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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. 

May 24, 1999  (Thomas Gramstad)

Sex and Gender Through an Egoist Lens: Masculinity and Femininity in the Philosophy of Ayn Rand  -  Diana Mertz Brickell (now Hsieh)

     Chris Matthew Sciabarra introduces Diana Mertz Brickell's essay (Date: Sat, 22 May 1999 12:01:05):
Diana Mertz Brickell's essay will be the subject of next week's discussion.  Since we seem to be
experiencing a bit of "down time" after hyper-activity for a couple of weeks on the concept of
feminism and such, I thought it would be a good time to start thinking about Diana's essay and
some of the questions it raises.  The essay is a natural extension of our discussion of Presley's
piece, since both center on the importance of individualism and Rand's ethics for an alternative
individualist feminism.
First, of course, I'd like to invite Diana to make a contribution here ...  with a brief statement on
her essay and her reasons for writing it.  With regard to this essay, let us consider the following: 
1. In our introduction, Mimi and I state that Diana's essay is "more Brandian than Randian" ... a
play on words for sure.  A wider question is this: Is there a distinction between "Brandian" and
"Randian" in terms of essentials?  If so, what are the distinctions?  Or can we consider both to be
within the wider philosophy of Objectivism?
2. In a surprising turn, Brickell integrates lessons from Brownmiller AND Farrell.  Brickell also
notes a distinction between the collectivist and individualist takes on gender.  She seeks to develop
an Objectivist account of gender.  How successful is this development in terms of its coherence
with Rand's work?  ... its coherence with Objectivism?  (the obvious distinction here is between the
philosophy VS. the philosopher)
3. Both Presley and Brickell point to larger tendencies in the ethics of Objectivism that are
consonant with feminism.  How might the ethics provide an important bridge between Objectivism
and feminism?
These are important questions because they center on the subject of Part Three: Toward a
Randian Feminism?  I think we can advance the debate considerably by considering them.
     Diana Mertz Brickell (now, Hsieh) responded (Wed, 26 May 1999):
In writing my essay, I was hoping to answer the question: Can there be objective standards for
masculinity and femininity?
In this area, as with others, people tend to either fall into subjectivism or intrincicism; either
masculinity and femininity are arbitrary constructs of society or they are inherent in nature; either
they are in the mind without reference to reality or they are in reality without reference to the
mind.
As with other issues, a standard Objectivist analysis is to reject those alternatives in favor of a
theory which integrates facts about both reality and the mind -- or in this case, human nature and
social norms.  My basic theory is that "within a culture, certain behaviors take on symbolic
meaning and convey information about an individual's sexual self to others... Because these
symbolic behaviors convey information, they serve as a window to the characters and personalities
of individual men and women, thereby allowing us to make more accurate and quicker judgments
about the types of relationships we wish to pursue with them" (326).
In other words, the behaviors associated with masculinity and femininity have no intrinsic meaning,
nor are they arbitrary and meaningless.  They have meaning and convey information in the context
of the cultural norms of a society.
But, since there is wide variation of the meaning attributed to such behaviors within a culture, one
needs a clear standard in order to determine which behaviors to adopt and which to discard.
Objectivism's rational egoism is the perfect standard in such a case.  "By that standard, individuals
ought to make choices on the basis of whether the symbolic behaviors that express gender further
their life and happiness or diminish it" (327).
> 2. In a surprising turn, Brickell integrates lessons from
> Brownmiller AND Farrell.
I'm surprised that this surprises!  While Brownmiller's book Femininity is certainly not
Objectivist or even moderately philosophically rigorous, as I indicated in my essay, she is very
concerned about the particular, individual impact that social norms of femininity have on women. 
It's not a matter of the broad social ramifications, unlike many feminists, but rather the impact on
the life of the individual woman.  I personally found her discussions of femininity far more useful
than that of any other writer (including Rand's, of course).
> 3. Both Presley and Brickell point to larger tendencies in the
> ethics of Objectivism that are consonant with feminism.  How
> might the ethics provide an important bridge between Objectivism
> and feminism?
My two-part theory about external expressions of gender certainly wouldn't be a coherent one
without appealing to egoism, as my summary above makes clear.  And frankly, I think that any
theory of gender which doesn't take an individualistic and egoist perspective is doomed to create
misery for both sexes.  So I do think that there is certainly a strong philosophical bridge between
Objectivism and feminism.
I think that the greatest challenge in constructing a cultural bridge between Objectivism and
feminism is getting Objectivists to see that differences in the behaviors and expectations upon men
and women are *important*.  Far too many Objectivists regard such "feminist" issues as beneath
their notice, such that they won't even pay full attention in an argument about it.  If more
Objectivists truly understood how much cultural norms of masculinity and femininity influence
their thinking and behavior, their attitude would probably be very different.

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