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Question about a metaphor in Atlas Shrugged.

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PowersGG
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Hello,

I will attempt to respond in an intelligent manner, but work has been very demanding lately with the devastation in Haiti, so this response may be shorter than is needed.

Yes, I believe than man and woman must see each other as equals in order to be happy and fulfilled when in each other’s company. I think that Rand describes that painfully well in several passages: when Rearden thinks of Dagny standing on the train car….. when Francisco walks to her on the hill, speaks to her after mistakenly slapping her “you’re wonderful,” helps her through the first few moments after the John Galt line was destroyed, etc. The novel is full of mutual admiration and assessment… and constant reaching for what is great in one’s self and looking for it in another.

"Come on. You're in no condition to talk about it."

"I—" She wanted to protest, but said, "No, I guess I'm not."

He led her out to the street, and she found herself walking silently in time with the steady rhythm of his steps, the grasp of his fingers on her arm unstressed and firm. He signaled a passing taxicab and held the door open for her. She obeyed him without questions; she felt relief, like a swimmer who stops struggling. The spectacle of a man acting with assurance, was a life belt thrown to her at a moment when she had forgotten the hope of its existence. The relief was not in the surrender of responsibility, but in the sight of a man able to assume it.

I think it is entirely possible to look up to someone who is also your equal, as long as the other party does the same.

I get the image of two pillars leaning toward each other while also reaching for the sky, where they actually meet is beyond sight because they are constantly looking up to each other…

I think that both men and women require the release of being with an equal partner… it is being accepted for ones highest values, it is a moral sanction…. But when it comes to the special union of the two sexes, I think that many women express it in a slightly different way. Perhaps it is deeply psychological or instinctive, put it has something to do with being protected or… kept in someway… akin to the fact that when a couple is startled, the male almost always leaps in front of the female… perhaps the origins are that deep.

This is why Dagny’s “feminine” traits are so pronounced when in the presence of a man she admires. She is happy to wear a peasant skirt and shop for potatoes while with Galt in Colorado, the idea of making him a dinner thrills her. She is startled when Francisco is the only one to have noticed her achingly feminine beauty at the Reardens’ anniversary party:

"Why do you keep watching me?"

"Curiosity."

"About what?"

"Your reaction to the things which you don't find amusing."

"Why should you care about my reaction to anything?"

"That is my own way of having a good time, which, incidentally, you are not having, are you, Dagny? Besides, you're the only woman worth watching here."

She stood defiantly still, because the way he looked at her demanded an angry escape. She stood as she always did, straight and taut, her head lifted impatiently. It was the unfeminine pose of an executive. But her naked shoulder betrayed the fragility of the body under the black dress, and the pose made her most truly a woman. The proud strength became a challenge to someone's superior strength, and the fragility a reminder that the challenge could be broken. She was not conscious of it. She had met no one able to see it.

He said, looking down at her body, "Dagny, what a magnificent waste!"

She had to turn and escape. She felt herself blushing, for the first time in years: blushing because she knew suddenly that the sentence named what she had felt all evening.

When Dagny is with Rearden, she releases herself to him in a way. The fur, (she looked like a child, something needing protection) the jewels, (someone to be adorned and admired) and, most importantly, the chain of Rearden Metal. This is perfect because it represents not only the link between the two of them, his possession of her, but Dagny’s deep and fundamental admiration of Hank’s mind.

Hank’s (male) equivalent….

I think his equivalent may be that Dagny permits him to be needed without needing him in the moochers’ sense. Hank has parasites hanging off of him at every turn, but in Dagny, he is able to adorn her and protect her and love her and give to her without obligation, but with sheer joy because she is strong and brilliant and self sustaining.

There is a quote that applies here, but I must take some more time to think about the male perspective, as it requires more effort.

D.G.

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When I said you can't look up to somebody overall (as opposed to in some specific areas) who is your overall equal, I meant it very literally. You *cannot* do so. To look up to requires that somebody is below in order to look up, otherwise, it's an even gaze. That's why I distinguished between admiration and the use of the phrase "looking up to" because admiration can be done for an equal, looking up to cannot, unless you are referring to delimited areas or really want to screw around with the meaning of words. Admiration is good, but I'm still not at all sold on using the term/phrase "looking up to" unless it is used only in limited areas, like you are equals overall, but one of you is a better cook and so the worse cook looks up to the better cook when it comes to cooking. This usage though of limited area looking up to when the people are overall equal would apply to either sex, not something particular to females. I do know though also that Rand supports having equals in romantic relationships and not having females lesser than male partners, or vice versa either for that matter, so I'm not generally disturbed here, I just object to the phrase "looking up to" in a way similar to how I object to speaking positively of the bracelet making Dagny as a female look "chained."

"But when it comes to the special union of the two sexes, I think that many women express it in a slightly different way. Perhaps it is deeply psychological or instinctive, but it has something to do with being protected or… kept in someway… akin to the fact that when a couple is startled, the male almost always leaps in front of the female… perhaps the origins are that deep." When we are born, we don't even have concepts of males and females, so I don't think it makes sense to argue any people have a born-in sense to hide behind males and others have a born-in sense to leap to protect females. What I'd say would make a lot more sense would be to file this one under a common case of an automatized response like any other, one that was first in the conscious mind at some point and then absorbed into the subconscious. (This may be what you meant by "deeply psychological, perhaps with the additional idea that it may be something that was put into the subconscious very early in life) That would mean there are reasons behind where this idea was gained from, reasons that can be argued with, and it is also possible that you could figure out where these ideas are coming from and if they are found to be stupid, then even if it isn't worth the trouble to fix it in those who have already automatized it, you could at least stop spreading the stupid idea to kids rather than propagating the idea that it is an inherent part of the nature of being male or female.

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Basically the sex scenes early on in the novels are degrading, violent and otherwise 'weird' because the characters have not yet shaken free the shackles of altruism. They live in a world so twisted that certain aspects of their own behavior are perverse. Once they come to an understanding (ie. explicitly realize Objectivist principles) of morality, and make life better for themselves, their relationships become much more... 'lovey dovey.' They are equals, equally in love with each other.

So anyway, the chain comment comes early in the novel, and should be interpreted as a comment on the historical understanding of femininity - something that would be corrected in an enlightened society with more women like Dagny. She swaps for a Rearden metal bracelet because she's more impressed with industrial genius than with a man's ability to 'buy' her.

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No. But I'm not talking about Rearden/Dagny - just about Roark/Dominique.

It was Roark who was controlling the relationship, and basically "bringing Dominique down" (like you would train an animal). It was she who went to him "against her will", it was he who made her wait, and held back the things she wanted from him (until she addmitted wanting them, or just for fun).

And while he needed her just as much as she did, the relationship was definitely about Roark controlling Dominique, and controlling the progression of their relationship.

I think this element of control is very obvious in the book.

Yes, because she needed to learn a few things, and until she did, it would not do for them to have the intimacy - it was not, as presumed, a 'bringing down' but its opposite - a 'bringing up' - because unlike a mere animal, she had to understand, something humans do, a form as it were, of self training... in that respect, it was not control as a superior over an inferior, but an objectivity of 'knowing thyself' that if she was to intimate with him, certain understandings, certain relationships of life, needed to be understood, and put into proper context...

Edited by anonrobt
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Hello,

I find this aspect of her thinking and writing intriguing.

I think the chain represents the link and bond between woman and man, mind and body. I think it is a calling card from Dagny asking for a release from her load.

I do think she’s on to something when she says the desire to look up to a man, hero-worship, is at the root of femininity. I get that.

I am what many have described as a “strong” woman, even a “masculine” woman in my behaviour and delivery. My father, a very large and intelligent man, was/is a very powerful influence on me and my mother was a very accomplished professional. I was raised being told that I could do anything a man could do, except perhaps a front-line combat soldier (that never came up.)

I, myself, am successful in a high-stress, male-dominated field. Yet, I always had a “man in my head” whom I admired, even as a little girl. If I didn’t know one, I made one up, and even when I did have a person in mind, I always built on the framework with my own mind. When Rand (a very strong woman with a huge brain) included that same concept or admission in her book, it really floored me because I had never put it into words and realised it. I know that if I weren’t married to a man to whom I looked up to and admired, I would not be happy.

I think this is something intrinsic to the sexes…. I wonder what the male equivalent is. To be needed? To be accepted? To sacrifice? Any men want to share thoughts on that?

So, while I agree with gender equality, respect and compassion between the sexes, I totally disagree with gender neutrality or androgyny, or “blank slate” theory.

This view of the sexes obviously informs her view of the act of sex. She upholds the yearning of women to be “taken” by a worthy man in that sense… yet, it’s still consenting.

I totally agree with what Francisco says to Rearden about the act of sex and one’s self-valuation attached to it.

On the sex scenes (Sorry for the thread drift)

When I first read them, they seemed odd, I didn't get them, but they didn't bother me the way other "forceful" scenes I had read in other books.

I had to finish the book and really think about it, and then read it again, and then I REALLY understood and I now think they are powerful, insightful and compelling.

I don't really dig the Dominique and Roark scenes, I guess because I don't like the book as much, but they are similar in spirit I suppose.

But, I DO get the Dagny/Francisco, Dagny/Reardon scenes in Atlas Shrugged.

When you are strong, when you are proud, when you work so hard and you stay so taught and you "hold up the world," psychologically, it feels so good to LET GO, and to let yourself go into the hands of a worthy and skilled person. To be "taken" by a man you admire and respect and exalt because he mirrors what you admire in yourself and what you value in the world, and you know you deserve him. Dagny always "wanted it" from the men of her choice, she just didn't want to "be asked" because that put the responsibility and onus and decision making and burden back on her again.... and in the bedroom, with the man of her choice, she wanted to freedom to be "owned" and to simply receive his passion and skill.

I know that at first glance that seems like a contradiction, but with the two specific people considered, (no guilt or inferiority complexes, or games or abuse) with two worthy, intense people who want each other I think it is really….. Something, I don’t know how to describe it that well, but I totally “get it” and I think it’s intense and understandable.

D.R.

I would say perhaps to be accepted, not in the 'social metaphysician' stance, but in the psychological visibility stance... I certainly would not consider sacrifice as valid, even as it is the usually given [because of the otherism code of supposed values], nor the needed aspect, since that would properly be a consequence of the psychological visibility and in the stance of the trader mindset... note that Dagny's relationships in each are as equals, with the respective contexts of personal growths [and when Francisco becomes more enlightened, that relationship ends - just as does with Reardon when she meets Galt]...

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  • 4 years later...

I think the aim in romance is to have relationships with your moral equals as part of what you're looking for and you can certainly admire equals, however I think the term "look up to" is a bad one to use because you simply CANNOT look up to somebody if they are on the same level as you, so saying somebody should look up to the other overall as a person in romance goes against being equals.

Whatever your supposing is intrinsic to female psychology, I am pretty darn sure you are wrong. I'm female, I haven't felt it. A desire to have who I would be romantically involved with be somebody I admire I've felt, but I also would want who was with me to admire me as their equal too.

[...]

Really, from what I've heard of some ideas of what females should want, it doesn't resonate with me at all. I don't like the idea of having what seems to me a controlling, manipulative romantic partner. I spent decades growing up to get out of living with people controlling my life and I'm trying to see to it that the government is divested of its ability to try to manipulate me into doing however many things it believes is best for me, whether such things really are good for me or not, or which they may even want to try to manipulate me into doing just for kicks of showing they can because they're drunk on power. For example, I really liked Roark's character a lot generally, but if anybody did to me the kinds of things he did to Dominique early on, I'd have ordered his sorry ass out of my sight for good because I don't appreciate anybody who would want to toy with me just because they could and if he didn't choose to accept that and go away, I'd have called the cops and gotten a restraining order.

I agree with your whole post so much, and the above quotes especially resonate with me, because I've been feeling the same when reading The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. I don't like the mind games Roark played on Dominique early on. I can't relate to the violent sex scenes. As a female, I've never wanted to find a romantic partner I can "look up to." I don't even feel extra feminine in front of a romantic partner. I also tend to be attracted to gender-neutral men, so my relationships are pretty much devoid of gender roles. I guess those who identify strongly with their gender are more likely to relate to the kind of gender dynamics portrayed by Rand, but gender-blind or gender-neutral people like me tend to find those ideas alien.

I want to bring up a quote by Francisco: "The man who is proudly certain of his own value, will want the highest type of women he can find, the woman he admires, the strongest, the hardest to conquer..." I totally agree with the gist of this statement, but "the hardest to conquer" is what rubs me the wrong way. I'll be totally turned off by a man who wants to find a sense of achievement by conquering me. I want someone who sees me as an equal companion, not an object, a conquest, a trophy. I can sort of understand that "the hardest to conquer" basically means the best you can find, the person who matches your own excellence. I agree with that, but I'll never use words like "conquer" or "look up to." It's alien for me to think in those terms. So even if what I mean by "an equal companion" may be equivalent to what Rand or someone else meant by "someone to conquer/look up to," our different choices of wording reflect fundamentally different views on gender roles.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I guess those who identify strongly with their gender are more likely to relate to the kind of gender dynamics portrayed by Rand, but gender-blind or gender-neutral people like me tend to find those ideas alien.

I've wondered about this sometimes. "Identifying with" one's gender sounds strange to me. I don't see a "male way" of acting as relevant to me, so I don't "identify with" males. I'm male, but to me it's no different than saying I have brown eyes. To others, they "feel" so male that masculinity is relevant to their psychology. The gender dynamics in Rand's novels are alien to me, and cannot be made into philosophical principles. Maybe it really is a psychological difference that can only be evaluated for each person individually.

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  • 7 years later...
On 2/24/2005 at 11:49 AM, the tortured one said:

I think Ms. Rand was demonstrating the duality of Dagny's character. On one hand, she is extremely masculine, especially when working. Even Jim, her senior, looked to her for leadership. Whenever something happened, she was never afraid to step up and take command of the situation.

 

On the other hand, she was extremely feminine at times. Observe how she acted in the valley. Completely submissive to the men, what came to my mind was the conclusion of Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy woke up and was incredulous in the presense of those she admired.

 

Her Bracelet in my opinion represented an acceptance of ideals and virtues of Hank. That is why Lillian rejected the chain. It was Dagny's admittance that she was only bound by the principles of reason.

I agree with this. Also, are you thinking about the bracelet that Rearden gives to her? That's more symbolic, as it was the first piece of Rearden metal to be forged. His wife purposely treats it with disdain, although it was his life's work, because she wants to show that he's not in control, that society could care less about this new invention. Dagny, on the other hand, acknowledges its worth and by taking the bracelet from his wife, no less, shows that she could care less what society thinks. She says without words that his invention is incredible and the sentiment behind the forging of the bracelet is touching, the firstfruits of his life's work, given away to someone he cares deeply about (or feels he should). Perhaps the chain, if symbolic, shows 1) the strength of the metal and Rearden/Dagny's character and 2) a willingness to tie yourself to a person regardless of whether they're the socially acceptable match.

The diamond bracelet was Dagny's which she offers to exchange with Rearden's wife, as his wife just said she'd prefer a diamond bracelet. Diamonds are socially recognized to be valuable, but have no personal sentiment, whereas Rearden metal is revolutionary and, as I said before, being offered as an act of love. For someone who cares about Rearden, the choice of his bracelet is obvious, but Lily values society over Rearden. 

I never really understood why Lily married Rearden: if it was because he was going to become great, why not let him be great instead of hindering him constantly? In the end, it appeared it was because she wanted to control him and by doing so gain political power. But it was always confusing to me - she had no political power if he never became great, and she was constantly trying to make him normal, or at least shaming him for not being so.

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On 8/17/2014 at 2:36 AM, Eponine said:

I agree with your whole post so much, and the above quotes especially resonate with me, because I've been feeling the same when reading The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. I don't like the mind games Roark played on Dominique early on. I can't relate to the violent sex scenes. As a female, I've never wanted to find a romantic partner I can "look up to." I don't even feel extra feminine in front of a romantic partner. I also tend to be attracted to gender-neutral men, so my relationships are pretty much devoid of gender roles. I guess those who identify strongly with their gender are more likely to relate to the kind of gender dynamics portrayed by Rand, but gender-blind or gender-neutral people like me tend to find those ideas alien.

 

I want to bring up a quote by Francisco: "The man who is proudly certain of his own value, will want the highest type of women he can find, the woman he admires, the strongest, the hardest to conquer..." I totally agree with the gist of this statement, but "the hardest to conquer" is what rubs me the wrong way. I'll be totally turned off by a man who wants to find a sense of achievement by conquering me. I want someone who sees me as an equal companion, not an object, a conquest, a trophy. I can sort of understand that "the hardest to conquer" basically means the best you can find, the person who matches your own excellence. I agree with that, but I'll never use words like "conquer" or "look up to." It's alien for me to think in those terms. So even if what I mean by "an equal companion" may be equivalent to what Rand or someone else meant by "someone to conquer/look up to," our different choices of wording reflect fundamentally different views on gender roles.

Also, I agree with this sentiment. In some ways, that quote from Fransisco makes sense: a women who knows her true value won't choose to be with a man who she doesn't think is worth it. But that's an ideal. No one's perfect, not me and not any guy I meet. If I set my standards so high that I never love anyone, where does that leave me? What good can I do for others if I never reach out, even if people are flawed? 

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6 hours ago, Pidge said:

I agree with this. Also, are you thinking about the bracelet that Rearden gives to her?

Welcome to the forum, Pidge.

Just a heads-up in case you didn't notice, but the last post in this thread was 8 years ago, so don't expect a reply from anyone. 

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On 2/23/2005 at 10:38 PM, PowersGG said:

I have been fielding some questions from my friends (and myself) about the passage in Atlas Shrugged that describes Dagny as wearing a diamond bracelet that gave her the ultimate feminine look of being "chained"

I vaguely remember talking to someone who reacted very negatively to this.  I wasn't sure how to answer them.  I guess the key part of the answer would be "It doesn't mean chaining in any negative sense. it means that the actual act of sex involves the woman submitting to the man."

I remember once quoting from somewhere in Objectivist writings that the man penetrates and the woman is penetrated.  The person replied "Why not say the woman is engulfing the man?".  I guess the key point is that usually the man is active and the woman is passive.

 

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23 hours ago, Pidge said:

I never really understood why Lily married Rearden: if it was because he was going to become great, why not let him be great instead of hindering him constantly? In the end, it appeared it was because she wanted to control him and by doing so gain political power. But it was always confusing to me - she had no political power if he never became great, and she was constantly trying to make him normal, or at least shaming him for not being so.

My understanding is that Lillian's bottom line was hatred of the good for being the good, and that she married Rearden because she wanted to bring him down, degrading and humiliating him.

 

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