Schopenhauer and the Death of Feminism

Howdy, Pardners…

About a hundred and eighty years ago, a philosopher by the name of Arthur Schopenhauer wrote a short essay on women.  Strangely enough, he called it “On Women”.  The essay has been held up as both a poster child for misogyny, and as a stark, honest, and true assessment of the female or our species.

I’m not going to cut and paste the entire piece here.  Those who are intellectually curious will go look up the entire work, and those who are not intellectually curious will not.  Your choice, Buckaroo.  But… here’s one of the first paragraphs….

“One need only look at a woman’s shape to discover that she is not intended for either too much mental or too much physical work. She pays the debt of life not by what she does but by what she suffers—by the pains of child-bearing, care for the child, and by subjection to man, to whom she should be a patient and cheerful companion. The greatest sorrows and joys or great exhibition of strength are not assigned to her; her life should flow more quietly, more gently, and less obtrusively than man’s, without her being essentially happier or unhappier.

And so it goes… deeper and deeper into Schopenhauer’s brilliant world of pessimism.

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This particular essay is well-known amongst both philosophers and feminists, and the obvious question that might pop into your mind is, “Who cares?”   Well, we care because Schopenhauer said it, and Schopenhauer was a fucking genius.  He was the first major philosopher to be openly atheist, and probably the first real proto-existentialist.  His works, such as “The World as Will and Representation” had a profound effect on twentieth-century thinkers, and he still captivates us with his no-holds-barred approach to life and philosophy.

But Schopenhauer, in his essay on women, confounds me.  I’ve always seen myself as a radical feminist.  A radical feminist, not because it was a hip thing to do, or even as a way to seduce women, but because feminism, as I understood it, made sense.  But it doesn’t make sense anymore, because the women of the newer generations have abandoned feminist thought and history.

Why?  Hell, I don’t know.  And to be honest, it doesn’t really matter why they have abandoned it. They have abandoned it, and at some point if it needs to be “fixed”, then they’re going to have to buckle down and go back to work.  You can only blame men for so long.  After that, you’re gonna have to start taking some blame.

For me, Schopenhauer was the last straw that broke the feminist’s back.  I wasn’t looking for it, and I certainly didn’t expect it.  The first read sent me straight into angry rejection… “How could he say such things!?”   I mentally apologized for Schopenhauer, because, even though he was a certified genius, he was just as obviously a creature of his culture (early 19th century Germany).  But then I read it again… and again… and again…

I gave it a thoughtful read.  I connected many of the things that Schopenhauer had written (previously and afterward) with this particular piece, and… it made sense.

He was right, and he still is.

And that is… too bad.

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I’ve always thought of my wife as mechanically challenged.  She has survived over the years by having only one tool in her toolbox… a man (women cook, men fix shit).  But then the oddest thing happened….

Through some odd circumstances, I came into the possession of a couple of old Briggs and Stratton small engines, and I thought it would be a neat project to rebuild them (men fix shit) from the inside out.  I asked my wife, out of sheer politeness, if she would be interested in helping out with the project.  Much to my surprise, she accepted.

By the time we finished the first engine, she was hooked.  A small-engine addict if I’ve ever seen one.  When we opened up the second engine, she was livid….

“Plastic gears?  Are you fucking kidding me?”

“Uh… I think they’re nylon, Honey.”

“Plastic lobes on the camshaft! And look!  They put together the shrouding with pop-rivets!  What the hell?”

“I think that they… uh… were trying to save on costs.”

“Have they no dignity?  Have they no pride?  What kind of person would build something like this?”

And so it went, and so it goes.  I read Schopenhauer… and I have a wife who knows more about small engines than the majority of young males.  I’m confused.

Have a day.

Riley

primum vivere, deinde philosophari.

4 Responses to Schopenhauer and the Death of Feminism

  1. I’ll make this brief. You are confused because you are trying to apply philosophy to a population as though it was one of the hard sciences.

    It isn’t. It’s a behavioural scinece and behavioural sciences tend to make generalized statements that apply to the larger aggragate sample of a given population. Thus there are and will always be exceptions to these general rules.

    In mathematics two plus two always equals four. In chemistry Oxygen and hydrogen in proper ratios come together as water, or hydrogen peroxide, etc.

    These are hard and fast rules. Proven time and again under controlled conditions. They are paradigms. When a situation comes along that does not adhere to these rules, that challenges the paradigm the result is typically known as a Scientific Revolution. Scott Kuhn described it better than I just did, but that is about the gist of it.

    Now, biology, it seems straddles the line between hard, or empirical, and behavioural scinece. For example, cells within a human body are expected to behave in a certain way and react to stimuli in certain manners. When a cell does not follow these rules it either causes illness, is attacked by the immune system or leads to mutation and/or evolution. In some cases the host organism simply accomodates the variant and carries on pretending the variant does not exist.

    Again a very rudimentary and crude representation, but, then I am not a biologist. I am an Historian. One of those behavioural science guys.

    However, I think you can see how this is similar to the idea of general “rules” expressed in philosophy or sociology or history.

    So, what Scopenhauer said about women may or may not be true about women in general, I am not prepared to travel down that road tonight, but is certainly not true about all women. My advice at this point is, do not allow a general rule to inform your perception of all members of the population in question. Strictly speaking we call that prejudice.

    I’ll add just one more salient fact to this most edifying of conversations: Just because someone has a history of being brilliant and right does not mean that he or she is always such. Isaac Newton was a fucking genius, too, but he was just wrong about alchemy.

    Just MY two cents worth, YOUR actual value may VARY (see what I did there?)

    William

  2. Riley Royce Smith

    We validly use general rules to define our population. And I think that we can define them in a valid way without pissing off the politically correct monster called “prejudice”. For instance… “Most people who were born in America speak English, and most people who were born in France speak French.” Or better, “Most female Americans do not have a penis.”
    It’s always difficult to be valid in the non-math based sciences, but not always impossible.

  3. Point taken. However, generalizations in the non-math based sciences rarely exclude provincial or individual variations and out right deviations from the general rule.

    For example, very few of the non-Hispanic people born in America and residing in my neighborhood speak anything close to English.

    In short, do not become confounded by the occaisional anomaly. Rather rejoice at the possibility of hope for the species after all.

  4. Thor Bundgaard Nielsen

    There’s nothing weird about a woman who’s into engines. A woman who designs a truly new type of engine though.. In the words of schopenhauer “is because an impossibility”

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