Nietzsche and women



At various times her work makes clear the place that women should occupy in the social order and the roles they would have to play.

[This text addresses aspects of the theme that I explore in my book Nietzsche's ambivalences. Types, figures et images feminine, which has just been published in France by Éditions de la Sorbonne].

“They all love me,” Nietzsche writes in Ecce Homo. And then he adds: “with the exception of the victimized women, the 'emancipated', those incapable of having children”. Understanding that women who seek their own independence are victims for not being able to procreate, he reveals his conservatism in this passage. In fact, there are several moments in his work in which he makes clear the place that women should occupy in the social order and the roles they would have to play.

Home would be their domain of activities; accompanying her husband and taking care of the children, her chores. While women are made to serve, depending on who they serve, men consider it essential to maintain autonomy. They thus reveal a superior condition, which allows them to dedicate themselves to great tasks. For this very reason, it is with caution that they should consider marriage. As it is a contract that imposes obligations on them, they could only accept it if it contributed to their own intellectual development.

Em Human, all too human, Nietzsche clarifies the conditions that seem necessary for a marriage to be successful. In the first place, he would always have to do it out of convenience, never out of love, because it is women who idealize this feeling. Afterwards, it would be more convenient for the spouses not to live together, as excessive intimacy could harm the marriage union. Moreover, for this union to be lasting, it should be understood as a good conversation, so that sexuality would enter into it to realize “higher ends” as “a rare means” with a view to procreation.

Hence, the importance of the role that concubinage would play in society. Nietzsche even advances the idea that, less honest than courtesans, wives have always resorted to subterfuge to maintain themselves; therefore, they valued domestic tasks and taking care of the children as an excuse to withdraw from work. In an ideal society, they should be responsible for supporting the family.

The way in which the philosopher discusses female peculiarities and characteristics is revealing. Attributing to women “cunning ferine agility”, he implies that, agile, they very quickly put into operation the cunning that, like that of a wild beast, runs the risk of showing itself to be perverse and cruel. Understanding that they have “uneducability and inner savagery”, he hints that, selfish, they are incapable of a relationship inter pairs and, savages, they cannot even be trained in this sense.

Attributing to them an “inapprehensible, vast, wandering character” in terms of “their desires and virtues”, it leads one to believe that, unpredictable, they are not worthy of trust and, fickle, they do not allow themselves to be captured. Instead of enjoying a calm and harmonious existence, they don't hesitate to get carried away by hostile feelings towards men. Disregarding the principle of equity, they strive to find their weak points to attack them. While men manage to contain the expression of their own feelings, women do not limit themselves to expressing them, but use them to mercilessly stab their opponents.

In short, in Nietzsche's view, the woman is like a rare bird, which must be treated "as something that is attached, so that it does not fly away". She is like “a very delicate domestic animal, curiously wild and often pleasant”. However, men must not forget that this beautiful animal always has a “tiger claw under the glove”.

But Nietzsche goes further. Examining the images that appear in the relationship between men and women, he criticizes the excessive zeal of mothers in dealing with their children. Enclosing them in a limited and restricted framework, they imprison their spirits and, instead of contributing to their development, they end up suffocating them. It follows that what could at first be taken for a gesture of attention quickly becomes a selfish attitude; mothers' care for their children is nothing more than their need to show kindness, thus displaying the idealized image they have built of themselves.

As for men, Nietzsche begins by pointing out that they have an image of women that comes from their mother; he adds, that in every kind of female love there is something of a mother's love; he goes on to argue that, by behaving like mothers towards their loved ones, women do nothing more than reinforce the image of the woman they already have. Therefore, they have no cause for complaint or complaint. They are responsible for the behavior, attitudes and expectations that men have in relation to the so-called “weaker sex”.

It is striking that a thinker considered daring and irreverent should express ideas of this nature. It is surprising that a philosopher who proposes to subvert established values ​​shares such traditional positions in relation to women. On the one hand, Nietzsche presents himself as a “doctor of culture”, questioning our way of thinking, acting and feeling: he destabilizes our logic, imploding dualisms; criticizes the Christian religion and the morality of resentment; continually combats our prejudices, beliefs and convictions.

On the other hand, when he deals with women, he seems to share convictions, beliefs and prejudices with the men of his time. But what differs him from his peers is that his reflections on women could not be reduced solely to personal preferences and even less to occasional digressions. Nor do they occupy a marginal place in his work. On the contrary, they are part of his philosophical project, which consists precisely in taking the reins of the future of humanity, in order to contribute to the emergence of healthy and successful human beings.

Let us take a closer look at the philosopher's positions regarding emancipated women. It cannot be denied that they constitute one of his main targets of attack. But, contrary to what he states in the Ecce Homo, when he claims to be loved by all but the emancipated, established strong bonds of friendship with several women who participated in the then growing feminist movement. Malwida von Meysenbug, Meta von Salis, Resa von Schirnhofer, Helene von Druskowitz and Lou Salomé were some of them.

Nietzsche meets Malwida von Meysenbug in May 1872, on the occasion of the festivities for laying the cornerstone of what would become the Festival Hall, the theater so desired by Wagner, in Bayreuth. Since then, a strong friendship arises between them. Malwida admired the composer of Tetralogy and was interested in Schopenhauer's philosophy. His participation in the revolutionary events of 1848 earned him exile.

In Hamburg, feminist and militant, she founded a “free community”; in London, she came into contact with political refugees from various countries. She was a contributor to several major newspapers: The Frankfurt Gazette e The New Zurich Journal, between others. In 1876 he published a three-volume autobiography: Memoirs of an idealist, in which he reported on his political activities.

It was the reading of this work, by the way, that led Meta von Salis to study and work for female emancipation. Although she belonged to a noble Swiss family, whose sons regularly enlisted in the Austrian and French regiments, she opposed her by deciding to pursue her studies; having studied philosophy and law, she received a doctorate from the University of Zurich. To gain access to the world of books, she did not hesitate to take a job as a governess. With short hair and a martial air, she put herself at the service of the feminist cause. While still a student, she encountered Nietzsche in 1884; in the summers of 1886, 1887 and 1888, he stayed with him at Sils Maria.

Resa von Schirnhofer and Helene von Druskowitz also studied at the University of Zurich and received their doctorate there. They too advocated in favor of the feminism that was emerging at the time and got to know Nietzsche in the years 1884-1885. Alongside Meta von Salis, they are examples of the “new women”, who were often labeled “mannish” for the simple reason that they have intellectual aspirations. In the society in which they lived, the fact that a woman demanded the right to a university education implied that she wanted to embrace a career; that was enough to make her a champion of gender equality in the eyes of men and a radical feminist in the eyes of women.

Like Meta von Salis, Resa von Schirnhofer and Helene von Druskowitz, Lou Salomé had a desire to improve herself; like them, she defied social norms and conventions. Of Russian origin, she enjoyed an independence of mind and freedom of behavior which, though common in Russia, were disconcerting for the time. In April 1882, Nietzsche met her in Rome; then, she began to frequent intellectual circles and decided to dedicate herself to literature.

But, it seems, it was not as an emancipated woman that the philosopher considered her. During this short and close acquaintance, he was attracted by her presence of mind and listening ability; he was seduced by their intellectual ardor and lust for life. In Nietzsche, the “young Russian” thought she had found a brilliant man who could help her improve her education; in Lou he hoped to have “a disciple”, “an heiress” who would carry on his thinking.

If in his childhood, in Naumburg, Nietzsche lived mainly with zealous women who took care of themselves, those with whom he will choose to bond throughout his life will be independent, strong and determined women. Letters, testimonials and reports seem to indicate that both in relation to the former and the latter, he was always kind and solicitous. But the attention and delicacy he showed towards women contrasts with the misogyny he sometimes expressed in his texts. The friendship he devoted to the emancipated women contrasts with the anti-feminism present in his writings.

Proof of this are the constant criticisms that Nietzsche makes of the women's emancipation movement. In Beyond Good and Evil, he seeks to show the absurdity of the initiatives of women who are willing to clarify who they are and what belongs to them. He claims that modesty is necessary for women, as they have a lot to hide. It is better that he hide what is pedantic, superficial, doctrinaire, presumptuous, unrestrained, immodest in her; it is better to hide all that “up to the moment and, in the end, only the fear man he repressed and restrained in the best way.” Instead of taking the floor, speaking and arguing in favor of its own independence, it should use the traits that are peculiar to it: the beautiful, the coquettish, the graceful, the playful, the light, the smooth, the pleasant. For, in Nietzsche's understanding, it is precisely these traits of his that men appreciate; therefore, it is up to the woman only to continue to correspond to what is expected of her.

However, if, when fighting for equal rights, the women of their time make a mistake, because they do not resort to good weapons, an even greater mistake is made by men, who accept such yearnings, accept such demands, tolerate such demands. From the Nietzschean perspective, yielding to the idea of ​​equality, when thinking about problems related to politics, the social order and education, is a distinctive trait of superficial thinkers, incapable of conceiving women “as possessions, as property to be kept under lock and key, as something destined to serve”.

These “learned male donkeys” do not hesitate to encourage women to educate themselves, get informed, participate in politics. They begin to incite them to dedicate themselves to literature and to appreciate music; they begin to encourage them to move away from religion and to practice free thinking; end up inducing them to abandon “their first and last occupation, which is to bear strong children”. In short, it is precisely because men give up precedence and renounce positions of command that the women's emancipation movement emerges. If they maintained the attitude that belongs to them, the position that belongs to them, the place that belongs to them, women would not cherish egalitarian desires.

The central axis of Nietzsche's critique of the women's emancipation movement resides precisely in the idea of ​​equality. When seeking to match men, women renounce their characteristics and peculiarities, giving up what is their own. By submitting herself to such a process, “woman degenerates”, as there is a “progressive weakening and dulling of the most feminine instincts”, in a word, “a progressive defeminization”. By betting on equality understood as herd leveling, the women's emancipation movement, like the democratic tendency, does nothing more than show itself to be an accomplice of a “modern idea”.

Analyzing “modern ideas” is precisely one of the purposes that Nietzsche puts forward in most of his writings. In them he denounces the conduct of the resentful and attacks the kingdom of the herd animal. It is from this point of view that he judges historical events, currents of ideas, systems of government. It is also in these terms that he considers democracy, socialism, anarchism; it is within these parameters that he evaluates them. It is from this perspective that he views the women's emancipation movement; in his view, the women who engage in it do nothing more than demand uniformity, impose gregariousness, express resentment. That's enough to criticize them. After all, they are obstacles to the prosperity of humanity.

It could well be argued that there are other women frequenting Nietzsche's writings. In Thus spake Zarathustra, with the woman, the protagonist identifies happiness, which runs after him, and eternity, to whom he declares his love. But it is above all wisdom, truth and life itself that, conceived as women, will play a central role in the book. With wisdom, Zarathustra becomes an accomplice; by the truth, he lets himself be captivated; with life, he starts to dance. There is no doubt that these are Nietzsche's beloved women. But, it is quite true, women who never existed.

*Scarlett Marton is a retired full professor at the Department of Philosophy at USP and the author, among other books, of Nietzsche, from cosmic forces to human values(UFMG Publisher).


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