|Schopenhauer: ‘The truth can wait, for it lives a long time’|
An abridged version of Arthur Schopenhauer’s famous essay
The nature of the female
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 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 reflexion 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 defence, 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 defence 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.
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.
Absence of genius
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 honour 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.
Monogamy and ‘filles de joie’
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 monogamy 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 honour 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 favoured 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.
No argument about polygamy
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.
Property and inheritance
In India, no woman is ever independent, but in accordance with the law of Manu, she stands under the control of her father, her husband, her brother or her son. It is, to be sure, a revolting thing that a widow should immolate herself upon her husband’s funeral pyre; but it is also revolting that she should spend her husband’s money with her paramours – the money for which he toiled his whole life long, in the consoling belief that he was providing for his children. Happy are those who have kept the middle course – medium tenuere beati.
In almost all nations, whether of the ancient or the modern world, even amongst the Hottentots, property is inherited by the male descendants alone; it is only in Europe that a departure has taken place; but not amongst the nobility, however.
That the property which has cost men long years of toil and effort, and been won with so much difficulty, should afterwards come into the hands of women, who then, in their lack of reason, squander it in a short time, or otherwise fool it away, is a grievance and a wrong as serious as it is common, which should be prevented by limiting the right of women to inherit. In my opinion, the best arrangement would be that by which women, whether widows or daughters, should never receive anything beyond the interest for life on property secured by mortgage, and in no case the property itself, or the capital, except when there cease to be male descendants. The people who make money are men, not women; and it follows from this that women are neither justified in having unconditional possession of it, nor fit persons to be entrusted with its administration. When wealth, in any true sense of the word, that is to say, funds, houses or land, is to go to them as an inheritance they should never be allowed the free disposition of it. In their case a guardian should always be appointed; and hence they should never be given the free control of their own children, wherever it can be avoided.
Up to ‘Property and inheritance’ the translation is by R. J. Hollingdale, from Arthur Schopenhauer: Essays and Aphorisms (Penguin 1970), then by T. Bailey Saunders.