Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Schopenhauer on Women

I happened to come across Schopenhauer's Essay on Women recently. It is full of claims like these:

You need only look at the way in which she is formed, to see that woman is not meant to undergo great labour, whether of the mind or of the body. She pays the debt of life not by what she does, but by what she suffers; by the pains of childbearing and care for the child, and by submission to her husband, to whom she should be a patient and cheering companion.

The nobler and more perfect a thing is, the later and slower it is in arriving at maturity. A man reaches the maturity of his reasoning powers and mental faculties hardly before the age of twenty-eight; a woman, at eighteen. And then, too, in the case of woman, it is only reason of a sort -- very niggard in its dimensions. That is why women remain children their whole life long; never seeing anything but what is quite close to them, cleaving to the present moment, taking appearance for reality, and preferring trifles to matters of the first importance.

Hence it will be found that the fundamental fault of the female character is that it has no sense of justice. This is mainly due to the fact, already mentioned, that women are defective in the powers of reasoning and deliberation; but it is also traceable to the position which Nature has assigned to them as the weaker sex. They are dependent, not upon strength, but upon craft; and hence their instinctive capacity for cunning, and their ineradicable tendency to say what is not true.

The natural feeling between men is mere indifference, but between women it is actual enmity. The reason of this is that trade-jealousy -- odium figulinum -- which, in the case of men, does not go beyond the confines of their own particular pursuit; but, with women, embraces the whole sex; since they have only one kind of business. Even when they meet in the street, women look at one another like Guelphs and Ghibellines. And it is a patent fact that when two women make first acquaintance with each other, they behave with more constraint and dissimulation than two men would show in a like case; and hence it is that an exchange of compliments between two women is a much more ridiculous proceeding than between two men.

Try to think up in one sitting more stereotypes about women than you will find in this essay. You will fail. Although the subject is women, the essay's target isn't women but what Schopenhauer calls the "Teutonico-Christian stupidity", that is, the notion of a lady, i.e., a woman who is to be honored and respected in a system of courtesy and gallantry, which he regards as a fundamental flaw in our social scheme. Instead, he argues, women should be regarded as the second sex.

The whole provides a pretty good argument for the need for feminist critique.