathan’s architectural engineer business did not last through the depression, so he then had to earn a living as a bookkeeper at his brother-in-law’s junkyard.

After completing grade school in The Bronx, Dorothy continued her education at Brooklyn College. There, Dorothy earned a bachelor's degree in Psychology. Pursuing her education further, she received a Doctorate in Psychology in 1951 from the New School for Social Research.After earning her degree, Dinnerstein was engaged in fighting for liberal causes, women's equality, environmentalism, and against nuclear proliferation. Because of her passion towards these ideals, she facilitated a momentary shutdown of Wall Street.[4] During her collegiate years, she met and married Sidney Mintz, who later became a well known anthropologist. Their marriage ended shortly after WWII. Dinnerstein then married Walter Miller. Miller was a poet and professor at New York University.[4]

In the year 1955, the two had their only child, Naomi May. They divorced in 1961, and Dinnerstein married Daniel S. Lehrman in 1961. Lehrman was a psychologist as well. Lehrman, who was previously married, had two daughters of his own, Nina and June, who lived with their mother Gertrude Lehrman in Queens, NY. Daniel and Dorothy lived in the Greenwich Village section of NYC and then in Leonia NJ. Both taught and did research at Rutgers University.[5] Lehrman died suddenly of a heart attack in 1972, at the age of 53.

During her time at Rutgers University, she began writing her first book. In 1976, Dinnerstein published The Mermaid and the Minotaur: Sexual Arrangement and Human Malaise. She wrote this book to demonstrate her feelings toward feminist ideals and the gender roles in relationships, particularly in relation to child-rearing. Dinnerstein spends a large portion of the novel discussing the need of male participation in raising a child.[4] Dorothy argues that the lack of a male figure in a child's life makes for an even more intimate relationship between the mother and child. As the book states, “It is in a woman’s arms and bosom that the delicate-skinned infant originally nestles…Her [the mothers] hands clean, soothe, and pat its sensitive bottom… She is the one who rocks or bounces it…who thumps it when it needs to burp.”[4][6]

On December 17, 1992, at the age of 69, Dinnerstein was killed in a car accident.[5]

Theories and contributions[edit]

In The Mermaid and the Minotaur, Dinnerstein takes a multidisciplinary approach to analyzing the ways in which sexist habits develop out of a society in which childcare is handled chiefly by women. She wrote from the perspectives of a microsociologist, a feminist, a humanist, an ecologist, and a psychoanalyst.[3] Dinnerstein’s theory recognized a series of long-term societal consequences that result from women being the sole childcare providers. Women are infantilized and degraded as a result of false perceptions that they are associated with the realm of childhood as opposed to the world of adulthood.[7] Women become the scapegoats of adult resentment towards authority figures because they served as controlling authority figures during childhood.[7] Women are blamed for life’s pitfalls because of the early-childhood perception one’s mother takes care of everything, so if something is wrong, it’s the mother's fault for not making it all right.[8] Men must use sexism and patriarchal means to control resented authority figures (women).[7] Men are isolated from the world of emotions and interpersonal relations usually associated with childhood, creating an impossible and harmful standard of male infallibility, invincibility, and invulnerability.[7] Dinnerstein concluded her book by saying that she recognized that families have started to move toward shared parenting for reasons unrelated to the consequences of female-dominated childcare, nonetheless, she wanted shared parenting to be “fortified by full awareness of these considerations. This effort of theirs, moreover, is supported by all the forms of action now being taken toward equity in the economic, political, legal, etc., spheres".[6]


  • Dinnerstein, D. (1965). Previous and concurrent visual experience as determinants of phenomenal shape. The American Journal of Psychology, 78(2), 235-242.
  • Dinnerstein, D. (1976). The mermaid and the minotaur: Sexual arrangements and human malaise. New York: Harper & Row. Dinnerstein, D. (1988). What does feminism mean? Women & Environments, 10, 7-8. Dinnerstein, D. (1990). Survival on earth: The meaning of feminism. Peace Review: A Journal of Social Justice, 2(4), 7-10.
  • Dinnerstein, D., Gerstein, I. & Michael, G. (1967). Interaction of simultaneous and successive stimulus groupings in determining apparent weight. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 73(2). 298-302.
  • Dinnerstein, D. & Wertheimer, M. (1957). Some determinants of phenomenal overlapping. The American Journal of Psychology, 70(1), 21-37.


  1. ^ a b Dinnerstein, Dorothy (1987). The Rocking of the Cradle and the Ruling of the World (trade paperback) (Reprint with new introduction ed.). London: The Women's Press. p. 26 and 33–34. ISBN 0-7043-4027-5.
  2. ^ Dinnerstein, Dorothy (1987). The rocking of the cradle and the ruling of the world. London: Women's Press. ISBN 0-7043-4027-5.
  3. ^ a b c Broughton, J., & Honey, M. (1988). Gender arrangements and nuclear threat: A discussion with Dorothy Dinnerstein. Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, 8(2), 27-40.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Cole, Alyson. "Dorothy Dinnerstein." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. . Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on ) <>
  5. ^ a b c d e f "Dorothy Dinnerstein; Feminist Writer Was 69"(Obituary). The New York Times. December 19, 1992. Retrieved April 2, 2011.
  6. ^ a b Dinnerstein, D. (2010). The mermaid and the minotaur. Other Press, LLC.
  7. ^ a b c d Bynum, G. L. (2011). The Critical Humanisms of Dorothy Dinnerstein and Immanuel Kant Employed for Responding to Gender Bias: A Study, and an Exercise, in Radical Critique. Studies in Philosophy and Education, 30(4), 385-402.
  8. ^ Prozan, C. K. (1992). Feminist psychoanalytic psychotherapy. Jason Aronson.