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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. 

June 21, 1999  (Bryan Register)

The Female Hero: A Randian-Feminist Synthesis  -  Thomas Gramstad

     Chris Matthew Sciabarra introduces Thomas Gramstad's essay (Tue, 6 Jul 1999
17:48:30):
As our discussion of Karen Michalson's essay proceeds, we move toward a discussion of Thomas
Gramstad's essay, "The Female Hero:  A Randian-Feminist Synthesis."  There is no doubt that
Thomas answers the challenge of Part Three -- "Toward a Randian Feminism?" -- in a distinctive
affirmative.  Exploring the elements of this synthesis and its implications for a broader concept of
"the female hero" is the focus of his essay, and, I hope, some of our discussion in the coming
week.
I invite Thomas to present here some brief remarks on his purposes in writing the essay -- what he
hoped to accomplish, and so forth.  I would like us to consider too some of these issues as the
discussion proceeds:
1.  Is androgyny (or even "post-androgyny") necessitated by Rand's philosophic premises?  
2.  Are there any implications that might be derived for a "Randian" view of sexual orientation? 
(Thomas discusses some of these issues tangentially in his essay; see especially note 34, which is
an essay in itself.) 
3.  To what extent is Rand's philosophy consistent with -- or inconsistent with --
the kind of gender individualism that Gramstad advocates?
	Thomas Gramstad responds (Date: Wed, 23 Jun 1999 06:01:03):
My purpose in writing the essay was and is to bring together three of the most important influences
in my life, namely Ayn Rand's philosophy, feminism and what may tentatively be called some key
elements of an aesthos (borrowing Barry Vacker's term) or esthetical world view related to
individualism, sexuality and gender).  Perhaps "bring together" isn't the right phrase, since to my
thinking they all address the same aspect of reality or overlap with each other.  One does not
"bring together" that which is a unity; the real issue is to stop the harmful and unhealthy attempts
to tear the unity apart and create separation and dualist opposites (of masculine and feminine
opposites or essences, etc.) So why do many people apparently not only separate them but claim
that they are incompatible or mutually excluding opposites?
As a young Objectivist and feminist I felt that large parts of the world were basically a large puzzle
where I had a few of the pieces, but lacked most of them.  Unlike some other people who thought
that Rand gave all the answers they would ever need, I had a keen sense of all the things I didn't
know or understand.  Rand's message about the power of reason and the importance, the moral
value of, and one's right to think for oneself is one that I'll always be grateful for.  Also, Rand
offered ideas about how reason works and advice about how to go about one's thinking -- her
epistemology and psycho-epistemology.  So Rand has been a pivotal influence not only on the end
results of my thinking (the positions I hold), but, more importantly, on my methods of thinking and
all the mental processes involved in reasoning.  So what I'm saying is that Rand's methodology was
a great help in identifying and sorting out my ideas about women, men, gender, sexuality.
Also Rand's exhortations of the rightness and importance of a first-hand approach to reality -- her
emphasis of this as a MORAL issue and a virtue -- was of inesteemable value to me, because I
found that so many of the common beliefs about women, men, gender and sexuality are not only
false, but harmful.  And contradictory.  And tacit.  And arbitrary, unlinked to nature.  And
muddled.  And so forth.
Since Rand in effect gave me a lot of help to identify the pieces of the puzzle, helped me find
more of the pieces, and helped me figuring out how to put them together, it was very strange to me
that she apparently in many ways failed to do the same -- with her treatments of the woman
president issue, sex role stereotypes, limited sexual options, hostility toward other sexual
orientations etc., not to mention her androcentrism, her hostility towards feminism and women's lib
and her "patriarchal chauvinism" -- and that apparently many of her followers did the same.  These
patriarchal ideas are both familiar and alien to me -- or, the ideas are alien, their consequences are
familiar.  I happen to know very well exactly what kind of identities and family life ideas of
Patriarchal Correctness leads to.  Since these ideas both are contradictory to Rand's (and my)
general philosophy, and also lead to collectivism and injustice, I can relate to Svein Nyberg's
comment that:
: 3a. To what extent is Rand's philosophical methods consistent : with -- or inconsistent with -- the
kind of gender individualism : that Gramstad advocates?
:
: 3b. To what extent is Rand's philosophical results consistent : with -- or inconsistent with -- the
kind of gender individualism : that Gramstad advocates?
"While result and method are never 100% separable, I think they point in such different directions
on these issues that : separation is not only defensible but necessary."
If by philosophical results we refer to her positions on these particular issues, as opposed not only
to her methodology, but also to her wider, general philosophy (see examples in my essay -- for
example, her general statement in her Playboy interview that women can want and do any job that
men can do, vs. woman president).
Over the years, I have discussed these things with many Objectivists, including a long debate that
took place over several months ten years ago on Paul Vixie's now defunct Objectivism listserver,
about ten people creating a 300 k output.  This was just before the Peikoff-Kelley split, and there
was only one Objectivist mailing list around, so "everybody", orthodox and heretic alike, was
there.  I mention this bit of trivia because some of the main lines of demarcation went between that
Norwegian guy and Robert Tracinski, who went on to become the editor of The Intellectual
Activist (the intellectual flagship [a Titanic rather than a Herculean one] of the orthodoxy), the
guy who strongly condemned Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, unread, several times
in that publication, and who in his original "review", I feel some satisfaction to note, singles me out
for the deepest and darkest pits of Tartarus.
Anyway -- I have been working on these issues for quite some time, and my essay for FIOAR gave
me an opportunity to make a current inventory of the various strands.  Starting with Rand and
Objectivism in college (while at the same time also being exposed to and reading other
philosophers), I moved on to discover the great body of feminist literature, and even though I've
been reading that for years, I still feel that I'm barely scratching the surface.  But my readings and
selections within the feminist corpus is given focus and direction by my interest and emphasis on
the Female Hero in general, and the Amazon in particular, as concept, image, archetype, and living
reality.  From proto-feminist heroes like Modesty Blaise or Wonder Woman, to post-feminist
heroes like Xena and Agent Scully, from the historical to the futuristic, from the mythological to
the particular.
Since I believe that Rand and her philosophy have important and perhaps unique insights to offer
about the nature of 'the heroic' and heroism, the integration with feminism is both important,
inspiring and, ultimately, inescapable.  Rand is particularly relevant for feminists who are also
individualists and egoists, women who reject altruism and a subordinate secondary role, who own
their life, mind and values and aspire to be the best they can be.  Modern Amazons, if you like. 
One of my correspondents flatteringly suggested that I am a Ragnar Danneskjold of feminism;
high praise indeed if that means someone who is working to restore the images and symbols that
integrate female heroism, power, and strength with grace, passion and sensuality that patriarchy
has stolen, destroyed or corrupted.
But we can all be Ragnar Danneskjolds of feminism.  If Rand were talking about priestesses and
gods, then let us now balance and expand this with talk about priests and goddesses.  If Rand were
restrained by Victorian ideas, then let us realize the pagan potentials and virtues of her philosophy,
the life-affirming and joy-worshipping aspects.  If Rand were most concerned about end results
and static formulations written in stone, then let us focus on methods and processes, written on
fluid and ever-shifting electrons, continuously being updated and improved.  If Rand at times
comes across as an advocate of the poverty, drabness and oppressiveness of patriarchy, then let us
be more consistent and expansive freedom fighters than she would seem to allow for.
Like Barry Vacker, I believe esthetics to be underemphasized or undervalued in Objectivism. 
Perhaps also in feminism.  Both Objectivism and feminism tend to emphasize politics and ethics in
their activism.  Perhaps a stronger emphasis on esthetics and esthetical values would further the
cause, for example by establishing and making visible an Amazon Aesthos.  If there is a boom in
feminism and women's studies in the next 5-10 years, how much of it can be ascribed to children
and young feminists watching Xena: Warrior Princess today?
Chris writes:
> I would like us to consider too some of these issues as the
> discussion proceeds:
> 1.  Is androgyny (or even "post-androgyny") necessitated by
> Rand's philosophic premises?
Well, my vote is in, but I'd like to add a couple of points.  Let us, for the sake of argument, assume
that androgyny, or at least "post-androgyny", does not imply or reinforce the idea of masculine and
feminine essences (this is a controversial assumption, but leaving that aside for now).  There are
several different meanings of androgyny; the one we are talking about here is the one known as
psychological androgyny, meaning that psychological characteristics can be combined in any
number of ways in a given individual.  It is not the case that an individual "cannot" or "must not"
have a certain characteristic or combination of characteristics, because of his or her sex.  That's up
to the individual to decide, based on their personality, interests, temperament, values etc.
Moreover, psychological androgyny is a statistical aggregate of many different characteristics.  Let
us say, as an example to make things easy, that there are 30 characteristics that we could describe
as "feminine" in a given culture, and 30 others that we could describe as "masculine".  Suppose
that someone has 15 of each in a high degree, and the others in smaller degree.  This person would
be psychologically androgynous, and so would a person with the other 15 of each set, even though
these two persons would be very different from each other.  This example illustrates that
psychological androgyny is such a broad concept that one could ask whether it actually is capable
of subsuming a set of referents that can logically be said to belong together -- or is it just a huge,
free-for-all grab bag?  So I don't agree with the criticism that the concept "psychological
androgyny" recreates gender essences.  I think it implodes the two groups "masculine" and
"feminine", and therefore it has a valid rhetorical and political function -- as a "concept of
method", more specifically a psycho-epistemological destroyer of a false and arbitrary dichotomy.
But this conceptual demolition or implosion is precisely why "psychological androgyny" is useless
as a concept of actual existents; it is too broad.  Hence, "post-androgyny", which is just a
shorthand for "individualism applied to issues of gender".  Put differently: if one can imagine a
culture without gender dualism -- say, a culture with more than 2 recognized genders (and such do
exist), or alternatively a culture where people are perceived as unique individuals and gender is a
subordinate issue -- then "androgyny" as well as "post-androgyny" are superfluous and
unnecessary.  They can only have a function in a society in which gender has been divided into
arbitrary dualist opposites, as tools of transition.  They are rhetorical equivalents to antibodies -- if
you are not infected with antigens you don't need the antidote.
> 2.  Are there any implications that might be derived for a
> "Randian" view of sexual orientation?  (Thomas discusses some of
> these issues tangentially in his essay; see especially note 34,
> which is an essay in itself.)
I would just add to these two factors I mention in the note:
   The validity of homosexuality as a neutral moral option (neither a virtue nor a vice) -- like
heterosexuality - follows directly from these two premises: (1) the "metaphysical egalitarianism" of
women and men, and (2) the mutuality of pride and admiration in relationships as I have
described.
This conclusion is also implied by the assumption of psychological androgyny, and of ethical
androgyny (see note 18) as well, and also by observing the variety and richness of human sexuality
(including but not limited to the factors I discuss: the four interaction categories, and the other
dimensions of sexuality (in particular polymorphous sexuality).
It is also implied by the general nature of Aristotelian love (which can still be non-genital or even
non-sexual without necessarily degenerating into Platonic love).  So perhaps we can say that for
example the Roark-Wynand relationship is an example of Aristotelian, non-Romantic (or
non-sexual) love.  I'm not sure how a concept like "homosocial" could be related to Aristotelian
love between homosexuals, perhaps that could be interesting to discuss.
So, the bottom line here is that for the patriarchal mentality, only heterosexuality -- and only one
small subset of heterosexualities, namely the one with male domination and female
submission/subordination -- is an acceptable sexual orientation.  Anything else is suspect and
demands are made for "proof" or "arguments" in order for any kind of recognition or legitimacy to
be bestowed on it.
This is what some feminists have been referring to as "compulsory heterosexuality", though the
phrase is slightly misleading because, as I noted, only one particular form of heterosexuality is
accepted.  Try being in a heterosexual relationship where the woman is taller/more muscular/has
more masculine behaviors, body language or appearance than the man -- such a couple confronts
all the same reactions and issues that a homosexual couple does.
So, Just Say No to Patriarchal Correctness: all sexual orientations that involve consenting adults
are equally valid.  Homosexuality, bisexuality, non-standard heterosexuality -- none of them
requires any more "proof" or "arguments" than ordinary straight heterosexuality does.
And, note 34 is indeed almost like an essay in itself; the obscure, but lengthy and concise Peikoff
quote from 8 Great Plays, could very well merit an essay I'd think.  Next time...
	Bryan Register raises some important issues in his post, "Thomas on Plato and Aristotle":  
Thomas doesn't cite either Plato or Aristotle, or have their works in his list of works cited. That
means that I don't know from exactly where he is taking his interpretation of their views. Thomas
does cite a talk by Allan Gotthelf on their views of love, and I have to assume that his
interpretation is largely dependent on Gotthelf's. (Not that Thomas hasn't read Plato and Aristotle,
or that Gotthelf is in any way unreliable.) If this isn't right, I think that it would be helpful for
Thomas to let us know which texts (and ideally which translations) he is drawing from.
In the Symposium and Phaedrus, Plato has Socrates give really glowing descriptions of love.
In the Symposium, Socrates reports a conversation he once had with an older woman named
Diotima. The view of love which their conversation had generated was that of all the Forms, only
one, Beauty, was in any way perceptible in the physical world. That Form is especially
well-reflected in the young man, because he has all the beauty of the male form but at a point
before it becomes fully masculine. There is, I think, a subtle interplay between Plato and the
Athenian way of life here. In general, the Athenians had believed that young men would be best
off involving themselves in a sexual relationship with an older man, whose widsom would rub off.
The sex was intercrural: there was no penetration, but the older man achieved orgasm by thrusting
between the younger man's legs.  (Being phalically penetrated was for those of lower station, such
as women.  If a man allowed himself to be penetrated either orally or anally, he became a political
outcast. Since this mentoring relationship was supposed to be based on mutual respect, the older
man would not, ideally, have any intention to penetrate the younger man.) The young man
received the advantages of the mentoring of the older man, while the older man had the aesthetic
and sexual pleasure yielded by the younger man. Everybody wins.
Plato's Socrates elevates this relationship. The attraction of the older man to the younger man
becomes, for Socrates, not a simple sexual attraction.  Rather, the younger man showed the Form
of Beauty in his appearance and in the fact that he, unlike women, was suited to philosophical
discourse.  (Women were not rational; they were very definitely second-class. Plato himself is the
only Greek I know of to run against this view, when he in the Republic has Socrates say that
women as well as men could be members of the warrior and leader castes. I think that Thomas's
characterization of Plato would have been stronger had he reconciled his critique of 'Platonic
gender' with the fact that Plato was the only Greek not to believe in gender essences! Since
Thomas's point is different, it doesn't actually contradict this, but bringing out the relationship here
would have been helpful.)
But one way or another, the best love for the Athenians, and Socrates agrees in the Symposium,
is that between older man and younger man. For Socrates, this is because the older man is able to
apprehend the Form of Beauty through meditating on the youth; his physique, his excellence of
intellect, his courage, his noble bearing, etc. Through this consideration, the older man can be
brought to consider first the youth's beauty, then the beauty which all youths share, then what is it
that they have in common such that they are all beautiful, and finally Beauty itself, that thing which
they have in common. This is the goal of the lover in the Symposium. (The lover is the older
man, the beloved the younger.) There's nothing about heterosexual relationships - and thus no
gender issues - here at all; no hint that they even exist, unless the fact that Socrates is reporting
what we have to suspect is philosophical pillow talk with an older women is supposed to be that
hint.
There is also a story told by another character in the Symposium (Aristophanes) which is quite
famous; the story about how the sexes came to be and how love came to be. In that story, it is said
that humans once had a double aspect: two faces, four of each arms and legs, and were much
stronger than that are now (two heads being better than one). They got so good that after a while
they stopped giving sacrifices to the gods and Zeus got annoyed. So Zeus had everyone cut in half
so we'd be only half as strong.  When he put everyone back on earth, they just ran around, looking
for their other half, and upon finding him or her, just ran and kind of bounced into one another in
a desperate attempt to rejoin the lost unity. Seeing that he still wasn't going to get any sacrifices this
way, Zeus then had our genitalia so arranged that we could re-engage with our other half
(intercrurally if we're both male, I guess) and get back to day-to-day life and making sacrifices. 
The reason I mention this is that this seems to be the root of the idea that Platonic love is about
gaps in people needing to be filled: love is born of our need for another. On the one hand, love
is born out of our need for another, especially in Rand's view in which all legitimate values like
love are grounded in biological survival needs. On the other hand, Socrates doesn't tell this story,
Aristophanes does. There are many views of how Plato wants us to take the different stories, but
none of those views are that we should believe all of them. There is no particular reason to
believe that Plato believed Aristophanes's story. (My own tentative view, based on the reading of
one of my professors T. K. Seung, is that the different speeches represent different intellectual
influences in periods of Athenian life and that Aristophanes's view is a kind of proto-scientific view
which seeks an explanatory hypothesis to explain the observed facts.)
In the Phaedrus, Socrates tells a somewhat different story than the one in the
Symposium, but a closely related one. In the Symposium, the older man receives a glimpse of
Beauty through his beloved while the younger man received instruction from his lover. In the
Phaedrus, matters are more reciprocal. The lover's love for the beloved is a kind of divine
madness brought about by the exhibition of Beauty in the beloved. But in this case, as long as the
lover can deny himself sexual intercourse (I'm assuming it's still intercrural), he can gain
progressively better views of Beauty until he apprehends it as it is again. This much is familiar.
What is new is in the Phaedrus, the beloved can also get a glimpse of Beauty. 
The lover reflects the beloved's beauty back to him, and so through his relationship with an older
man in love with Beauty the younger man can gain himself a vision of the Form of Beauty itself.
So Platonic love, while non-sexual, is not quite non-physical. It is true that the lover and beloved
should not give in to their desire for sexual union (because this in some way spoils their vision of
Beauty), but the whole relationship is based on the physical beauty of the boy. Without the
possibility of engaging with the physical, there would be no opportunity to ascend to the Forms
and recover our natural place in the spiritual world.
I mention all this primarily because I think that Thomas (and probably Gotthelf) oversimplify
Plato's view of love and gender relations when they characterize them as essentially anti-physical
and based on absences in the lovers. Plato's view is of each of the lovers taking certain values from
the other, and his most mature vision is of a kind of reflectivity between the lovers. This is too
much like Nathaniel Branden's view of love as the distortionless reflection of our whole selves
back at us to be dismissed as mere Platonism.
A couple of things also need to be said about Aristotle. Aristotle, in matters of sex, was
retrogressive even for his own day. Most people who thought about lines of descent in ancient
Greece believed that both the father and the mother contribute some of the genetic identity of the
child.  Aristotle disagreed. Since Aristotle believed that the form of a thing was immanent in the
thing, but was indivisible, he could not believe that that form of a human could be transmitted into
one by both parents - that would imply that each parent contributed half the form, but since the
form is indivisible, this was impossible. So for Aristotle, the father alone contributes all of the
child's humanness, while the mother contributes only the matter (the raw 'chthnonic' goo that
makes things up but is not yet a definite thing). Since only the father contributes the entire rational
principle which could make the child human, only the father possesses that principle - women are
not rational animals quite so speaking. Rather, they are mistakes of nature, stunted proto-humans
without the rational faculty.  Aristotle has a definite hierarchy between the sexes, and men are on
top. In direct contradistinction to this, Plato (as I mentioned before) has Socrates claim in the
Republic that women are as good as men at the martial and philosophical-political tasks which
are required of the guardians and leaders of the ideal city. So Plato is the one without gender
essences, while Aristotle has them in spades. I don't believe that any of this contradicts Thomas's
thesis (except on surface), but it would have been helpful had he considered the actual views of
Plato and Aristotle on questions of sex and gender and made the necessary reconciliations.
One last question, which is not about the Greeks. On pg. 350, Thomas points out four kinds of
sexual activity; male actively penetrates, female actively engulfs, positions switch, and neither more
active than the other.
Unless #'s 1 and 2 are only descriptively distinct (in the way that the same curve is both convex
and concave), I am left to take it that #1 is man-on-top, #2 is woman-on-top. The difference is in
who is the more actively in motion, with the verb (penetrate or engulf) going to the one on top. #4
is side-by-side, and #3 happens when there is some faint variety. I wonder if Thomas could verify
this understanding.
This certainly seems to be the understanding Rand and the early Branden were working from.
Branden argues that the male is dominant because he is the more active in sex. If we just happened
to have women routinely on top for one generation, people who accepted their premises would
automatically start to think of women as dominant (or even as 'metaphysically superior' if they
wanted to be hyperbolic). [I don't know if anyone is interesting in answering this, but who's
dominant in non-vaginal (heterosexual) sex acts?  Fellatio seems to leave the woman in charge, but
who runs cunnilingus? Is oral sex revolutionary from the point of view of breaking free of
gender-hierarchies?]
Uh, odd note to leave you on, but there it is.
Bryan
     Thomas Gramstad responds to some issues raised by moderator Bryan Register (Date:
Wed, 23 Jun 1999 09:10:02):
Bryan wrote:
> (Women were not rational; they were very definitely
> second-class. Plato himself is the only Greek I know of to run
> against this view, when he in the Republic has Socrates say
> that women as well as men could be members of the warrior and
> leader castes. I think that Thomas's characterization of Plato
> would have been stronger had he reconciled his critique of
> 'Platonic gender' with the fact that Plato was the only Greek
> not to believe in gender essences! Since Thomas's point is
> different, it doesn't actually contradict this, but bringing out
> the relationship here would have been helpful.)
Actually, I do say those things, as well as pointing out Aristotle's retrogression, in note 31.
> Thomas doesn't cite either Plato or Aristotle, or have their
> works in his list of works cited. That means that I don't know
> from exactly where he is taking his interpretation of their
> views.
Well, when I use terms like 'Platonism', 'Platonic', 'Aristotelianism' and 'Aristotelian', I'm not really
interpreting the actual views of the concrete, historical persons Plato and Aristotle.  I'm merely
referring to the common set of positions and orientation of thinking that are usually associated with
those terms -- positions which are sometimes known to be contrary to the actual positions of the
historical persons.  Since such descriptions or summaries may be found in any textbook of the
history of ideas, or in a multiple-volume lexicon, I didn't feel a need to reference them.
Of course people don't always read the notes, and there is a certain injustice for a thinker to be
associated with positions they did not hold, even if those positions are logically implied by their
system and/or methodology of thought, or by the historical impact and leading interpretation of the
system.  (As when Marx angrily announces, "I'm not a Marxist!", and Rand approves and adds
that she is not a "Randite".)  But, nevertheless, this is how history of ideas work.
> Thomas does cite a talk by Allan Gotthelf on their views
> of love, and I have to assume that his interpretation is largely
> dependent on Gotthelf's. (Not that Thomas hasn't read Plato and
> Aristotle, or that Gotthelf is in any way unreliable.) If this
> isn't right, I think that it would be helpful for Thomas to let
> us know when he gets back which texts (and ideally which
> translations) he is drawing from.
The specific discussion and juxtaposition of 'Aristotelian love' with 'Platonic love' is dependent on
Gotthelf.
> In the Symposium and Phaedrus, Plato has Socrates give
> really glowing descriptions of love.
I absolutely recommend for people to read these texts; they are classics, and are easily available,
for example on the following web pages:
http://plato.evansville.edu/texts/jowett/symposium.htm 
http://plato.evansville.edu/texts/jowett/phaedrus.htm 
> There is also a story told by another character in the
> Symposium (Aristophanes) which is quite famous; the story
> about how the sexes came to be and how love came to be. In that
> story, it is said that humans once had a double aspect: two
> faces, four of each arms and legs, and were much stronger than
> that are now (two heads being better than one). They got so good
> that after a while they stopped giving sacrifices to the gods
> and Zeus got annoyed. So Zeus had everyone cut in half so we'd
> be only half as strong.  When he put everyone back on earth,
> they just ran aroun, looking for their other half, and upon
> finding him or her, just ran and kind of bounced into one
> another in a desperate attempt to rejoin the lost unity. Seeing
> that he still wasn't going to get any sacrifices this way, Zeus
> then had our genitalia so arranged that we could re-engage with
> our other half (intercrurally if we're both male, I guess) and
> get back to day-to-day life and making sacrifices.
> The reason I mention this is that this seems to be the root of
> the idea that Platonic love is about gaps in people needing to
> be filled: love is born of our need for another.
This is also an interesting story about an androgynous ideal, and about man and woman as torn,
split and separated, an inferior state.  The word "androgyny" originally referred to physical
androgyny, or what we today call intersexuality (and yesterday called hermaphroditism).
Interestingly, Aristophanes' story was also recited by Gabrielle to Iolaus in an episode of Xena:
Warrior Princess.
> So Platonic love, while non-sexual, is not quite non-physical.
> It is true that the lover and beloved should not give in to
> their desire for sexual union (because this in some way spoils
> their vision of Beauty), but the whole relationship is based on
> the physical beauty of the boy. Without the possibility of
> engaging with the physical, there would be no opportunity to
> ascend to the Forms and recover our natural place in the
> spiritual world.
> I mention all this primarily because I think that Thomas (and
> probably Gotthelf) oversimplify Plato's view of love and gender
> relations when they characterize them as essentially
> anti-physical and based on absences in the lovers. Plato's view
> is of each of the lovers taking certain values from the other,
> and his most mature vision is of a kind of reflectivity between
> the lovers. This is too much like Nathaniel Branden's view of
> love as the distortionless reflection of our whole selves back
> at us to be dismissed as mere Platonism.
If one forms a view about the persons Aristotle and Plato on the basis of, say, the introduction to
Leonard Peikoff's Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, which explains the entire Western
history of thought as a war (or dualist opposition if you like) between Platonism and
Aristotelianism, then one will obviously get a skewed view of (among other things) the two
historical persons.  Plato was at times better, sometimes even much better, than Platonism, and
Aristotle was at times worse, sometimes even much worse, than Aristotelianism.  Plato's texts are
also much better written than Aristotle's, probably because what we have from Aristotle is only
lecture notes from some of his students, not his own actual writing.  In any case, persons should
never be confused with their isms, or vice versa.
Despite the above, it must be permissible to draw a big picture, like the history of ideas textbooks
do, and even move in the direction toward Rand's and Peikoff's simplified narrative of the
historical opposition of Platonism and Aristotelianism.
By the way, I think that neither Gotthelf nor I did say that Platonic love was anti-physical.  That
belief seems to be a part of its common, vernacular meaning.  For example, Webster's Online says:
platonic love (n)
   i[often cap P]
1) n, love conceived by Plato as ascending from passion for the
   individual to contemplation of the universal and ideal 2) n, a close relationship between two
persons in which sexual
   desire has been suppressed or sublimated
I quote Gotthelf's definition of Platonic love on page 346-7.
It is worth noting that neither Aristotelian love nor Platonic love is defined in terms of physical
actions (and neither in their presence or absence), by Gotthelf, but in terms of their meaning and
purpose.  If the love in question has another, "higher" purpose than itself, then it is Platonic.  This
leads to the interesting thought that it seems that Gotthelf's definition would allow for the
possibility of a Platonic intercourse (or a Platonic cunnilingus, or a Platonic anal... you get the
idea).
> One last question, which is not about the Greeks. On pg. 350,
> Thomas points out four kinds of sexual activity; male actively
> penetrates, female actively engulfs, positions switch, and
> neither more active than the other.
> Unless #'s 1 and 2 are only descriptively distinct (in the way
> that the same curve is both convex and concave), I am left to
> take it that #1 is man-on-top, #2 is woman-on-top. The
> difference is in who is the more actively in motion, with the
> verb (penetrate or engulf) going to the one on top.
That's the general idea or tendency.  If one is on top, that person is most likely to determine the
rhythm and pace, and is therefore the (most) active person, and so the name of the action
(engulfment or penetration) is defined by this person's equipment.  But it is not always necessarily
this way; a powerfully built person could have a slight person on top and yet be able to set the pace
and rhythm by lifting the other up and down.  Riding can be a passive activity (compare for
example with a horse rider who is sleeping in the saddle).  I suppose a similar argument could be
made for the other two categories as well.  The four categories are idealized or extreme conceptual
categories; their mapping with actual sexual positions are only statistical tendencies.
> #4 is side-by-side,
As a tendency, yes.
> and #3 happens when there is some faint variety.
For example when they shift positions and/or energy levels quite a lot.
> I wonder if Thomas could verify this understanding.
By and large.  But I'd also stress that psychological factors, attitudes, and interpretations play an
important role.  I don't think that an active/receptive classification can be reduced to physical
factors alone.  Also, if you add things like the Kama Sutra into the picture, trying to classify the
positions there according to the four categories, I think things could become complicated.
> This certainly seems to be the understanding Rand and the early
> Branden were working from. Branden argues that the male is
> dominant because he is the more active in sex. If we just
> happened to have women routinely on top for one generation,
> people who accepted their premises would automatically start to
> think of women as dominant (or even as 'metaphysically superior'
> if they wanted to be hyperbolic).
Doesn't this call for an empirical study?
> [I don't know if anyone is interesting in answering this, but
> who's dominant in non-vaginal (heterosexual) sex acts?  Fellatio
> seems to leave the woman in charge, but who runs cunnilingus? Is
> oral sex revolutionary from the point of view of breaking free
> of gender-hierarchies?]
I do indeed believe that polymorphous sex in general tends to be gender role subversive.  Not just
because it messes up or makes difficult standard interpretations of action categories and all that,
but also because:
 * it tends to make the lovers more physically "similar" (licking is not gendered, nipple stimulation
is not gendered, non-genital erogenous zones are the same independent of sex)  * it tends to make
sex more play, less performance (performance is what gender roles are all about)  * it allows for
more of things like female aggressiveness and male multiple orgasms, that is, things that the
Patriarchally Correct do not want you to know about and which are subversive to the idea that men
and women are "opposites"
> Uh, odd note to leave you on, but there it is.
There you go.
     Thomas Gramstad continues (Date: Wed, 23 Jun 1999 10:31:33):
In my article I identify 4 basic sexual interaction categories.  I do not discuss the issue of heroism
and hero worship as they apply to those 4 styles, but this is an issue that I'd like to explore.  So
here is the issue: I believe it is clear that Rand held that some sexual interaction styles are
associated with heroism, and others with hero worship (and perhaps yet others with neither).
The active, initiator role is, for Rand, the heroic role, while the more passive, receptive role is the
worshiper's role.  And it's gendered.  So same-sex couples mess up Rand's mental picture of these
roles.  At first glance, one would think that butch-femme homosexual relationships should have
been to Rand's liking, because these would seem to recreate, at least on one level, the imagery of,
and even the reality of, one masculine hero and one feminine hero worshipper.  But of course
that's not how Rand felt, because she conflated gender identity and sexual orientation: the feminine
person must be a heterosexual woman, and the masculine person must be a heterosexual man.  No
other combinations are acceptable to Rand.  I think it is clear that all this is fatally flawed on Rand's
part.  But we can ask: how many flaws are there, what are all the issues?
For example, even if Rand was wrong about assigning (cultural and social) gender to biological
sex, was she right about the masculine, active, initiating person being the hero, and the feminine,
passive, receptive person being the hero worshipper? If so, butch-femme homosexual relationships
would embody Randian sexuality, and so would "reverse role" heterosexual relationships with an
Amazonian active female and a receptive male worshipper.  While more equal or androgynous
sexual styles (whether hetero- sexual or homosexual) would seem to be incompatible with Randian
sexuality.
But if that which is called feminine is also worthy of being worshipped in its own right, then all the
interaction styles may embody Randian principles of sexuality.
Finally, yet another possible position is that only the integrated, fully human person -- the
androgynous or post-androgynous person who integrates both masculine and feminine
characteristics -- is actually worthy of being worshipped, as well as being best able to actively
express worship of another.  At first glance, this position would seem to imply that only the
equality style and the switch style are valid expressions of a sexuality based on Randian principles. 
But if we consider the "reverse" heterosexual relationship (Amazon and male worshipper) and the
homosexual butch-femme relationship in their cultural contexts, we find that both serve to
deconstruct and destabilize traditional patriarchal gender roles -- they can't be fully described,
understood or interpreted within that paradigm.  And therefore, they too do not correspond to the
traditional masculine hero and feminine hero worshipper dichotomy.
Maybe even the masculine heterosexual man and the feminine heterosexual woman can escape this
dichotomy and exist in a non-patriarchal setting where both perceive oneself and the other as
heroes?  But this may require that "the masculine" and "the feminine" both are considered equally
worthy of being hero worshipped.  And then we are once more moving away from Rand's actual
original position.

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