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“Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand”

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Tabitha
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I picked up this book the other day. I’m a quarter of the way through it, and the book’s thesis is still unclear to me. In particular, there is a piece by Camile Paglia, who is not only non-feminist, but has an embarrassingly poor understanding of Objectivism. In her two-page essay, she describes Rand as a "fellow Libertarian" (which Rand was not), dismisses her "intolerance towards religion" and accuses her of being "elitist" against the "working class." Paglia has always appalled me, but this I found especially frivolous. Scanning through the rest of the book, I noticed that one of the essays is by Wendy McElroy, founder of "Individualist Feminism"—which is a contradiction in terms (as Feminism, by definition, deals with group rights).

To be clear, I’m not a feminist. Though the inherent collectivism is my biggest objection to feminism, another piece is that the contradictions in the feminist movement are glaring. For instance, the insistence of most feminists that women are oppressed… but simultaneously, might be “empowered” by turning to "sex work" (which, let’s face it, is a euphemism for prostitution)… but, I digress.

I chose to read this book because I’m seeking clarity on Rand’s views of sex and gender, which, despite being a solid Objectivist, I do find problematic. The main question I have is: If people are to be regarded as individuals, why does Rand see a woman as a "woman" first? Susan Brown, one of the contributors in this book, sums this up as "a cultural model of gender that dichotomizes human characteristics in such a way as to cause people to choose between their sexual identity and their human identity." To put it bluntly, by categorizing women as being a certain way (the infamous "women president" comment) as a group before meeting a given individual woman, how is Rand not practicing the very racism she opposes? (Women, of course, are not a race. I’m referring to Rand’s essay, "Racism," in which she discusses the problem with judging individuals based on the group to which they belong.)

I’m aware that sex / gender and metaphysically different than race and other "groups." That said, I still have a few questions / concerns. Are there any books or other reading material that actually deal with these questions, from an Objectivist standpoint (which I don’t think this particular book does)?

Edited by Tabitha
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In her two-page essay, she describes Rand as a "fellow Libertarian"
Typical feminist collectivist sisterhood twaddle.
Though the inherent collectivism is my biggest objection to feminism
As you rightly point out.
If people are to be regarded as individuals, why does Rand see a woman as a "woman" first?
For the same reason that she sees a man as being a "man" first (though without the scare quotes). Although I don't actually recall ever having seen her say anything like "I think all women must be women first". If she said anything that resembles such a statement, I believe it would also lead to the conclusion that red-heads should be red-heads first, dog should be dogs first and so on.
To put it bluntly, by categorizing women as being a certain way (the infamous "women president" comment) as a group before meeting a given individual woman, how is Rand not practicing the very racism she opposes?
The general topic has been written about here (a current thread) and especially here. The question comes down to the essence of femininity, and the connection between being female and being feminine.
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I'm not a fan of anythign written or edited by Sciabarra. Diana Hsieh might have some perspectives on the book. Many of the contributors were not Objectivists, but were feminists.

Rand's views on feminity are not part of Objectivism as a philosophy, although certainly the fact that Rand held certain views concurrently with Objectivism is interesting. I find many people look first to what her ideas on gender said about women, rather than what her philosophy says about humans beings, and so get the priority wrong.

I'm curious as to what your questions are about her views on gender?

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Well, she and Peikoff both addressed this. This topic deals more with psychology or biology than philosophy. Men and women are both rational animals, and therefore ethics, and politics is unaffected by gender. The fact that differences might exist between sexes does not imply any difference in politics or ethics in principle per se.

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...although certainly the fact that Rand held certain views concurrently with Objectivism is interesting...

It seems like strange thing to not include psychology in the philosophy. Psychology seems inexorably bound to epistomology. And to talk about one without the other seems difficult, at best. Unless there is some seperation along the lines of epistomology referencing mans reason only and psychology, just his emotions. I just have trouble imagining dealing with a concept like pride or self-esteem without regard to both. Can anyone explain why psychology should be excluded from philosophy?

Or is it just that Ayn Rands particular psychology...her individual context should be excluded?-Which seems wrong for almost the same reasons.

(This may be sliding too far off topic, so I don't mind if this is bumped into a different thread)

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Remember that philosophy isn't science. Psychology must have a philosophical foundation, but at a certain point -- when you are dealing with the non-obvious, that which takes specialized training and research -- you are no longer in the domain of philosophy. Rand's view of feminity is, in my opinion, correct as an assessment of "femininity", but the connection to being a woman is different. The trait "femininity" may be chosen by a woman, but it is not metaphysically given. It was entirely reasonable at the time to assume that women are by nature feminine, a conclusion that you would come to very naturally from observation. However, events changed which ultimately proved that some women are by nature feminine, and others are not -- in the old days, they would have denied their nature because it would have been culturally uncomfortable to act according to their nature.

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Remember that philosophy isn't science. Psychology must have a philosophical foundation, but at a certain point -- when you are dealing with the non-obvious, that which takes specialized training and research -- you are no longer in the domain of philosophy.

hmmm....wouldn't this put quite a lot of objectivism(or at least, what I understand the term to include) outside the realm of philosophy? Or are you assuming psychology is ok up to the point of explanation? So, in other words, a philosopher can speak of reason or an emotion as an existent, but cannot deal with the underlying reasons or processes on which they function.

Maybe some more examples, besides femininity, would help demonstrate what is philosophy and what is not.

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It seems like strange thing to not include psychology in the philosophy. Psychology seems inexorably bound to epistomology. And to talk about one without the other seems difficult, at best. Unless there is some seperation along the lines of epistomology referencing mans reason only and psychology, just his emotions. I just have trouble imagining dealing with a concept like pride or self-esteem without regard to both. Can anyone explain why psychology should be excluded from philosophy?

Well to the extent that psychology deals with man's nature, and that nature is fundamental or essential enough as to be a basis for epistemology, ethics or politics, you would pull such a thing into philosophy; however, you wouldn't just pull anything in whenever you felt like it (i.e. it is not inexorably bound to epistemology). It is a broader integration to bring a specific concrete that is part of man's nature and use it in philosophy. Only some aspects of psychology warrant that treatment.

Technically man as a rational animal, and reason as the basis for survival, is in a sense psychology. But this is really most if not all that Objectivism pulls into philosophy (maybe the proper place of emotion as compared to reason is the other aspect).

Maybe some more examples, besides femininity, would help demonstrate what is philosophy and what is not.

Let's see if I can propose a few things that are not philosophy.

a. the mechanism and treatment of psychological illness

b. the study of the relationship of biochemistry to pschological function

Edited by KendallJ
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I told this feminist, who also happened to be dating my ex, "If you are so for equality, why don't you just go work in construction? The sexes are already equal in every other area!" She told me she wanted to slap me B)

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I picked up this book the other day. I’m a quarter of the way through it, and the book’s thesis is still unclear to me. In particular, there is a piece by Camile Paglia, who is not only non-feminist, but has an embarrassingly poor understanding of Objectivism.
This book is actually part of a whole "Feminist Interpretations of..." series. There is a Feminist Interpretations of Kant, and Nietzsche, Plato, Wittgenstein, Kierkegaard, Aristotle, etc.

Apparently, being a feminist or an expert in regards to the philosopher in question are not prerequisites to contributing to these books.. B) ::shrug::

Well, she and Peikoff both addressed this.
Reference?
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Maybe some more examples, besides femininity, would help demonstrate what is philosophy and what is not.
ITOE p. 19 seems to make a scientific claim: "The process of forming a concept is not complete until its constituent units have been integrated into a single mental unit by means of a specific word", emphasis added. Special training and scientific knowledge is necessary to understand that this is not so, and that the correct expression would be "language unit" or something like that, because in many languages concepts are integrated into symbolic chunks that are smaller than words. But that's a scientific nit-pick, beyond the realm of the philosophical.
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Technically man as a rational animal, and reason as the basis for survival, is in a sense psychology. But this is really most if not all that Objectivism pulls into philosophy (maybe the proper place of emotion as compared to reason is the other aspect).

Let's see if I can propose a few things that are not philosophy.

I'd say the issue of self-esteem is primarily psychological, and it is very integral to Objectivism. There is also the concept of happiness, what it means and how you can reach that state, that seems psychological in nature.

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I'd say the issue of self-esteem is primarily psychological, and it is very integral to Objectivism. There is also the concept of happiness, what it means and how you can reach that state, that seems psychological in nature.
That's right: the line would be drawn at particular conclusions such as that being female (or Caucasian, or tall, or left-handed) causes something particular in your nature, in terms of happiness or what it takes to flourish.
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Reference?

VOR "About a Woman President". In the essay she rejects several basis by which to evaluate the choice not to be president: women as inferior, woman as more emotional, woman as not needing a career. And then she says:

"The issue is primarily psychological."

This is one of hte only essays where she specifically addresses gender, rejects most possible issues that would have a place in philosophy, and then specifically says the issue at hand is primarily psychological.

Peikoff's is in one of his courses (it's going to take me a while to find it). It may be tied with the same reference in another thread on his claiming women tend toward empiricism and men toward rationalism.

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For the same reason that she sees a man as being a "man" first (though without the scare quotes). Although I don't actually recall ever having seen her say anything like "I think all women must be women first". If she said anything that resembles such a statement, I believe it would also lead to the conclusion that red-heads should be red-heads first, dog should be dogs first and so on.

I'm referring to the conflict / contradiction of perceiving women as feminine beings before perceiving them as rational (human) beings -- of the reflexive dismissal of a female President (thanks for the other links, btw -- I see this has already been addressed elsewhere) because of the person's category (female). Rand would never dismiss a redhead or Black person from attaining firsthand rationality. Why are certain professions for women "improper?" Why is gender an automatic roadblock, but other traits (skin color, height) aren't? That's what I'm getting at.

Edited by Tabitha
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For the same reason that she sees a man as being a "man" first (though without the scare quotes). Although I don't actually recall ever having seen her say anything like "I think all women must be women first". If she said anything that resembles such a statement, I believe it would also lead to the conclusion that red-heads should be red-heads first, dog should be dogs first and so on.

I'm referring to the conflict / contradiction of perceiving women as feminine beings before perceiving them as rational (human) beings -- of the reflexive dismissal of a female President (thanks for the other links, btw -- I see this has already been addressed elsewhere) because of the person's category (female). Rand would never dismiss a redhead or Black person from attaining firsthand rationality. Why are certain professions for women "improper?" Why is gender an automatic roadblock, but other traits (skin color, height) aren't? That's what I'm getting at.

Hi Tabitha,

Can you give me a reference for the passage in italics? The phrase from Rand is not even familiar to me.

Also, you should read the specific essay on Woman Presidents. It is not in any way a "reflexive" dismissal of the role. I'm not quite sure what you mean by that, but if you have read the essay itself and believe it to really be such, then I'd be interested in your perspective.

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Rand would never dismiss a redhead or Black person from attaining firsthand rationality.

Certainly Rand did not dismiss women as being unable to attain firsthand rationality. Rand herself, after all, was a woman.

Have you read her "About a Woman President" essay?

Feminist "interpretations" of Miss Rand's writing and thought cannot be relied on here.

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Hi Tabitha,

Can you give me a reference for the passage in italics? The phrase from Rand is not even familiar to me.

Also, you should read the specific essay on Woman Presidents. It is not in any way a "reflexive" dismissal of the role. I'm not quite sure what you mean by that, but if you have read the essay itself and believe it to really be such, then I'd be interested in your perspective.

Sorry; I was quoting DavidOdden's first response (still in the process of mastering this message board).

I plan to read the essay. My point is that grouping women, or anyone, is a form of collectivism. Again, it would be unacceptable to Rand to write an essay on "Black Presidents," as referring to people in terms of their categories is the antithesis of viewing merit before all else.

This is a purely semantic issue, but I'm curious about the use of the term "woman Presidents" as opposed to female Presidents. "Female" (like "male"), is an adjective; "woman" is not. For instance, one would never say "man President" -- It's "male President." I hear teenagers speak like this all the time, saying things like, "I'm a fine female." But it sounds so dissonant coming from scholars. I realize this is a digression from the issue at hand; I just think it's worth pointing out.

Anyhoo, I'll come back to this topic again once I have read more.

Edited by Tabitha
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I'd say the issue of self-esteem is primarily psychological, and it is very integral to Objectivism. There is also the concept of happiness, what it means and how you can reach that state, that seems psychological in nature.

I agree with you.(if that wasnt obvious) Obviously a knowledge of nueroscience is not necessary. Neither would be in-depth knowledge of psychological case studies or experiments. I would not suggest that everyone become a psychologist any more then I would suggest everyone become a philosopher. But both of these fields seem like they should warrant some attention from everyone, for basically the same reasons. That they are integral for understanding how best to live your life. Philosophy for the general strategy and psychology for particular tactics.

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I plan to read the essay. My point is that grouping women, or anyone, is a form of collectivism. Again, it would be unacceptable to Rand to write an essay on "Black Presidents," as referring to people in terms of their categories is the antithesis of viewing merit before all else.

I'll just tackle the "collectivism" point, since I'm not sure I can fully defend her position on a woman president, even though I have a strong sense she is right.

Collectivism is subordinating the individual to the group. Grouping people is not per se wrong, what is wrong is the idea that the group is above the individual, and so the individual must have as his highest value the group. He must morally do what the group commands, when they command it. So, I can group people by height, blood type, etc., without it being collectivism. In fact, it's very important to group men in various ways for lots of reasons.

What Ayn Rand is saying about women doesn't demand subordination of a woman's values. What she is saying is that they have a certain nature, and because of that nature certain requirements that differ from those of men. So, if a woman wants to live a full life, it's in her own self-interest to assume a certain relationship toward (some) men. It's just the way women are by their nature.

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... if a woman wants to live a full life, it's in her own self-interest to assume a certain relationship toward (some) men. It's just the way women are by their nature.

How does that explain the lesbians out there that live full lives (and the heterosexual women, who despite having rational men, don't feel they are living full lives)? I know a gay female Objectivist, who despite having good friendships with men and otherwise "relates" fine to them... is, well, gay. Where does that place them? Leaving aside the "can of worms" homosexuality itself opens, it certainly wouldn't be in her rational self-interest to pursue a romantic relationship with a man. Doing such a thing would lead to undue stress and depression. On another note, Rand herself didn't exactly put her man before her career -- in the sense that she was considerably nontraditional.

Furthermore, isn't it up to the individual to decide his own self-interest? Mind you, I'm not referring to the subjectivist, whimsical, anything-goes, "what's good for me may not be good for you" mentality. Rather, I'm referring to individuals deciding for themselves their own goals and romantic partners (all based on rational values, which, in turn, are the only way to achieve true happiness).

I recognize the "men and women are metaphysically different" argument and the idea that sex/gender is a different grouping from race. Yet, for the reasons stated above which I could get into later when I have more time, I still find hero-worship problematic. (Again, I have yet to read up on it, which may be why. I'm just responding to this thread quickly before I run out to work.)

Edited by Tabitha
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