Schopenhauer On Women

by Arthur Schopenhauer

13 July 2005


Schiller's whole comprehensive poem Würde der Frauen, with its effects of antithesis and contrast, fails, in my opinion, to express what is truly to be praised in women as well as do these few words of Jouy: Sans les femmes, le commencement de notre vie serait prive de secours, le milieu de plaisirs, et la fin de consolation.[1] Byron says the same thing with more pathos in Sardanopolis.[2]

The very first
Of human life must spring from woman's breast,
Your first small words are taught you from her lips
Your first tears quench'd by her, and your last sighs
Too often breathed out in a woman's hearing,
When men have shrunk from the ignoble care
Of watching the last hour of him who led them.

Both indicate the correct viewpoint for estimating the value of women.

[1]. Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805) is traditionally Germany's second greatest poet, but much of his verse, of which The Dignity (or Merit or Worth) of Women is a once-famous example, is of the 'good-bad' variety, like Walter Scott's. His true genius lay in the field of popular drama, and his best plays are still much performed. Victor Jouy (1764-1846), dramatist.

[2]. Act I, scene 2.


One needs only to see the way she is built to realize that woman is not intended for great mental or for great physical labor. She expiates the guilt of life not through activity but through suffering, through the pains of childbirth, caring for the child and subjection to the man, to whom she should be a patient and cheering companion. Great suffering, joy, exertion, is not for her: her life should flow by more quietly, trivially, gently than the man's without being essentially happier or unhappier.


Women are suited to being the nurses and teachers of our earliest childhood precisely because they themselves are childish, silly and short-sighted, in a word big children, their whole lives long: a kind of intermediate stage between the child and the man, who is the actual human being, 'man.' One has only to watch a girl playing with a child, dancing and singing with it the whole day, and then ask oneself what, with the best will in the world, a man could do in her place.


In the girl nature has had in view what could in theatrical terms be called a stage-effect: it has provided her with superabundant beauty and charm for a few years at the expense of the whole remainder of her life, so that during these years she may so capture the imagination of a man that he is carried away into undertaking to support her honorably in some form or another for the rest of her life, a step he would seem hardly likely to take for purely rational considerations. Thus nature has equipped women, as it has all its creatures, with the tools and weapons she needs for securing her existence, and at just the time she needs them; in doing which nature has acted with its usual economy. For just as the female ant loses its wings after mating, since they are then superfluous, indeed harmful to the business of raising the family, so the woman usually loses her beauty after one or two childbeds, and probably for the same reason.


The nobler and more perfect a thing is, the later and more slowly does it mature. The man attains the maturity of his reasoning powers and spiritual faculties hardly before his twenty-eighth year; the woman with her eighteenth. And even then it is only reasoning power of a sort: a very limited sort. Thus women remain children all their lives, never see anything but what is closest to them, cleave to the present moment, take appearance for reality and prefer trifles to the most important affairs. For reason is the faculty by virtue of which man lives not merely in the present, as the animal does, but surveys and ponders past and future, from which arises his capacity for foresight, his care and trouble, and the anxiety he so frequently feels. As a consequence of her weaker reasoning powers, woman has a smaller share of the advantages and disadvantages these bring with them: she is, rather, a mental myopic, in that her intuitive understanding sees very clearly what is close to her but has a very narrow field of vision from which what is distant is excluded; so that what is absent, past or to come makes a very much weaker impression on women than it does on us, which is the origin of their much greater tendency to squandering, a tendency which sometimes verges on madness. Women think in their hearts that the man's business is to make money and theirs is to spend it: where possible during the man's lifetime, but in any case after his death. That the man hands over to them for housekeeping the money he has earned strengthens them in this belief. -- Whatever disadvantages all this may bring with it, it has this good effect, that woman is more absorbed in the present than we are, so that, if the present is endurable at all, she enjoys it more, an this produces that cheerfulness characteristic of her through which she is so suited to entertain and, if need be, console the care-laden man.

To consult women when you are in difficulties, as the ancient Teutons did, is by no means a bad idea: for their way of looking at things is quite different from ours, especially in their propensity for keeping in view the shortest road to a desired goal and in general what lies closest to hand, which we usually overlook precisely because it is right in front of our noses. In addition, women are decidedly more prosaic than we are and see no more in things than is really there, while we, if our passions are aroused, will easily exaggerate and indulge in imaginings.

It is for this reason too that women display more pity, and consequently more philanthropy and sympathy with the unfortunate, than men do; on the other hand, they are inferior to men in respect of justice, honesty and conscientiousness: for as a result of their weaker reasoning power women are as a rule far more affected by what is present, visible and immediately real than they are by abstract ideas, standing maxims, previous decisions or in general by regard for what is far off, in the past or still to come. Thus, while they possess the first and chief virtue, they are deficient in the secondary one which is often necessary for achieving the first. -- One must accordingly say that the fundamental defect of the female character is a lack of a sense of justice. This originates first and foremost in their want of rationality and capacity for reflection but it is strengthened by the fact that, as the weaker sex, they are driven to rely not on force but on cunning: hence their instinctive subtlety and their ineradicable tendency to tell lies: for, as nature has equipped the lion with claws and teeth, the elephant with tusks, the wild boar with fangs, the bull with horns and the cuttlefish with ink, so it has equipped woman with the power of dissimulation as her means of attack and defense, and has transformed into this gift all the strength it has bestowed on man in the form of physical strength and the power of reasoning. Dissimulation is thus inborn in her and consequently to be found in the stupid woman almost as often as in the clever one. To make use of it at every opportunity is as natural to her as it is for an animal to employ its means of defense whenever it is attacked, and when she does so she feels that to some extent she is only exercising her rights. A completely truthful woman who does not practice dissimulation is perhaps an impossibility, which is why women see through the dissimulation of others so easily it is inadvisable to attempt it with them. -- But this fundamental defect which I have said they possess, together with all that is associated with it, gives rise to falsity, unfaithfulness, treachery, ingratitude, etc. Women are guilty of perjury far more often than men. It is questionable whether they ought to be allowed to take an oath at all.


To take care of the propagation of the human race nature has chosen the young, strong and handsome men, so that the race shall not degenerate. This is the firm will of nature in this matter, and its expression is the passion of women. In antiquity and force this law precedes every other: so woe to him who sets his rights and interests in the path of this law: whatever he says or does they will, at the first serious encounter, be mercilessly crushed. For the secret, unspoken, indeed unconscious, but nonetheless inborn morality of women is: 'We are justified in deceiving those who, because they provide a meager support for us, the individual, think they have acquired a right over the species. The character and consequently the wellbeing of the species has, through the next generaltion proceeding from us, been placed in our hands and entrusted to our care: let us discharge that trust conscientiously.' Women are, however, by no means conscious of this supreme law in abstracto, only in concreto; and they have no way of giving expression to it apart from their mode of action if the occasion presents itself; and then they are usually less troubled by their conscience than we suppose, because they are aware in the darkest recesses of their heart that in violating their duty to the individual they are all the better fulfilling their duty to the species, whose rights are incomparably greater.

Because fundamentally women exist solely for the propagation of the race and find in this their entire vocation, they are altogether more involved with the species than with individuals, and in their hearts take the affairs of the species more seriously than they do those of the individual. This gives their entire nature and all their activities a certain levity and in general a direction fundamentally different from those of the man: which is why dissension between married couples is so frequent and indeed almost the normal case.


Men are by nature merely indifferent to one another; but women are by nature enemies. The reason is no doubt that the odium figulinum[3] which with men does not go beyond the bounds of the particular guild, with women embraces the whole sex, because they are all engaged in the same trade. Even when they simply pass in the street they look at one another like Guelphs and Ghibellines; and when two women meet for the first time there is clearly more constraint and pretense involved than in the case of two men: so that when two women exchange compliments it sounds much more ludicrous than when two men do so. Further, while a man will as a rule still preserve some degree of consideration and humanity even when addressing men very much his inferior, it is intolerable to see with what haughty disdain an aristocratic woman usually speaks to women who are beneath her (I am not referring to servants). The reason for this may be that with women all differences in rank are far more precarious than they are with us, and can be altered or abolished much more quickly, because in our case a hundred different considerations are involved, while in theirs only one is decisive, namely which man they have succeeded in attracting. Another reason may be that, because they are all in the same profession, they all stand much closer to one another than men do, and consequently strive to emphasize differences in rank.

[3.] Mutual dislike of those in the same trade.


Only a male intellect clouded by the sexual drive could call the stunted, narrow-shouldered, broad-hipped and short-legged sex the fair sex: for it is with this drive that all its beauty is bound up. More fittingly than the fair sex, women could be called the unaesthetic sex. Neither for music, nor poetry, nor the plastic arts do they possess any real feeling or receptivity: if they affect to do so, it is merely mimicry in service of their effort to please. This comes from the fact that they are incapable of taking a purely objective interest in anything whatever, and the reason for this is, I think, as follows. Man strives in everything for a direct domination over things, either by comprehending or by subduing them. But woman is everywhere and always relegated to a merely indirect domination, which is achieved by means of man, who is consequently the only thing she has to dominate directly. Thus it lies in the nature of women to regard everything simply as a means of capturing a man, and their interest in anything else is only simulated, is no more than a detour, i.e. amounts to coquetry and mimicry. One has only to observe how they behave in the theater or at operas and concerts, e.g. the childish unconcern with which they go on chattering away during the most beautiful parts of the greatest masterpieces. If it is true the Greeks refused to allow women into the theater, they did the right thing: at least one would have been able to hear what was going on. -- Nor can one expect anything else from women if one considers that the most eminent heads of the entire sex have proved incapable of a single truly great, genuine and original achievement in art, or indeed of creating anything at all of lasting value: this strikes one most forcibly in regard to painting, since they are just as capable of mastering its technique as we are, and indeed paint very busily, yet cannot point to a single great painting; the reason being precisely that they lack all objectivity of mind, which is what painting demands above all else. Isolated and partial exceptions do not alter the case: women, taken as a whole, are and remain thorough and incurable philistines: so that, with the extremely absurd arrangement by which they share the rank and title of their husband, they are a continual spur to his ignoble ambitions. They are sexus sequior, the inferior second sex in every respect: one should be indulgent toward their weaknesses, but to pay them honor is ridiculous beyond measure and demeans us even in their eyes. -- This is how the peoples of antiquity and of the Orient have regarded women; they have recognized what is the proper position for women far better than we have, we with our Old French gallantry and insipid women-veneration, that highest flower of Christian-Germanic stupidity which has served only to make women so rude and arrogant that one is sometimes reminded of the sacred apes of Benares which, conscious of their own sanctity and inviolability, thought themselves at liberty to do whatever they pleased.

Woman in the Occident, that is to say the 'lady,' finds herself in a false position: for woman is by no means fitted to be the object of our veneration, to hold her head higher than the man or to enjoy equal rights with him. The consequences of this false position are sufficiently obvious. It would thus be a very desirable thing if this number two of the human race were again put in her natural place in Europe too, and a limit set ot the unnaturalness called a lady at which all Asia laughs and which Greece and Rome would laugh at too if they could see it: the consequences for the social, civil and political life of Europe would be incalculably beneficial. The European lady is a creature which ought not to exist at all: what there ought to be is housewives and girls who hope to become housewives and who are therefore educated, not in arrogant haughtiness, but in domesticity and submissiveness. It is precisely because there are ladies that European women of a lower status, which is to say the great majority of the sex, are much more unhappy than they are in the Orient.


In our monogamous part of the world, to marry means to halve one's rights and double one's duties. But when the law conceded women equal rights with men it should at the same time have endowed them with masculine reasoning powers. What is actually the case is that the more those rights and privileges the law accords to women exceed those which are natural to them, the more it reduces the number of women who actually participate in these benefits; and then the remainder are deprived of their natural rights by just the amount these few receive in excess of theirs: for, because of the unnaturally privileged position enjoyed by women as a consequence of mongamy and the marriage laws accompanying it, which regard women as entirely equal to men (which they are in no respect), prudent and cautious men very often hesitate before making so great a sacrifice as is involved in entering into so inequitable a contract; so that while among polygamous peoples every woman gets taken care of, among the monogamous the number of married women is limited and there remains over a quantity of unsupported women who, in the upper classes, vegetate on as useless old maids, and in the lower are obligated to undertake laborious work they are constitutionally unfitted for or become filles de joie, whose lives are as devoid of joie as they are of honor but who, given the prevailing circumstances, are necessary for the gratification of the male sex and therefore come to constitute a recognized class, with the specific task of preserving the virtue of those women more favored by fate who have found a man to support them or may reasonably hope to find one. There are 80,000 prostitutes in London alone: and what are they if not sacrifices on the altar of monogamy? These poor women are the inevitable counterpart and natural complement to the European lady, with all her arrogance and pretension. For the female sex viewed as a whole polygamy is therefore a real benefit; on the other hand there appears no rational ground why a man whose wife suffers from a chronic illness, or has remained unfruitful, or has gradually grown too old for him, should not take a second.

There can be no argument about polygamy: it is a fact to be met with everywhere and the only question is how to regulate it. For who is really a monogamist? We all live in polygamy, at least for a time and usually for good. Since every man needs many women, there could be nothing more just than that he should be free, indeed obliged, to support many women. This would also mean the restoration of woman to her rightful and natural position, the subordinate one, and the abolition from the world of the lady, with her ridiculous claims to respect and veneration; there would then be only women, and no longer unhappy women, of which Europe is at present full.


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