Nietzsche's Woman is by turns simply a reflection of common attitudes of the time, although he occasionally sees her in a more sympathetic view. In a modern light, the understanding of Nietzsche's philosophy has often been tainted by the view of his writings as racist and misogynist. Indeed, a cursory look shows that Nietzsche's perception of women is largely negative and unflattering. Nonetheless, the great philosopher is sometimes clearly sympathetic to women. The end result is that his work seems largely inconsistent and poorly thought out on the subject of women. Many philosophers, including Simone De Bauviour and Mill, have had a much different conception of woman than Nietzsche. Ultimately, Nietzsche has little important insight to offer on the subject of women, a disappointing oversight from a philosopher who repeatedly offered such perceptive and daring views on many important subjects.
Modern interpretation and analysis of Nietzsche's works is often tainted by the modern view of his philosophy as misogynist and racist. The writings of Nietzsche are often considered to be the very antithesis of the ideals of modern feminism. Further, the well-known association of Nietzsche's philosophy with the anti-Semitic rhetoric of Adolph Hitler and Nazi party during WWII has damaged the modern world's views of his philosophy almost irreparably. His writings have, at a cursory perusal at least, been further dated and marginalized by his numerous uncomplimentary references to women.
Taken together, Nietzsche's undeniably racist and misogynist references have created a widespread belief that his philosophy is at best dated, and at worst, irrelevant to the modern Western world. Certainly, there is little room in today's politically correct academic environment for thinkers that espouse sexist or racist ideas. We only have to consider the furor caused by books like The Bell Curve to see the degree of intolerance for racist or sexist thinking in today's academic environment.
Despite the clear disapproval of the racist and sexist aspects of his work, Nietzsche has nonetheless made a clear and important contribution to both modern philosophy and to the culture of the modern western world. His often-quoted idea of the "superman," his views on the will to power, and his shattering statement that God is dead, have made an undeniable impact on the political and social landscape of Europe and North America. He is one of the rare philosophers whose name sparks instant recognition in almost any North American, a true testament to the lasting power of his ideals, and the degree to which work has infiltrated modern life.
Nietzsche's impact on modern philosophy can hardly be overstated, despite the association of his philosophy with racist and sexist ideals. Nietzsche is often considered to be one of the most important early existentialist philosophers, and his contribution to other areas of philosophy is well recognized.
Many of our common views about Nietzsche come from the interpretation of Nietzsche that originates from the work of the influential philosopher Martin Heidegger.
Heidegger is the father of postmodernism, and his many followers have continued to slam Nietzsche's philosophy based on Heidegger's views that there is no absolute truth. In disagreement with the postmodernist ideas, Berkowitz argues in Nietzsche: The Ethics of an Immoralist that Nietzsche tells us that human creativity is the highest aim of human life, and that is possible to objectively communicate human excellence.
Berkowitz argues that arguments that Nietzsche was fascist are greatly oversimplified. He notes that Nietzsche hated democratic politics, but that he also hated all forms of politics equally, and that Nietzsche's association with fascism is an unfortunate but perhaps unpreventable misinterpretation of Nietzsche's work.
Similarly, while Nietzsche's association with fascism is often misunderstood, his views on women may also be somewhat more complex than they appear at a first glance. Clearly, Nietzsche's views of women often seem extremely uncomplimentary at first glance. He famously refers to women as cats, birds, and cows. However, a closer inspection reveals several complimentary views of women contained within the body of Nietzsche's work.
It is important to note that Nietzsche's views on women seem to be much less carefully considered than many of his views on other subjects. Mariani notes, "that he was not as comfortable or as familiar with women as he might have been; his comments and analysis are rather superficial and lack perception." This is perhaps the more forgiving of interpretations of Nietzsche's views on women, as many critics have forcefully and quite convincingly argued that Nietzsche's works contain a great deal that is sexist, and deeply offensive to women and men alike in that important regard.
Nietzsche's insights on the subject of women were often simple imitations of many of the prevailing attitudes of the day. This is a surprising comment, considering much of Nietzsche's philosophy was radical and innovative, and did not rely too heavily on traditional or accepted attitudes for a great deal of his work, preferring to break new philosophical ground. Nietzsche famously criticized other philosophers for failing to embrace hard and brutal truths, and instead simply going the way of convention in their philosophical works. Kaufman argues that Nietzsche's comments about women "generally have little merit and originality. They show the influence of LaRochefoucauld, Chamfort, and Schopenhauer, without equaling in either venom or absurdity Schopenhauer's famous diatribe On Women. In sum, they are on the whole strikingly inferior to the rest of his work" (6).
There are many possible reasons for Nietzsche's apparent disregard for women. Notes Mariani, "is entirely possible that he actually felt inadequate to a close and sustained relationship with a woman, and consequently, he felt the need to belittle the entire sex." Thus, the great philosopher's remarks about women may have been based on his almost complete ignorance of women as a whole, and may even be rooted in a sense of rejection that he suffered at the hands of women.
During his life, Nietzsche cultivated relationships with men, although his relationships with women were largely unsuccessful. He had a close relationship with the composer Wilhelm Richard Wagner (Fischer-Dieskau), and yet remained unmarried. Perhaps it is this lack of an emotionally intimate relationship with a woman that colored his views on women, and is the basis of many of his sexist comments.
In The Gay Science, Nietzsche shows a fairly sensitive understanding of the subject of female sexuality and chastity that is not to be expected from his somewhat conventional views of women espoused elsewhere within his works. In The Gay Science, Nietzsche notes that many upper class women were taught that female sexual feelings were shameful and to be denied. These women were traditionally kept uneducated about sexuality in order to keep their honor as untarnished women.
Nietzsche goes on to describe the paradox that these women encountered upon marriage. After marriage, women of his day were expected to enjoy sexual relations with their husbands, thus completely abandoning their shame and embarrassment over their sexual feelings, and happily engage in previously shameful activities.
Nietzsche clearly argues that this results in an unsolvable philosophical dilemma within these women. The women's perception of their husbands and themselves is ultimately irresolvable, and thus it becomes difficult for them to perceive the world as real.
Thus, Nietzsche argues that much of a woman's philosophy becomes distorted, including the maternal instinct. As such, Nietzsche argues that a woman's desire for children ultimately becomes a way for the woman to make up for her sexual indiscretions.
Nietzsche argued that women are understandably by this paradox. Men of his era were taught that male sexuality was valued, and the very essence of their masculinity, while women were taught that female sexuality was abhorrent, and that femininity was based on the denial of their sexual instinct.
In The Gay Science, Nietzsche uses the metaphor of a sailboat to describe the allure of a woman. He implies that a woman's charms are more appealing from a distance, when they are mysterious and appealing. Mariani argues that a woman's mystery and appeal is lost on close inspection, and instead this appeal becomes a trap that keeps a man from reaching toward his will to power. Further, Nietzsche seems to suggest that woman's capacity for revenge seems to be a part of a woman's appeal to a woman.
In The Gay Science, Nietzsche describes the passive aggressive tendencies of women. He notes that women gain advantage over men, who are naturally stronger, by exaggerating their feminine weaknesses.
Nietzsche argues that women become complacent when they are in love. He notes that a woman in love does not remember that a bit of uncertainty will help to keep a man interested in her charms, arguing that a man is more excited in pursuing her affection if she is less available to his advances.
His great work, Thus Spake Zarathustra contains much of Nietzsche's most infamous sexist remarks about women. Here, he intimates that women are not capable of friendship, and calls women cats, cows, and birds, alternately. Further, he seems to advocate using violence against women, and argues that marriage is largely a pointless…