You are on page 1of 19

THE ROLE OF COURAGE IN

WOMEN'S MORAL ACTION


Thesis for a Bachelor's Degree in Philosophy at the Catholic
University of Leuven, Belgium
by Helen von Mott

Recently I had the honor to be a guest speaker at Berkeley University. The


event was "Empowering Women's Sexuality" and I was the wrestling
segment of the program. After speaking for a few minutes I brought out my
mats and asked for volunteers from the audience who would be interested in
coming to the front of the room and wrestling with me. These women had no
technique, no skill, and I wasn't offering to give them any. "Try to kill me." I
told them, "I just want to feel how ferocious you can be. Don't worry, I won't
hurt you, and I won't let myself get hurt. Show me how powerful you are."
Every single woman in the audience wanted to wrestle. Every one. Many of
them expressed a kind of wonder at how turned on they felt just being able
to "let go" like that. Many of them got turned on just watching. I wound up
taking my mats to a party after the lecture and wrestling the women there
who didn't get to wrestle in class. When I got tired, they wrestled each
other.
Helen von Mott

Helen von Mott is a person well accomplished in the area of female fighting,
both theoretically and practically. This is her Bachelor's thesis which she
wrote many years ago while at KUL (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven), the
most important university in Belgium and one of the oldest and most
respected universities in Europe.

In this essay I will explore how the concept of women as the "weaker sex"
has led them to be viewed as naturally inferior. Women themselves have
internalized this image, making it a self-fulfilling prophecy. All moral action

involves an element of courage, yet when women are viewed as weak by


themselves and others, they expect less of themselves and less is expected
of them. Their actions reflect this, as do their accomplishments. Traditionally
women have been seen as being capable of courageous acts, but the type of
courage attributed to them has been of a purely passive nature, the courage
of a martyr. Womens courage has been the courage of endurance, while
courage to take action in the face of adversity has been a virtue of the male.
Because of their perceived powerlessness, womens choices have been either
severely curtailed or eliminated altogether, and without choice, morality is
impossible. Only that which we choose to do freely is worthy of the name
"virtue." It is due to this powerlessness that women often feel paralyzing
fear when confronted with moral decisions. Moral decisions often involve
confronting men who do hold power within society. Women are taught to
feel inferior to men, and when confronted with the possibility of conflict with
a man (even if he is ethically incorrect) a woman will often decline from
moral action, out of fear. Also, because women are taught to be weak, and
even to see this weakness as a virtue, they will often tend to avoid conflict
completely. They will therefore neglect to defend a moral position, or decline
to take action in the face of danger, even if by failing to do this a moral
wrong is committed. Men also need to confront fear when faced with a moral
decision, but the issue of inferiority due to gender is non-existent. Because
of this, men are more free to act more constantly moral than are women. To
gain the same freedom, women must overcome their fear of men and the
sense of their own powerlessness.
The first thing that a woman must gain control over in order to become
free is her own body. Being in conrol of her own body means being able to
choose courses of action without being constrained by fear of physical
intimidation. The concept of "womens weakness" has been used by
countless philosophers throughout the centuries to justify the lesser position
that women occupy within society. Women have come a long way in gaining
equal educational opportunities, but they are still less educated as a group
(largely because less is expected of them) and the idea of women as "the
weaker sex" remains. As long as this is so, women will never be seen as
truly equal, because where reason fails to preserve the upper strata of
society for men, physical and therefore emotional intimidation often prevails.
When women are taught to defend themselves physically, they will see
themselves as truly equal and will also be able to choose despite their fears.
The "naturalness" of womens weakness has been used as a tool for
denying women an equal place in society throughout the history of
philosophy, despite the fact that no empirical evidence exists to substantiate
this viewpoint. The so-called fact of a womans physical inferiority has simply
been accepted as common sense. Other scholars have dismissed the

possibility of women being able to cope with hard physical labor,


disregarding the fact that in pre-modern agricultural societies women are
and have been expected to do as much or more of the hard physical labor as
men.
Women must not look on their bodies solely as objects with which to
attract men, but must take pride in the excellence of the action of which
their bodies are capable. Currently this is not so. From birth, little girls are
most praised not for their actions, but for their appearance. They are made
to think of themselves not as beings who act, but as sexual objects who are
acted upon. This passive attitude towards life has given men and women
alike a perception of women as victims. This can be illustrated in the violent
nature of mass media entertainment. Successful attacks on women, or
violent situations in which a woman is rescued by a man, reinforce the
cultural view of women as "the weaker sex."
The first philosopher clearly to see the need for the physical training
of women was Plato (427-347 B.C.). In Book V of the Republic, Plato
contends that the physical difference between men and women is trivial.
Because of this, women must be given the same physical and military, as
well as educational training, as men, so as to make equally efficient
"guardians." (Although womens education is today almost identical to that
for men, their relative lack of physical training continues to handicap them in
the world; a point that will be examined more closely in my discussion of
Aristotle and courage, below.) According to Plato, the fact of a womans
gender makes her no less fit to rule than a man, any more than a man with
hair is more fit to rule than a man who is bald (Book V, Part VI, 454c). In his
emphasis on the need for coeducational physical training, Plato went so far
as to recommend that women exercise naked with men, as part of achieving
the equal education of guardianship.
Professor Allan Bloom of Yale University, in his "Republic: An
Interpretive Essay," opined that this type of equality would paradoxically
lead to a repression of sexual desire. In Blooms opinion, this would be a bad
thing, and would lead to sexual indifference as opposed to sexual equality.
In his words, "men can be naked together because it is relatively easy to
desexualize their relations with each other." This seems to ignore the fact
that in Platos time and our own time, many men feel a sexual attraction to
other men equal to or greater than the desire they feel for women. I am not
arguing that exercise in the nude, with men, is necessary in order for women
to achieve equality; but the fascination with women strictly as sexual objects
must be overcome in order for women to achieve equality. So in a sense,
Bloom is right, in that male sexual desire must be repressed to some extent
in order for women to be perceived as equals; but he is wrong in his

assessment of this outcome as an undesirable state of affairs. In every


society some degree of repression is necessary, in order for the society to
function. We take pride in our rationality, and that rationality itself requires
some suppression of the passions. Complete physical independence is
necessary in order for women to find moral equality in an increasingly
amoral society. Specifically, if women were educated as Plato described in
the Republic, todays frequent violence against women would hardly exist,
because women would not be perceived as easy targets and objects of
derision for physical incompetence. Rather, they would be seen as full
equals: not persons with "complementary virtues" as Kant and Rousseau
would have it, but as fellow human beings.
Plato is often called "the first feminist," but this term is misleading. In
actuality he did not see women as genuinely equal to men, but instead tells
us "in general the one sex [i.e., male] is much better at everything than the
other."
Another point to be made is that although Plato paid lip-service to
equal education, his own academy consisted almost entirely of men, with
very few exceptions. Richard C. Lewontin describes the exchange in Book V
as "the earliest one in which intellectuals explain to each other why
affirmative action just wont work" in academic life." He says of Plato: "I
suppose he searched for candidates but none were suitable" (Lewontin,
"Platos Women"), using the faulty arguments of todays professional
academicians to underscore the faulty actions of Plato. Professor Lewontin
sees the predominance of men in Platos guardian class as well as in his
academy as being comparable to womens situation in modern universities.
Plato also made it clear in the Republic that he did not advocate
equality due to any belief in "human rights" in the modern sense, but for the
good of the hypothetical state. He felt that some women were better than
some men at some things, but that the male gender was the superior
gender overall. Therefore, the title of "first feminist" really is not applicable
to Plato. Besides this, he tended to forget himself even in his theoretical
advocacy of egalitarianism, and in the same book he refers to female
guardians as "guardians wives." Meanwhile, in the Laws Plato is relentlessly
misogynistic, and in a warning that the failure to regulate the private realm
endangers the state, he wrote:
It is a grave error in your law that the position of women has been left unregulated . . . the very
half of the human race that is generally predisposed by weakness to undue secrecy and craftiness
the female sexhas been left to its disorders by the mistaken concession of the legislators . . . .
Womanleft without chastening restraintis not, as you might fancy, merely half the problem,

nay she is twofold and more than a twofold problem, in proportion as her native disposition is
inferior to mans. Laws, 780e-781b.
In Timaeus, Plato explains that man has two souls. The immortal soul
is situated in the head, which is the most divine part of the body. The mortal
soul resides in the breast, and is divided into two sections, one superior and
one inferior. The superior section, he asserts, "is endowed with courage and
passion and loves contention; [the gods] settled it near the head . . . in
order that being obedient to the rule of reason it might join with [reason] in
constraining the desires" (Timaeus, 70a). Plato compares this part of the
soul to the mens quarters in a contemporary Greek household, while the
part-soul that he compares with the womens quarters is the part that he
associates with bodily desires. (It is interesting to note that in Platos time,
women were viewed as the more amorous or lustful of the two sexes, and
thus more likely to be ruled by their passions.) Nancy Tuana, in her book
Woman and the History of Philosophy, feels that this analysis proves that
Plato associated the virtue of courage strictly with the male.
In addition to this, in Timaeus Plato tells us a creation-myth of how in
the beginning of the world there was only man, woman being a secondary
creation; a pattern familiar to most of us from the story of Adam and Eve.
Each soul was assigned to a star, and was implanted in a body that was
created as equal in perfection with all other men. Mans fate thereafter was
determined by how he responded to his bodily passions. If he conquered his
emotions, then upon the death of his physical body a man would ascend to
his assigned star. However, those men who were "cowards or led
unrighteous lives" (my emphasis) would be rebornas women! "At the
second birth he would pass into a woman, and if, when in that state of
being, he did not desist from evil, he would continually be changed into
some brute [animal] who resembled him in the evil nature which he had
acquired" (Timaeus 42b-c). There is considerable space for doubt as to
whether Plato himself had a literal belief in this myth; the misogynistic sense
of the piece is clear enough, nonetheless.
Despite all this, until as late as the 19th century Plato remained the
only philosopher to have seen women on a reasonably equal footing with
men; therefore he deserves credit in that regard.
Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), on the other hand, believed womens
inferiority to be entirely natural and firmly based on their physiology; thus
setting the tone for philosophical discourse on the subject for thousands of
years to come. Feminine inferiority, in his opinion, was due the fact that
women had "less heat" in their bodies than did men:

More females [infants] are produced by the young and those verging on old age than by those in
the prime of life; in the former the heat is not yet perfect, in the latter it is failing. And those
[men] of a moister and more feminine body are more wont to beget females . . . . now all these
characteristics come from a deficiency in natural heat (Generation, 766b 28-33).
In his Physiognomics, Aristotle discussed the body types of different
animals, and concluded that by virtue of their physical makeup, women
could not help but be soft and cowardly. (Physiognomics, 809b 3-10) He
sums up by saying: "the male is more upright and courageous and, in short,
altogether better than the female." These statements show how his biases
affected his science; but they likewise influenced his Ethics and his other
works of philosophy as well.
In Aristotles Politics he argues that it is the nature of woman to be
ruled by man, just as passions must be ruled by reason. He says that
because "the male is by nature superior and the female inferior . . . the one
rules and the other is ruled." (Politics 1254b 6-14) Woman, by necessity,
must be ruled: by her husband if she is "free," by her master if she is a
slave. Women are capable of virtue; but the virtue of a woman is her
obedience to a virtuous man. "The temperance of a man and of a woman, or
the courage and justice of a man and of a woman are not, as Socrates
maintained, the same; the courage of a man is shown in commanding, and
of a woman in obeying." (Politics, 1260a 20-23) Aristotle leads the way for
Rousseau, Kant and others by laying the groundwork for the "equal but
different" argument, which is still popular today. Aristotle says that "the
excellences of the [woman] are in body, beauty, and stature; in soul, selfcommand and an industry that is not sordid." (Rhetoric, 1361a 8-9) It is
tempting to think that Aristotle, by recognizing "industry" as a feminine
excellence, has seen fit to bestow upon woman a modicum of equality; but
alas this is not so. For Aristotle the inclusion of industry as a feminine
excellence excludes women from the possibility of "higher" excellences. This
is because he believes that to lead the life of an artisan or tradesman is
"ignoble and inimical to excellence," and that "leisure is necessary both for
the development of excellence and the performance of political duties."
(Politics, 1328b 36-1329a 2) Of course, both of these are excluded from the
feminine realm. Aristotles misogyny, and his belief in the inferiority of
women, equating women with passivity and incapacity outside their
domestic sphere, is a fundamental part of his metaphysics. Yet although we
are taught that Aristotle was one of the greatest thinkers of all time, with
most of Western philosophy being based on his work, this element of his
thought is hardly ever examined in an academic setting.
The object of this work is not, however, to catalog the pervasive
misogyny in Western philosophy, but to see how the perception of women as

inferior beings has stripped them of the courage necessary for morality.
Therefore, having shown the low esteem with which women were held in the
foundational works of that philosophy, I will now go on by investigating the
nature of courage and its evolution from ancient to modern times, without
the female. (It is interesting that the Greek word for courage, andreia, is
literally translated as "manliness," and the word "virtue" is itself taken from
the Latin vir, meaning "man.")
Plato, in his Protagoras and Laches, discussed the nature of courage,
but failed to come up with any satisfactory answer as to what courage
actually is. He did conclude, however, that that an essential element of
courage was the knowledge of good and evil, indicating a tie between
courage and morality. His logic was as follows: Courage is a virtue that is to
be admired. Action taken in the service of evil is not to be admired; but to
know if an action is performed in the service of good rather than evil, the
actor must be able to distinguish between the two. This definition seems
flawed, in that it digs too deep, and conflates courage with wisdom. What
motivates a courageous act in no way detracts from the strength of will
needed to perform the act.
Aristotle has a much more forthright approach to his examination of
courage than his predecessor Plato. For Aristotle, "while [the brave man] will
fear even the things that are not beyond human strength, he will face them
as he ought and as the rule directs, for honors sake; for this is the end of
virtue." (Nicomachean Ethics III5a 10) For Aristotle, it is essential that in
order to qualify as brave, a man must not act out of passion, fearlessness
(rashness), ignorance, fear of punishment or pain, experience, or supreme
self-confidence (i.e., a sanguine nature). Instead, he must act with regard to
a noble end, despite any fear that he may feel. Aristotle also affirms the
possibility of sacrifice in acts of courage, saying: "It is for facing what is
painful . . . that men are called brave. Hence courage involves pain, and it is
justly praised; for it is harder to face what is painful than to abstain from
what is pleasant."
On this point I must agree with Aristotle in that the possibility of pain
must be embraced in order for a physical act to be called brave.
Unfortunately, women are sheltered from birth, and encouraged to fear
physical pain to the point of avoiding it at all costs. "Roughhousing" with
parents (i.e., the father) is usually off-limits to female children, and while
boys are often allowed to work out their differences physically among
themselves, it has been considered "unseemly" for young ladies to engage in
such "masculine" activity. In addition, hard-contact sports such as football,
boxing, rugby, and wrestling have been customarily eliminated from the
feminine experience even in so-called egalitarian schools. So the perception

of woman as the "weaker sex" becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Women


are denied the opportunity of engaging in strenuous physical activity, and so
become unable to do so. The only time that touch is permissible to woman is
within a sexual, or maternal, setting. Friends sometimes do hold hands or
hug, but an aggressive physical attitude for women is actively discouraged
within the confines of modern society.
As a result, when put in a potentially hostile situation, women have the
tendency to "freeze up." Nothing in their experience has prepared them for
dealing with inflicted pain, and we fear that which we do not know. In the
hopes of averting the path of aggression, women will often turn to the only
defense that they have been taught: absolute passivity! (There is even a
popular myth that says that this is the best way for women to deal with
hostile situations. Lest any credence be given to this, I would like to point
out that in most reported violent attacks on women, when any strong
resistance has been shown, the resistance has been enough to break off the
attack altogether. In psychological profiling it has been shown that most
would-be rapists prefer passive victims, so as to fulfill their fantasies of
omnipotence.) Women often harbor so much fear that the very threat of
physical discomfort will be enough to dissuade them from doing what they
feel is ethically right. Sometimes the passive defense works (although most
often it doesnt), but every time it is used it fosters resentment, for it strips
away honesty and forces women to use their weakness instead of their
strength to defend themselves. Furthermore, it serves to convince women of
their own lack of physical ability.
For the purposes of this paper I will use a very Aristotelian definition of
courage. Courage is an affirmation of all that is noble within the human
spirit, but it is an affirmation that takes place in spite of worldly
circumstances. A courageous act involves the possibility of sacrifice, up to
and including the sacrifice of ones own life. Fear is an essential part of any
courageous act, for courage lies in feeling fear and actively affirming what is
right in spite of that fear. There can be no courage where there is no fear. A
courageous act for a woman, however, more often ends in the ultimate
sacrifice than does a courageous act for a man. This is largely due to her
lack of physical training and her own mental impression of her helplessness.
As a result, women feel (often rightly) that for them there is no middle
ground regarding acts of courage. When they act in accordance with their
conscience against societys expectations, they often risk much more than
do their male counterparts. This is because the personhood of the male is
already taken for granted within our patriarchal society. When a man asserts
himself regarding what he believes to be right, there is no conception that
he is somehow "out of line," so long as he acts within the boundaries of

propriety. If however a woman asserts herself in the same way, she is often
seen as "a radical," "a militant feminist," "masculine," or worse.
This type of societal reaction to womens strength is a form of
manipulation and interferes with female autonomy. For the 18th century
German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), autonomy was the source
of human dignity and the foundation for all moral action. "Manipulation" can
be understood as anything that tries to influence a person to make rational
decisions on irrational grounds. It can also be achieved by withholding
information, so that the person making the decision is incapable of
formulating a rational basis for a decision. The conception of femininity is a
manipulation that encourages women to base decisions regarding behavior
no on reason, but out of a desire to fit in with society. When women are
taught to be "feminine," their rights regarding the possibility of decisionmaking without undue, illogical interference are violated, including choices
about moral action. (The same strait-jacket is the case for men and
"masculinity"; but the limits, for men, do not affect the bounds for morality
and courage.) For Kant, one is under a moral obligation to do something if it
is required by the principles one accepts as a rational being, free from
"determining causes" and independently of all desire. For a woman,
however, determining causes have typically become so much a part of selfimage that it is virtually impossible for her to think rationally.
Feminine passivity often manifests itself in servility. When one is
servile, one cannot be moral, for if one respected a system of moral rights
one would be compelled to learn ones place in it, to affirm it proudly, and
not to take abuses of it lightly. When a woman subjects herself to servitude
she shows either an ignorance of her moral rights or a disregard for them.
The same can of course be said of the subjector, but he doubtless feels
justified in thinking that the woman has waived her rights to autonomy in
favor of an easier life. The problem with this agument is that some rights
(e.g., the right to respect as a human being) cannot be waived. When a
woman misunderstands her own rights or does not hold them in high enough
esteem, she can only be expected to make this mistake concerning the
rights of others as well. From a Kantian perspective, to behave in an ethical
manner is to be aware of and to respect the moral law. This involves holding
the moral system in esteem, and being unwilling to give up ones place in it.
The moral law is a system of fundamental rights and duties. A persons
respect for humanity as a whole is evidence in that persons respect for the
moral law. This system is universal. Therefore each person must treat his or
her own rights with the same deference that he or she would treat the rights
of others. "Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own
person or in the person of another, always at the same time as an end and
never simply as a means," says Kant. Servility is an immoral act because it

is a disregard for ones own place within the moral law. Forfeiture of
autonomy is immoral as well, because, as Kant saw it: "Autonomy is the
ground of the dignity of human nature and of every rational nature, and
therefore lies at the foundation of all morality." Only fully autonomous
persons are capable of making the Good into the exclusive aim of their
actions. So in the sense that femininity encourages passivity, discourages
autonomy, and thus inspires servility, the idea of a "feminine nature" is itself
immoral. (It is ironic that Kant himself would disagree with me on this point,
since he, like Aristotle, believed womens morality to be "different" from
mens morality.)
For Kant, woman was the "fair" or "beautiful" sex, while man was he
"noble" sex. He believed that the "fair" nature of woman refined the noble
nature of man. He wrote, in Anthropology: "As culture advances each party
must be superior in his own particular way: the man must be superior to the
woman by his physical strength and courage; the woman to the man,
however, by her natural talent for gaining mastery over his desire for her. In
a still uncivilized state of affairs, on the contrary, all superiority is on the
mans side." Therefore the superiority of the woman to the man is not even
due to any autonomous talent she may bring to the relationship, but strictly
by her value as a sex object and manipulative skill in such a role. Womans
"feminine charm" is given to her by the culture, while a mans natural
physical superiority is given to him by birth. Kant also believed that reason
was a defining characteristic of a moral entity, yet he discouraged women
from strengthening this capacity. He justified this in Observations by saying
that deep meditation and sustained reflection "do not well befit" the female
sex. Further, even if a woman were to succeed in such endeavors, she would
"destroy the merits that are proper to her sex . . . at the same time she will
weaken the charms with which she exercises her great power over the
[male] sex." So women are to be excluded from the realm of reason, and
thus of morality in the Kantian view, not because they are incapable of
pursuing this goal, but because in doing so they would inhibit mens
development. So much for a woman being an end in herself!
In the Kantian analysis, the purpose of women is to refine men by
encouraging in men the noble qualities that they are attracted to, e.g.,
wisdom, courage and accomplishments. Men in turn are attracted to
womens beauty. Therefore, although a woman is capable of reason, it is her
proper place to see the world not through the eyes of reason, but through
the eyes of beauty. He writes: "A womans education is not instruction but
guidance. She must know men, rather than books." Further: "One will seek
not to broaden [womens] total moral feeling and not their memory, and
that of course not by universal rules, but by some judgment upon the
conduct that they see about them." So womens moral instruction is to be

based on emotion, instead of reason. "Women will avoid the wicked not
because it is unright, but because it is ugly; and virtuous actions mean to
them such [actions] as are morally beautiful. Nothing of duty, nothing of
compulsion, nothing obligation!" (Observations.) However, he points out in
his Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, that true moral action should
not be based on feelings, but instead on universal principles founded on
reason. It seems then that Kant advocates the socialization of women into
amoral creatures. This can be summed up in his view of the marital
relationship: "The principal object of marriage is that the man should
become more perfect as a man, and the woman as a wife." (Observations.)
The moral goodness of women therefore, is again defined in terms of
servility. Yet as we have seen, in the Kantian analysis morality and servility
are mutually exclusive ideas. According to Kant, people have a duty to
perfect themselves. Despite this, he argues against women perfecting
themselves as women, because in doing so they would be less apt to serve
men.
Kant bases this servitude on womens natural weakness. A womans
biological timidity is the natural result of having to bear the fetus.
(Anthropology.) The woman is dependent upon the man in her entirety. Kant
argues that this protection is a womans right, and not a liability. Obviously
this is a hollow argument, for this reliance strips women of their autonomy,
which is, as we have seen, necessary in order to live a moral life. Men
become their wives "curators" and dictate to them not only what their
actions should be but what their very will consists of. (Anthropology.)
Unfortunately, Kant is correct in his assessment in that this is how society
has traditionally operated; but he is wrong in calling this state of
dependence "natural."
In The Phenomenology of Spirit, the German philosopher Georg Hegel
(1770-1831) writes that human relationships are based on the fight for
recognition. This is what he refers to as the master/slave relationship.
Although Hegel used the terms "master" and "slave" rather more literally
than I will employ them herein, there are definitely parallels between the
Hegelian historical situation in which "Man" has found himself, and the role
of women. (Simone de Beauvoir saw this as well, and believed that the
tendency to oppress others was natural to human consciousness; again, we
should not confuse natural with desirable. In her central work The Second
Sex, she wrote that oppression is the result of the "existents" desire to flee
from herself/himself by identifying superiority as the oppression of another.
"In each man that exists today, the husband wants to find himself in his
wife, the lover in his mistress . . . he is seeking in her they myth of his
virility, his sovereignty, of his immediate reality.") Hegel believed, ironically
in retrospect, that a free society would come about with the ultimate victory

of Napoleon Bonaparte. For Hegel, history is the history of warlike masters


and working slaves. To be human is to be one or the other. For the master,
recognition is valued above life itself, indeed, the way one gains recognition
is by risking ones life, for risking ones life is the base level of human value.
The recognition that a master gets, is that of being called "master" by other
human beings. This recognition is empty, however, because what the master
really wants is recognition by an equal, and this he cannot get from a slave.
Two masters could never recognize one another, because they would always
fight to the death.
The slave is the slave because he was not willing to put his life on the
line and the master was, and therefore the slave was dominated. However,
because mastery is actually an impasse, the slave can realize what the
master cannot: that is, real freedom. That is actually what the master
wants, but cant have because he is trying to gain freedom through
domination, and that does not work.
Freedom, and the idea of freedom, only become possible through the
master as a catalyst in the life of the slave. Because the slave has been
subordinate, he recognizes the value of autonomy. At first he sees this
autonomy as only belonging to the master, but he can see what freedom is
and so begins to desire it for himself. The slave has an advantage, in that he
doesnt want to be what he currently is, while the master is unwilling to
change, although he isnt truly happy. But although the slave can see what
freedom is, the reality is that he is still a slave. He became a slave because
of his fear of death. He automatically assumes that the master can kill him.
His knowledge allows the master to retain his position without having to
fight. Because the slave will not risk his life, he is dependent on the master.
To overcome his slavery he must overcome his fear of death. The goal of the
slave is not to become a master himself, but to evolve out of slavery. When
there are no more slaves, then mastery is impossible. The slave sees that
the meaning of recognition (and therefore freedom) lies in mutual
recognition. He can see this, while the master cannot, because the slave is
capable of seeing the humanity and the autonomy in the master as well as in
himself, while the master only sees himself as truly human. Only if the slave
comes to find his own existence in and for himself can he realize a humanity
that is mutually recognizable. The slave can only change the fight between
himself and his master by changing the conditions in which the fight takes
place.
It is important to note here that for Hegel, the slave and not the
master was responsible for transforming nature. The master needed only to
dominate the slave, and the slave would change nature according to the
masters whims. The reason that womens slavery has been so difficult to

combat lies here. Women are subject to a peculiar kind of slavery that
denies them access to the world. Hegel assumed that when the slave worked
he made new conditions for himself, and when he worked again he improved
on those conditions, so there was a constant process of improvement.
For women, this is not so. Like the Hegelian slave, women are
dominated by the fear of losing their lives. Because women are unwilling to
risk their lives, they become dependent on men. They are not recognized as
equal human beings, because they are not willing to risk as much as men in
order to assert their humanity. Even if a woman is willing to risk her life for
this, it is still assumed that she is not, and she is treated with less respect
than a man. At the very least, she is challenged more than her male
counterparts, for she is seen as a natural slave, and her attitude of
autonomy is viewed as disrespect for her masters. However, because her
work cannot change the condition of the world, it is impossible for her to end
her slavery in the way that Hegel described. However, Hegel also said that
the slave must change so that he no longer fears death from the master.
Hegel uses the term Bildung, which can be translated either as
"transformation" or "education." Here I shall use the term "educative
forming." Women are not put in positions where they can change the world
through work, but they do have the opportunity to be educated. Through
education, women can see the ideal of freedom, just as Hegels slave could
see freedom through his work. Women must also learn to think about the
education they receive, for often the education given to women educates
them to think like slaves. Education can free women from their economic
dependence, but often dependence on men by way of protection is imposed
by the framework within womens own minds. In order to overcome this
tendency, women must transform themselves through physical education.
This physical transformation will engender a psychological transformation, so
that women will no longer fear death at the hands of their "masters."
Educating women to the possibility of their own strength will allow for
mutual recognition to take place. This will also be of benefit to men, for the
love and recognition they will receive from their mates will be the love and
recognition of equals, not subordinates. When women are seen as human,
moreover, men will be less able to commit unethical acts toward them. This
is true even if men at first do not see women as equals, for in defending
themselves, women will keep unethical acts from taking place. Thus the
educative forming of women will not only lead to their emancipation, but will
also lead to an ethical education for many men, as well. Through mutual
recognition, both genders will benefit.
Hegel saw that when the slave had the idea of freedom, but could not
yet act on this idea, he put up mental defenses to justify his inaction. One of

the justifications was that of stoicism. In stoicism, the slave tries to convince
himself that it is enough to know he is free, and the real conditions are
unimportant. The problem with this argument is that it amounts essentially
to lying to oneself. External conditions are precisely what determine the
extent to which a person is actually free. All persons are free, but freedom
always lies within a limited situation with a finite number of possibilities. So
all people are free, but some people are more free than others. To know that
your soul is free, is not sufficient to feel free. To be free is to be free in
comparison with others who are free as well.
To justify external situations, a slave often results to solipsism.
Solipsists will say to themselves: "Nothing is real, except what I make of
reality." At the core of this is contradiction. It is impossible to affirm reality,
and simultaneously to deny its existence. The outcome of full-blown
solipsism is suicide, the supreme act of denying the outer world. Suicide can
often take the form of denying the probably outcomes of self-destructive
behavior. Solipsism is an illusory freedom, and often ends in the tragic
destruction of life. If real freedom were gained, solipsism would be
unnecessary, because women would have more actual options, and would
not need to choose imaginary ones.
Christian theology, for Hegel, was the third and final way that a slave
can convince himself of his own freedom while retaining his subservient
status. To the Christian way of thinking (in common with more than one
other religion), the contradiction between the ideal and the real is a
necessary part of existence. Through his religion, the slave convinces
himself that no ideals can ever be recognized in this lifetime. He sees
everyone as a slave, with God being the ultimate master. What happens
here is that the slave takes over his own slavery. Even if he were freed, the
slave would still see himself as a slave to God.
The philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900) saw the
entirety of Judeo-Christian ethics as "slave morality." By contrast, he saw
power as the fundamental goal of human existence. Some would argue that
the Nietzschean "will to power" was not necessarily power over others (as it
has been often interpreted and applied), but the power to affirm ones own
existence by the ability to say "yes" to whatever life may throw in ones
path. He described the "sacred yes" as the state of mind in which "the spirit
now wills its own will" (Thus Spake Zarathustra), as opposed to the will of
the priests, the authorities, et cetera. The individual will was all-important,
and a willl that was genuinely free from traditionalist dogma was the
foundation for the true mode of human being. The "first order will" is the will
of the actor, while the "second order will" is the will of the he who is acted
upon. Essential to the first order will is a will to an activity. "Muscular

anticipations" are an essential part of a persons will. The will itself doesnt
cause physical activity, but some kind of physical activity is the ultimate
goal. Nonetheless, freedom of action is not a prerequisite of freedom for
Nietzsche, but rather, in order for freedom of will to occur, a person must
want to do something. Some activity must at least be anticipated by the
person; and this desire to act must be his own desire, not one that is
imposed. Because women historically have been denied the possibility of
action through economic, social, and physical repression, their first order will
has been taken from them. Because they are ignorant of the possibility of
creating their own existence, women often take a laissez-faire approach to
life in general. Women in this category arent motivated to do anything,
because in their hearts they hold the conviction that they cant do anything.
In order to exercise free will, women must know their options. In order for
women to know their options, they must have experience of them. Once
again, women can only experience these options through education, and
that education must be both moral, mental, and physical.
For Nietzsche, the fundamental difference that distinguishes the master
mentality from the slave mentality is that those with the master mentality
see the good as that which is strong, and the bad as that which is weak. On
the other hand, the slave mentality sees the good in that which is weak, and
evil in that which is strong. The term "evil" as opposed to "bad" denotes a
certain judgmentalism in the ethics of a slave, for it emphasizes a mode of
behavior that is absolutely forbidden on a universal, as opposed to a
personal, level. Slave moralities want to claim that they are not founded on
human ideologies, but are in some way objective, and therefore more "real"
than master moralities. "At the heart of the slave moralitys absoluteness," it
has been said by a commentator, "lies the moral agents eschewal of
responsibility for the creation of his own morality."
Nietzsche disagrees with Hegels notion of freedom, and even with the
idea of freedom itself. He saw that the term "freedom" was ultimately
arbitrary, since it was an ethical value, and therefore an "artificial" creation
of man. So the modern notion of freedom, for Nietzsche, is merely a type of
conformism. In his view, the freedom won by Hegels slave was worthless,
since it was a slaves form of freedom. When the weak prevail in a society,
then slave moralities become established as the norm. A result of this type
of morality is a slavish nature, some of the characteristics of which are:
resentfulness, self-deception, meekness, and weak will. These are precisely
some of the personality traits that arise out of womens fear of mens
strength. Instead of embracing and saying "yes" to the possibility of physical
conflict, and thus being able to go beyond it, women put on the mask of
passivity and become stuck with it, paralyzed by their inability to choose.
When a woman seeks to be "feminine," she further affirms her weakness by

conforming to societal norms, without questioning how those norms affect


her humanity. Assuming the values of the "feminine" woman does away with
the need for a free and creative assertion of ones own individual being,
because the values of femininity are accepted as absolutes. A woman cannot
become her own person when she strives for the artificial goal of femininity.
Embodied in the victory of the slave is the spirit of revenge. This is true
as well of victories won by using guilt and sex as weapons. Instead of acting
to assert her own strength, the woman reacts to the strength of the male
and thus is diminished in both his eyes and her own. In The Genealogy of
Morals, Nietzsche tells us that reactive forces have to do with negation or
denial, whereas active forces have to do with affirmation. Reactive forces are
characterized by resentment, bad conscience, and an ascetic ideal.
Resentment is not a natural feeling, but rather an imaginary form of
revenge. When women resent the autonomy of men, they deny their own
responsibility and by doing so, put themselves in an even more passive
position. The resentful woman will try to separate force from what it can do
by accusing men of putting her in a position of subservience. Instead of
embracing the positive qualities of physical power, she will generalize and
say that all physical aggression is evil, because it was used against her as a
means of subjugation. When women feel resentment they often accuse men
of being at fault for their own failures, without taking any kind of action to
improve their worldly situation.
Bad conscience is where a person turns against self, and is a
continuation of resentment. Once again one fails to take action, and instead
looks for an agent upon which to heap the blame for ones situation in life.
Bad conscience is different from resentment, however, in that now oneself is
the recipient of blame. An internal sense of pain develops through the
imposition of guilt. The truth of either the resentful womans perception of
the world or the "bad conscience" womans perception is not the issue. What
is the issue is that both perceptions limit the possibility for positive action to
take place.
Slave morality finds the justification for both resentment and bad
conscience in the ascetic ideal. The triumph of reactive forces comes about
through fictions, which have real effects. First, accusation is used to get
active forces to limit their power, and then bad conscience is used to get
people to accuse themselves. In subscribing to an ascetic ideal, people
negate the existence of this world in favor of another. For women this
happens by way of denying their actual feelings and desires, in favor of what
the "should" feel or desire. Women negate actuality in favor of the illusive,
fictitious ideal of femininity. But real emotions and desires cannot be
negated, and women only become more resentful. Nietzsche points out that

the resentful person can never love or respect another in the active sense.
The person who resents builds up her hatred and resentment so that even
the dearest and most loving memories have an undercurrent of hatred to
them. This type of bitter hatred and resentment is often stereotyped in the
person of the so-called "militant feminist," which I prefer to call a
"matriarchist." The loss of the ability to forget is a key characteristic of the
resentful person, and clearly this is true in the case of the matriarchist, who
is unable to forget the pain that has been inflicted on her by men in her
past. Because she cannot forget, her ability to receive new impressions is
severely impaired. She despises the passivity that is expected of her as a
woman, but instead of taking action in a positive way (that is, through
creative strength), she falls back on the conditioning of passivity, and
instead of embracing the world, shuns it in the form of "gender separatism."
Her mind is constantly focused on blame and accusation; thus her ability to
admire, respect or love is dulled by the onslaught of her constant hatred. (I
use the matriarchist here in order to illustrate a point, but this type of
attitude can just as easily be found in a housewife, maid, waitress, or any
other woman who is not satisfied with her life and feels that her
underachievement is due exclusively to mens domination over her.) When a
woman blames man for her worldly position, she effectively gives up her
power over her own life, and therefore her own moral action.
In order to act morally a woman must not blame, but accept and affirm
the good within her. She must be able to grasp her own life, its past, present
and future, and welcome it as the creative force which brought her into
being. She must say, "I am good, and every other consideration is
secondary." Only then will she have the freedom of will , the strength, and
the courage to take the necessary action to create her own life. To be able to
create ones own life is for Nietzsche true freedom, and only in this way is
moral action possible.
Simone de Beauvoir (1908-86), probably the leading woman
philosopher of the 20th Century, believed that no matter how compelling the
social forces involved in shaping feminine nature may be, women can always
choose to change. Her purpose in writing her landmark feminist work, The
Second Sex, was to examine the forces that shape womens behavior so that
women could free themselves from oppression, through understanding. She
believed that women should exhibit personality traits that society typically
considers "masculine," because "masculine" virtues are the ones that most
effectively deal with the problems of everyday life.
She begins The Second Sex, unsurprisingly, with a critique of the
Aristotelian conception of woman. She critiques his opinion (as well as that
of Kant, Hegel, Sigmund Freud, et al.) as "naturally" inferior, by pointing out

that the formal cause of a fact or condition is not its final cause. A strictly
biological understanding of women, argues de Beauvoir, goes far in the way
of limiting her possibilities. She criticized Freuds theory of "penis envy" by
pointing out that of course the woman envies the man (especially given the
relative conditions of freedom and power between the genders in Freuds
time and place), but it is his freedom (or in the words of de Beauvoir, his
"transcendance") and not his male member that is the object of this avarice.
Freud saw aggression in women as attempted compensation for their penisless condition. For Freud, the "normal" woman was the one who gave up any
desire for an active life and instead passively awaited impregnation. (Freud
is still seen as the father of psychology, and at least some psychologists and
psychotherapists still see his many works as the fundamental texts of their
science. It is not difficult to imagine a strong woman getting angry when she
is told that she is abnormal because she wants an active life, and then
having her anger held up as proof of her "typically emotional" nature!)
Although womens bodies are on the whole weaker than those of men,
for de Beauvoir physical strength should in no way limit human potentiality.
The females way of dealing with the world is naturally more limited, through
the restrictions of menstruation and gestation, but de Beauvoir dismisses
physiological critiques of equality, writing in The Second Sex: "whenever
physiological fact takes on meaning, this meaning is at once dependent on a
whole context; the weakness is revealed as such only in light of the ends
which humans propose, the instruments available, and the laws which are
established." The point she is making is that in a technological society such
as ours has long since become, physical strength is less or not relevant. As
the times and social settings change, so too will the most valuable human
characteristics.
While I agree with de Beauvoirs assessment of values, I disagree with
her dismissal of the importance of physical strength. The body is essential to
our existence, and without the ability to keep their bodies safe, women will
continue to be dependent. It seems that de Beauvoir never even considered
the possibility of a woman being able to assert herself physically as a
defense against a violent man, but rather believed that if women were seen
as equal then mens respect for their humanity would act as a defense. She
writes: "If the respect or fear inspired by women prevents the use of
violence towards her, then the muscular superiority of the males is no
source of power." But as is evident by mens treatment of other men,
respect and even fear are not enough to prevent violence, so the muscular
superiority of the male will continue to be the source of power. It is a fact of
biology that women, in general, will not ever be as strong as their male
counterparts, but, as anyone who has studied martial arts will tell you,
muscular strength does not always equate with physical superiority.

Although women may be weaker, as long as they are familiar with their own
bodies and have been educated in their use, this weakness need not result
in dependence.
In closing, I maintain that as all moral action involves an element of
courage, and only freely voluntary actions are worthy of the name "virtue,"
the perception and self-perception of women as powerless, inferior to men,
and lacking in courage, have militated against moral action by women
throughout history. In order to defend their moral positions, consistently
take moral actions and stands, even in the face of danger, women must
reject dependence on men by preferring equality, reject "female weakness"
by cultivating moral, mental, and physical strength, reject fear of men and
the sense of powerlessness, in favor of bold, self-reliant, and risk-taking
activity, and reject passivity and withdrawal in favor of active, courageous
involvement with the world. Doing so will result in courage; courage will
result in womens freedom to choose moral actions and defend moral
positions in the only meaningful way, through personal volition.

It is my belief that only in the next generation are we going to truly


understand what the female body is capable of, and that the world has
possibly never really experienced a 'real' woman. What I mean by that is a
woman who has been encouraged from birth to compete and use her body in
an athletic fashion. A woman who has been raised well nourished, educated
and exercised in order to further her own individual development. A woman
raised to be a human being, not merely a brood mare/companion. She is a
new species. I feel like I have accomplished quite a bit in my life, but no
matter what my skill, it won't come close to being able to compare with that
of a girl in training from the time she was eight! When that little girl
becomes a woman she won't have to manfully assert her equality with the
opposite sex, it will simply be assumed. She will be a woman that has grown
up without ANY fear of men. In the history of the planet that has never been
possible. Thinking about that gives me some hope for the future even in
these dark times.