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Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand

Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand

THE RANDIAN-FEMINISM MAILING LIST

SELECTED ARCHIVES FROM THE FOUR MONTH CONFERENCE

The Randian-Feminism Mailing List is a forum for Objectivist and Randian Feminists -- people who share a common interest in Feminist philosophy, issues and perspectives, and in Ayn Rand's ideas and philosophy.  Thomas Gramstad created the list on January 14, 1998. 

March 8, 1999  (Bryan Register)

Ayn Rand: The Reluctant Feminist  -  Barbara Branden

     In the discussion of Barbara Branden's chapter, "Ayn Rand: The Reluctant Feminism,"
Chris Matthew Sciabarra made these introductory remarks (Date: 08-Mar-1999 18:25:13):
I would like to propose a few questions that we might look at in discussing Barbara Branden's
"Ayn Rand:  The Reluctant Feminist"... and I hope that BARBARA IS READING THIS, because
it would be wonderful if she could break from her busy schedule, and contribute to our discussion
here:
1.  We've all discussed the trials and tribulations of academia; granted, Rand remained a principled
outsider.  What do people think about the possibility, raised by Barbara, that Rand may have been
marginalized in professional philosophy precisely because she was a woman? 
2.  Barbara refers to Rand's concept of femininity as "hero worship" to be her "contradiction to
feminism."  I know we will be discussing the notion of hero worship in much greater detail later in
our four-month conference on this book.  But might there be any room in feminism for female
"hero worship" of an ideal man?  Might we extend this to include male "hero worship" of an ideal
woman -- especially since Rand portrays several ideal women in her fiction?
3.  Since we may discuss aspects of Rand's life and its relationship to feminism, I thought I might
raise an issue which has always puzzled me.  I don't raise this issue to be scandalous... but Bill
Bradford wrote a provocative article back in 1988, discussing the film version of "We the Living." 
In the article, he quotes Rossano Brazzi, "Leo" in the Italian film.  Brazzi states:  "[Rand] was a
funny woman, very strong.  Difficult woman.  She was . . . bisexual.  She loved women.  One
night she drank a little . . . [Brazzi laughed] . . . But she looked a little bit like a man, you know,
strong.  But [a] wonderful woman.  What a mind!  She liked me and she used to call me at eight
o'clock in the morning.  Just to talk and, you know, for dinner:  'Are we going to cook spaghetti?'"
I have never seen any reference at all, at any time, to Rand being "bisexual" -- and was puzzled as
to what may have led Brazzi to this conclusion.  Was it simply that Rand, in her life and character,
defied gender stereotypes?  I suspect we'll never know.  But if anyone has any information on this,
it might be good for discussion.  After all, even if Rand was not bisexual (and I see no evidence
anywhere that she was), her smashing of stereotypes in her life was certainly in keeping with much
of the gender revolution of feminism. 
     Barbara Branden responded (Date: Thu, 11 Mar 1999 18:42:06 EST):
     Yes, Chris, Barbara IS reading this, and I'd like to make a few comments about your letter.
You wrote: "What do people think about the possibility, raised by Barbara, that Rand may have
been marginalized in professional philosophy precisely because she was a woman?" I should add
something that I thought would be clear, but seems not to be. Certainly, there have been
intellectual women writers, and a number of them have been treated very seriously by academia.
What there has not been is a woman philosopher who, as Rand said, challenged the cultural
tradition of 2,000 years. I believe it is precisely the scope and depth of her rejection of that
tradition that aroused the virulent animosity of much of academia--and the fact that she was a
woman allowed professional philosophers, who could not refute the major thrust of her system, to
attempt to dismiss her as unimportant. And one must add to that the fact that, for many years, she
presented her ideas only through novels--and that those novels (may Plato forgive her!) were
BEST SELLERS. 
Chris raises another issue that is perhaps more relevant to the above than he realized: Rosanno
Brazzi's supposed comment about her that "[Rand] was a funny woman, very strong.  Difficult
woman.  She was...bisexual.  She loved women. One night she drank a little . . . [Brazzi laughed] .
. . But she looked a little bit like a man, you know, strong. But [a] wonderful woman.  
What a mind!"
Is it chance that "strong" woman, "difficult" woman, "what a mind!" and "bisexual" are linked
together? Ayn was most emphatically not bisexual, but this is a rumor I have heard a number of
times over the years. Had she been weak, malleable, and not too intelligent, does anyone think she
would have been considered bi-sexual? 
     Barbara Branden also remarked (Date: 11-Mar-1999 19:14:21, on the subject: Mimi Gladsteins's
posting re: Rand as woman):
Mimi Gladstein wrote:  "As much as some of us would like to believe
that we can transcend the mindset of our time, even for the most dedicated individualist, it is not
always possible.  And, if we discard our parental, religious, and societal ways of thinking
intellectually, there is often an emotional residue. I think this may be helpful in understanding
Rand's opinions about women."
This is a crucial point in understanding Rand's view of a woman's love for a man as hero-worship.
I have often thought that a central characteristic of genius is the genius's ability to investigate and
challenge so many of the ideas--either in the culture at large or in his own particular field--that are,
so to speak, "in the air" about him or her. All of us, in childhood, are exposed to many more ideas
than are specifically taught to us; the latter are relatively easy to challenge, because we know what
they are. The most dangerous ideas are those that presumably need not be taught because
"everyone knows them." As an example, no teacher informed the Russian people that to suffer is
proof of intellectual and emotional depth; yet that is a concept horrifyingly prevalent in that
society. 
Among Ayn Rand's great achievements were her questioning of so very many of the ideas that her
culture--indeed, most of the world--took as self-evident.  If one thinks that as a young girl, living
first in Tsarist and then in Soviet Russia, she questioned and renounced the whole concept of 
statism--that she questioned and renounced the idea that morality consists of altruism--one will
know what is the nature of genius. But no one can question everything. No one can know that
some ideas have slipped past one's intellectual guard and have been accepted without analysis. 
For Ayn Rand, the concept of woman as the worshipper of man--albeit, for her, only in a sexual
context--was one of the ideas that she did not think to question. There was a particular reason for
this: psychologically, it fitted her deeply personal sense of the appropriate relationship between the
sexes; it fitted her lonely, starved need to find a strength greater than her own. It is not a
contradiction to say that because she was in so many ways the apotheosis of a feminist, that was
why she wanted a hero to worship.  

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