Food for thought.


From On Women by Schopenhauer. Hopefully the relevance to disability is obvious.

These passages not only equate certain qualities with being a woman, but also equate those things with being inferior. Two-step process, at least, not the single-step one most people take it as. (I bet even Schopenhauer, for all his “great male reasoning,” didn’t entirely notice.)

Women are directly adapted to act as the nurses and educators of our early childhood, for the simple reason that they themselves are childish, foolish, and short-sighted—in a word, are big children all their lives, something intermediate between the child and the man, who is a man in the strict sense of the word.

Man reaches the maturity of his reasoning and mental faculties scarcely before he is eight-and-twenty; woman when she is eighteen; but hers is reason of very narrow limitations. This is why women remain children all their lives, for they always see only what is near at hand, cling to the present, take the appearance of a thing for reality, and prefer trifling matters to the most important. It is by virtue of man’s reasoning powers that he does not live in the present only, like the brute, but observes and ponders over the past and future; and from this spring discretion, care, and that anxiety which we so frequently notice in people. The advantages, as well as the disadvantages, that this entails, make woman, in consequence of her weaker reasoning powers, less of a partaker in them. Moreover, she is intellectually short-sighted, for although her intuitive understanding quickly perceives what is near to her, on the other hand her circle of vision is limited and does not embrace anything that is remote; hence everything that is absent or past, or in the future, affects women in a less degree than men. This is why they have greater inclination for extravagance, which sometimes borders on madness.

It is because women’s reasoning powers are weaker that they show more sympathy for the unfortunate than men, and consequently take a kindlier interest in them. On the other hand, women are inferior to men in matters of justice, honesty, and conscientiousness. Again, because their reasoning faculty is weak, things clearly visible and real, and belonging to the present, exercise a power over them which is rarely counteracted by abstract thoughts, fixed maxims, or firm resolutions, in general, by regard for the past and future or by consideration for what is absent and remote. Accordingly they have the first and principal qualities of virtue, but they lack the secondary qualities which are often a necessary instrument in developing it. Women may be compared in this respect to an organism that has a liver but no gall-bladder.9 So that it will be found that the fundamental fault in the character of women is that they have no “sense of justice.” This arises from their deficiency in the power of reasoning already referred to, and reflection, but is also partly due to the fact that Nature has not destined them, as the weaker sex, to be dependent on strength but on cunning; this is why they are instinctively crafty, and have an ineradicable tendency to lie. For as lions are furnished with claws and teeth, elephants with tusks, boars with fangs, bulls with horns, and the cuttlefish with its dark, inky fluid, so Nature has provided woman for her protection and defence with the faculty of dissimulation, and all the power which Nature has given to man in the form of bodily strength and reason has been conferred on woman in this form. Hence, dissimulation is innate in woman and almost as characteristic of the very stupid as of the clever.

It is only the man whose intellect is clouded by his sexual instinct that could give that stunted, narrow-shouldered, broad-hipped, and short-legged race the name of the fair sex; for the entire beauty of the sex is based on this instinct. One would be more justified in calling them the unaesthetic sex than the beautiful. Neither for music, nor for poetry, nor for fine art have they any real or true sense and susceptibility, and it is mere mockery on their part, in their desire to please, if they affect any such thing.


About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods, which tell me who I am and where I belong in the world. I relate to objects as if they are alive, but as things with identities and properties all of their own, not as something human-like. Culturally I'm from a California Okie background. Crochet or otherwise create constantly, write poetry and paint when I can. Proud member of the developmental disability self-advocacy movement. I care a lot more about being a human being than I care about what categories I fit into.

8 responses »

  1. Poor Schopenhauer. His philosophy wasn’t described as Pessimism for nothing; “since a worse world could not continue to exist, it is absolutely impossible; and so this world itself is the worst of all possible worlds.”

    Dismissing half the human race thus would be quite a step towards that point of view…

    The mechanisms of sexism and disablism are almost identical. They are both a matter of confusing a physiological fact with a sociological construct.

  2. Yeah.

    What I’ve noticed in some things that try to combat sexism, though, is that the ableism remains in the argument.

    It becomes an argument to prove that women are not deficient in ___________ (which surely a good number of women aren’t), but then doesn’t question the actual meaning of whether “being deficient in ___________” should merit the consequences that it usually does, in terms of how the person is viewed and treated in society.

    Some people who call themselves disability rights activists also stop at proving that they are not, say, cognitively disabled (even if, in some cases, they are), but don’t take anything a step further into what cognitive ableism looks like.

  3. George Eliot’s reply to such men is still relevant:

    “Some have felt that these blundering lives are due to the
    inconvenient indefiniteness with which the Supreme Power has
    fashioned the natures of women: if there were one level of feminine
    incompetence as strict as the ability to count three and no more,
    the social lot of women might be treated with scientific certitude.
    Meanwhile the indefiniteness remains, and the limits of variation
    are really much wider than any one would imagine from the sameness
    of women’s coiffure and the favorite love-stories in prose and verse.
    Here and there a cygnet is reared uneasily among the ducklings
    in the brown pond, and never finds the living stream in fellowship
    with its own oary-footed kind. Here and there is born a Saint Theresa,
    foundress of nothing, whose loving heartbeats and sobs after an
    unattained goodness tremble off and are dispersed among hindrances,
    instead of centring in some long-recognizable deed.”

    Introduction to Middlemarch

    How many people have wondered why they had trouble fitting in society as it is configured today? Would their lives have been more focused if they knew they had neurological differences and started early to use their talent and not fight their differences?

  4. Hi Amanda!
    Your blog is one of the best blogs I have ever seen.
    May I link it to mine? ( I have an autism section).
    I am a “high functioning” autistic whatever that means
    I once worked as staff at a summer camp where the staff was
    abusing rights of autistics without knowing it. At that
    summer camp I felt more at home hanging out with the campers
    than the staff.
    I am nearly fourty and still dependent on my parents.
    They put me on social security disability and lied to me.
    I thought I would still be able to work full time but alas no.
    At this point I just need to get away from them and their
    Any comments would be welcome. Thanks much.
    Jen Mazer

  5. “With girls, Nature has had in view what is called in a dramatic sense a “striking effect,” for she endows them for a few years with a richness of beauty and a, fulness of charm at the expense of the rest of their lives; so that they may during these years ensnare the fantasy of a man to such a degree as to make him rush into taking the honourable care of them, in some kind of form, for a lifetime—a step which would not seem sufficiently justified if he only considered the matter. Accordingly, Nature has furnished woman, as she has the rest of her creatures, with the weapons and implements necessary for the protection of her existence and for just the length of time that they will be of service to her; so that Nature has proceeded here with her usual economy. Just as the female ant after coition loses her wings, which then become superfluous, nay, dangerous for breeding purposes, so for the most part does a woman lose her beauty after giving birth to one or two children; and probably for the same reasons.”

    Reminds me of the argument used to explain the behavioral traits of Angelman Syndrome in “Just how happy is the happy puppet?” They claim the behavior in Angelman Sndrome is optimized to get nurturance from parents.

  6. Schopenhauer had a wretched relationship with his mother that probably had a good deal to do with his misogyny. If you have access to Durant’s Story of Philosophy, read the chapter on S. to get some details.

    But ableists don’t usually have that sort of motivation to guide their biases.

  7. I dunno. NT wimmin scare me. I can get along with weird wimmin, sometimes. I think Mr. Wittgenstein was mad at all the other humans, not just the wimmin. A grumpy person, y’know?

    I’m a kind of grumpy old bachelor, m’self. I’ll not willingly insult or hurt anybody, but I do have a low opinion of my fellow humans, and am right wary when they are near by.

    I will say this; I distrust all strangers equally, be they male or female.

    Dang humans!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s