Friedrich Nietzsche's views on women

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Friedrich Nietzsche's views on women have attracted controversy, beginning during his life and continuing to the present.

Attitudes in public and in private[edit]

Ida von Miaskowski remarked in her memoir, published 7 years after his death:

In the eighties, when Nietzsche's later writings containing some of the oft-quoted sharp words against women appeared, my husband sometimes told me jokingly not to tell people of my friendly relations with Nietzsche, since this was not very flattering for me. It was just a joke. My husband, like myself, always kept friendly memories of Nietzsche [...] his behavior precisely towards women was so sensitive, so natural and comradely, that even today in old age I cannot regard Nietzsche as a despiser of women.[1]

Remarks in his writings[edit]

Nietzsche wrote specifically about his views on women in Section VII of Human, All Too Human, which seems to hold women in high regard; but given some of his other comments, his overall attitude towards women is ambivalent. For instance, while in Human, All Too Human, he states that "the perfect woman is a higher type of human than the perfect man, and also something much more rare," there are a number of contradictions and subtleties in Nietzsche's thought elsewhere which are not easily reconciliable. He could be both in praise and contempt of women at one time or another. For instance, in the following passage: "What inspires respect for woman, and often enough even fear, is her nature, which is more “natural” than man’s, the genuine, cunning suppleness of a beast of prey, the tiger’s claw under the glove, the naiveté of her egoism, her uneducability and inner wildness, the incomprehensibility, scope, and movement of her desires and virtues." (Beyond Good and Evil, section 239.)

His attitude can sometimes be entirely disparaging: "From the beginning, nothing has been more alien, repugnant, and hostile to woman than truth—her great art is the lie, her highest concern is mere appearance and beauty." In section 6 in "Why I Write Such Excellent Books" of Ecce Homo, he claims that "goodness" in women is a sign of "physiological degeneration", and that women are on the whole cleverer and more wicked than men- which in Nietzsche's view, constitutes a compliment. Yet he goes on to claim that the emancipation of women, and feminists, was merely the resentment of some women against other women, who were physically better constituted and able to bear children.

On the whole, a fair amount of Nietzsche's writings may be viewed as being misogynistic in nature. Some more of the characteristic examples include:

"Woman's love involves injustice and blindness against everything that she does not love... Woman is not yet capable of friendship: women are still cats and birds. Or at best cows... (Thus Spoke Zarathustra, On the Friend)

"Woman! One-half of mankind is weak, typically sick, changeable, inconstant... she needs a religion of weakness that glorifies being weak, loving, and being humble as divine: or better, she makes the strong weak--she rules when she succeeds in overcoming the strong... Woman has always conspired with the types of decadence, the priests, against the 'powerful', the 'strong', the men-" ( The Will to Power - 864, Second German edition of 1906) (It must be noted, however, that The Will to Power is a gathering of notes and fragments assembled through his sister Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche and others which were never approved by Nietzsche himself to be published.)

Possible influence from Aristotle[edit]

Scholars of Aristotle have drawn comparisons between Nietzsche's views on women and Aristotle's views on women. They have argued that Nietzsche may have borrowed much of his political philosophy from the latter.[2]

Impact of Nietzsche's anthropology[edit]

Some philosophers have even suggested that Nietzsche's philosophy cannot be understood or analyzed apart from his remarks on women. They discuss the fact that Nietzsche's work has been useful in the development of some feminist theory but ultimately conclude "While Nietzsche challenges traditional hierarchies between mind and body, reason and irrationality, nature and culture, truth and fiction - hierarchies that have been used to degrade and exclude women - his remarks about women and his use of feminine and maternal metaphors throughout his writings confound attempts simply to proclaim Nietzsche a champion of feminism or women."[3]

Relationship with Salomé[edit]

Lou Andreas-Salomé, who knew Nietzsche very well, and claimed that he had proposed to her (according to her, she refused him) claimed there was something feminine in Nietzsche's "spiritual nature", and that he had considered genius to be a feminine genius.[4]

Apparent misogyny as rhetorical strategy[edit]

Frances Nesbitt Oppel interprets Nietzsche's attitude towards women as part of a rhetorical strategy.

...Nietzsche's apparent misogyny is part of his overall strategy to demonstrate that our attitudes toward sex-gender are thoroughly cultural, are often destructive of our own potential as individuals and as a species, and may be changed. What looks like misogyny may be understood as part of a larger strategy whereby "woman-as-such" (the universal essence of woman with timeless character traits) is shown to be a product of male desire, a construct.[5]

Not advocating a model for others[edit]

Others exhibit a less tolerant sophistication, though some recognize that Nietzsche made these remarks from a consciously relative position, and while they show little patience for his remarks overall they recognize that however odious his individual opinion of women may have been, he was not advocating it as a model for others. Cornelia Klinger states in her book Continental Philosophy in Feminist Perspective: "Nietzsche, like Schopenhauer a prominent hater of women, at least relativizes his savage statements about woman-as-such."[6] One of Nietzsche's own statements is cited in support of this assertion:

"Whenever a cardinal problem is at stake, there speaks an unchangeable "this is I"; about man and woman, for example, a thinker cannot relearn but only finish learning–only discover ultimately how this is "settled in him." At times we find certain solutions of problems that inspire strong faith in us; some call them henceforth their "convictions." Later–we see them only as steps to self-knowledge, signposts to the problem we are–rather, to the great stupidity we are, to our spiritual fatum, to what is unteachable very "deep down".

After this abundant civility that I have just evidenced in relation to myself I shall perhaps be permitted more readily to state a few truths about "woman as such"–assuming that it is now known from the outset how very much these are after all only–my truths." (BGE, 7, 231)

Psychological digs and constructions[edit]

Another author takes up this same quote, recognizing that "[a]lthough Nietzsche as generously as ever saves his commentators the labor of interpretation the problem recurs precisely because of the nature of what he proceeds to call his truths." But instead of focusing on putative misogyny she opines:

Much more [...] must be thought to affect everything Nietzsche writes about woman. Rather than mere psychological digs and constructions, rather than a simple expression of his own misogyny, Nietzsche's philosophic expression of the nature of woman reflects and repeats the possibilities of the affirmation or denial of illusion. This is Nietzsche's understanding of truth, and to this extent Nietzsche was able to exploit his own misogyny, in style, tracing the Platonic metaphor as such.[7]

Women as source of all folly and unreason[edit]

As Leonard Lawlor and Zeynep Direk point out, "What Nietzsche says -and repeats with hysterical insistence- is that woman is the source of all folly and unreason, the siren figure who lures the male philosopher out of his appointed truth-seeking path."[8]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Ida von Miaskowski, cited in S. L. Gilman (Ed.), D. J. Parent (Trans.), Conversations with Nietzsche, A Life in the Words of His Contemporaries, Oxford University Press, 1987, p52
  2. ^ Durant, Will (1926 (2006). The Story of Philosophy. United States: Simon & Schuster, Inc., p. 86 ,ISBN 978-0-671-73916-4.
  3. ^ Kelly Oliver, Marilyn Pearsall, "Introduction: Why Feminists Read Nietzsche", in Feminist Interpretations of Friedrich Nietzsche, Penn State Press, 1998, pp 1-4
  4. ^ Biddy Martin, Women and Modernity: The (Life)Styles of Lou Andreas-Salomé, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1991, p98
  5. ^ Frances Nesbitt Oppel, Nietzsche on Gender, University of Virginia Press, 2005, p1
  6. ^ Cornelia Klinger, Herta Nagl-Docekal, Continental Philosophy in Feminist Perspective, Penn State Press, 2002, p224
  7. ^ Babette E. Babich, Nietzsche's Philosophy of Science, SUNY Press, 1994, p241
  8. ^ Leonard Lawlor and Zeynep Direk, Derrida, Routledge, 2002, p139