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Ayn Rand and Sexual Psychology

I've been having a chat on Facebook about a comment that one person made about Ayn Rand's sexual psychology. The person said:

Ayn Rand seems like the typical masculinized woman who wants to have it both ways. She wants a powerful, socially dominant alpha who'll fuck her hard, but she also wants to reserve the right to indulge her hypergamous (bordering on polyandrist) tendencies by fucking some other men as well, and still have that supposedly 'powerful' man continue to want her.

I was asked what my reaction was with regard to the above quote. At first, I said:

Honestly, . . . whoever said this sounds like he's drawn a ton of deeply psychological inferences about Rand's sexual psychology through examples from her fiction and her life, perhaps, while trying to place her into "typical" categories into which she may or may not fit. I have no clue. I think such claims fall far too deeply into the area of psychologizing for my tastes. And often these are the kinds of claims that are used to deflect any scholarly attention from a person's philosophy; character assassination is a lot easier than grappling with a person's intellectual legacy.

Apparently, the person who made the above conjecture is a libertarian and not trying to deflect from Rand's accomplishments as a thinker, so I was asked for a follow-up. I wrote:

Well, again, I have absolutely no clue about the sexual psychologies of anybody without having more factual knowledge. I'd have to get to know them somewhat initimately to at least form a judgment on something as private as that. I mean, in some instances, if you have your eyes open, you can see a stereotype coming from a mile away! But in too many instances, I've found that you need to really get to know somebody before you can form a satisfactory conclusion... and even then, you can be wrong.
As for Rand: let's face it, this society does not deal too well with "Type A" women. I did coedit (with Mimi R. Gladstein) the anthology, Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, and in many of those essays, authors draw assumptions about Rand from her fiction and her life. It's hard not to. I recall her making a comment (I think to Nathaniel Branden) about the sex in her novels, something like, "This is my fantasy, not yours." And in many cases, at least with regard to any fiction-writer, it's very hard not to interpret the sex scenes as at least something that the author has thought about, if not engaged in. There's a lot of "rough sex" in Rand's novels; in The Fountainhead it becomes "rape by engraved invitation" (and writers have debated for years the issue of the "rape fantasy" in Rand's novels). And yes, there are things one can draw from concerning her take on "masculinity" and "femininity" (as "hero-worship") that say something about her view of man-woman relationships (as do her comments on homosexuality among men or women). The character, Dagny Taggart, also says something about her view of the ideal woman. Even her private journals during her break-up with Nathaniel Branden suggest things about her sexual psychology.
But I have enough trouble figuring out people I've known than people I've never met to do arm-chair psychology with regard to what's going on in their minds and bodies! Psychology is definitely not an exact science.

Ross Levatter replied: "Chris, you write that this author draws a number of psychological inferences about Rand's sexual psychology "through examples from her fiction and her life." Aren't those exactly the sources from where you would expect such inferences to be drawn?" And I answered:

Yes, of course. And with an author who said "And I mean it!" it is at least an indication of something in her sexual psychology. I'm just not prepared to psychoanalyze somebody whom I never met. So much goes into sexual psychology, some things we haven't even truly understood just yet. And we also filter a lot of our psychological inferences through the culture in which we are all embedded. So, with apologies to both Miss Rand and to the person who made the above statements, it's just not that black-and-white.

Well, of course, the discussion has continued. On April 22, 2017, I was challenged for "sitting on the fence" with regard to this issue, and I answered in greater detail:

I don't know why Rick [Giles] thinks I'm "sitting on the fence" on this issue. I just don't think it is easy to dissect a person's sexual psychology in a public forum when we don't really have access to some very intimate details about Rand. Brian, I do agree that you are probably right in your suggestion that Frank was not exactly the embodiment of Rand's stated vision of the ideal man (which was, she said, the "goal" of her fiction-writing).
To state as Rick does that "Ayn Rand is out and out hypergamous without apology" is, quite frankly, BS. If she were so unapologetic about being "hypergamous", why did she not reveal publicly that she was having an affair with Nathaniel Branden (who was probably fulfilling a need in her that Frank could not), with the "acceptance" of both her husband and Nathaniel's then-wife Barbara? For a person who challenged the morality of 2000 years, she didn't flaunt unapologetically the fact that she was in sexual relationships with two men at the same time. In fact, she never mentioned it publicly. She wanted to keep that fact private and secret, which gives one pause about how "without apology" she actually was.
Now, I've heard theories that she didn't want to publicly embarrass her husband. I've also heard theories that because Frank's brother Nick was gay, and because Frank liked gardening and painting, he was probably gay too. You see what I mean about arm-chair psychologizing? You just go down a road with no end and start vomiting conclusions on the basis of little or no evidence.
On the "dominant and submissive" themes in Rand's fiction, I can say this much: I've observed so-called "dominant" and "submissive" behavior in sexuality enough to know that the person who is "submissive" may be either "genuinely" submissive or merely running the show as slickly as a film director---one reason why I have no freaking clue what precisely was going on in Ayn Rand's mind.
Here is what we do know about Rand: She dedicated "Atlas" to both Frank O'Connor and Nathaniel Branden. They both meant something to her on a very deep emotional level. We also know that her novels show that monogamy is not exactly a sacred commandment, that she depicts a lot of rough sex in her fiction (though not quite of the "Fifty Shades of Grey" variety), etc. We know her views on masculinity and femininity and on homosexuality. But for a woman who publicly declared that homosexuality was "disgusting," I've also heard that she cared very much for Frank's brother Nick. (She even stated in her journals that the real affair in "The Fountainhead" was between Roark and Wynand, though not a sexual bond, it was something deeply "romantic"). How do we reconcile these facts? What you see (or what you think you see) is not always what you get.
So her stated views in fiction (as fantasy or projection) and in nonfiction essays (on everything from the idea of a woman president to the Women's Lib movement) and in question-and-answer sessions to public lectures (where she aired her comment on homosexuality) just don't tell the whole story. Nor does her public and private behavior, especially private behavior that she most certainly did not wish to publicize "without apology."
I said it before, and I'll say it again: Sexual psychology is just too complex for one to draw broad conclusions when you don't know enough about the actual person you're dissecting. And I don't think we really know as much as we think we know. So much for my "sitting on the fence."

The conversation went on and on, so I'll just give a summary of what I said in a wrap up (posted on 23 April 2017):

I don't think that every private act ought to be belted out in public, but I think that to say [Rand] was unapologetically hypergamous suggests to me that she was so unapologetic that she could not have cared less what people thought of her having an affair or of anybody she cared about (what happened to "But I don't think of you"?). And I was not so much swearing at you as answering you with the same tone you addressed to me: fence-sitter is not what I am.
. . . [C]alling me a fence-sitter is akin to telling me I'm bullshitting my way out of taking a firm stand, when I'm actually arguing that I can't take a firm stand because I don't have enough information about the workings of Ayn Rand's mind. And who does? We can't make blanket assumptions based on what she projected in her fiction or what we know of her private life. When dealing with a public figure as famous as Rand, who certainly left us some clues about her sexual psychology, I have to take a very cautious approach to making sweeping judgments about a topic so intimate. I'm not a psychologist, but even if I were, I don't have such a depth of access into the workings of Ayn Rand's mind. I don't think anybody has that kind of knowledge.

Rick responded that he was "not socialised in your 1960s New York ghetto slang." He suggested that a private message could have averted a "war." Funny, but I didn't think I had inherited 1960s New York ghetto slang, considering I had not reached the age of 10 until 1970. I guess I'm a little dated. Hmmm... okay, a little more chatting went on.

I'll remember writing you a private message the next time you say that you can't read a paper because it reads like a Sciabarra book. Ahem. You been takin' digs at the ol' man, here, for quite a while now. So I'll wind it back. This is not about any war between us. You're not my enemy. Last time I looked, you were at least a Facebook friend. So let's be friendly.
This whole thread started with a question from Chris Baker asking me to react to a quote about Rand's sexual psychology. Please read that quote. If you honestly think that that quote is not about sexual psychology and that it doesn't make sweeping judgments about Rand's sexual psychology, then we must be reading different quotes. I took your comments as basically seconding the truth of that quote, and my stance is that I can't agree with that kind of a sweeping judgment (or even with its questionable assumptions) based on such a complex area as sexual psychology.
Now let me make one other point: I think I have confused your meaning of hypergamy; at first we were discussing Rand's polyandrous behavior suggested in her fiction and on display in her life. My understanding of hypergamy is being with somebody of a higher class than oneself. Now you really have me confused. Where did Rand ever make any explicit philosophical public statement endorsing mating with folks of a superior caste or class? Dagny Taggart was surely as giant an intellectual equal of any man she was with; I don't think she saw Galt as being of a superior class. And I sure don't think Rand thought Branden to be of a superior class during her affair. So, rewind this conversation and explain what you mean a bit more.

Rick maintained that Rand advocated hypergamy in her philosophical writings. I continued:

Does she really advocate that? I don't see that anywhere in her writing. CB doesn't ask about sexual psychology, but the quote he posts does make assumptions about sexual psychology. When I see terms like "the typical masculinized woman" (which is a term I've usually heard as an epithet to describe gay women), and "a powerful, socially dominant alpha who'll fuck her hard," and comments about "her hypergamous (bordering on polyandrist) tendencies" and "fucking some other men as well" ... Jesus Christ on a bicycle ... the whole paragraph reeks of assumptions about Rand's sexual psychology. But while we're at it, I agree with you that a broader discussion is needed with regard to her view of romantic relationships. So hug it out, and let's at least get on the same page, bro!

I was asked to name the assumptions about Rand's sexual psychology that the paragraph's writer makes, so stating the obvious I wrote:

1. Rand is a "typical masculinized woman." What exactly is that and in what context does it make sense? A "masculinized woman" carries with it assumptions about gender roles and how a woman should or should not act, and what constitutes "masculinity" and "femininity"... and all of this relates to sexual psychology. (I was once told by a critic of Rand that she looked like the typical "castrating female"... which also carried with it assumptions about sexual psychology, and what a woman's role "should" be. Not surprising that the critic was a man.)
2. "She wants a powerful, socially dominant alpha who'll fuck her hard..." Uh, that's pretty self-explanatory. It speaks directly to the "rough sex" that is depicted in Rand's novels and the "rape by engraved invitation" scene in "The Fountainhead," and it involves assumptions again about Rand's sexual psychology.
3. "...she also wants to reserve the right to indulge her hypergamous (bordering on polyandrist) tendencies by fucking some other men as well, and still have that supposedly 'powerful' man continue to want her." Again, this kind of comment makes explicit that Rand is a person who wished to carry on encounters with multiple sexual partners, and still have at least one man who was powerful enough to want (and perhaps subdue) her. I find it hard to believe that this needs to be made any more explicit; all of this speaks directly to assumptions about Rand's sexual psychology, not just her philosophical outlook on man-woman relationships.
The whole paragraph isn't even raised as a philosophical point about Rand's views on man-woman relationships; it is a direct "analysis" of what kind of woman Rand was based on what the author thinks of the way she acted in her sexual relationships with men.
So I'm very baffled that I have to explain what I think is plainly there. This is a straight-out statement and labeling about the ways in which Rand conducted herself in matters of sexuality. And it does so in a way that presumes to know what was going on in her mind with regard to her sexual psychology. I don't know what more I can say. It's right there in the paragraph.

Rick Giles answered that I was "hell bent on looking at the inquiry from an application-level psycho-sexual evaluation of one person, Ayn Rand." I replied:

Rick, for a friend to keep telling me what I am "hell bent' on doing, well, I have nothing else to say because none of what you are asking about pertains to the quote I was asked to comment on. That quote was a quote about Ayn Rand the woman and her sex life; I interpreted it as a sweeping statement about her sexual psychology. I did not interpret it as a statement on Objectivism.
This is not a thread about Objectivism's stance on hypergamy. I don't believe Objectivism qua philosophy has a stance on hypergamy or polygamy or polyandry. There is a need to separate the philosophy from the philosopher sometimes, and what you are attempting to do here is to drag "Objectivism" into the discussion. Objectivism is not Ayn Rand's sex life. You want to start a thread on Objectivism and sexuality, go ahead. This was a thread about a comment that some guy made about Rand.
Quite frankly, I think the statement says more about the guy who said it than about Ayn Rand.
I've said all I need to say about that statement, and as far as Objectivism and sexuality, I said all I needed to say in a little monograph called Ayn Rand, Homosexuality, and Human Liberation, which discussed the various attitudes toward sexuality that one found in the Objectivist movement, attitudes that I believe were antithetical to the philosophy. You seem to have an almost hostile tone to your posts, and I can't for the life of me understand what's upsetting you so much. So accuse me of cowardice, fence sitting, running away from a conversation, but sometimes two people just talk past each other. I think we reached that point several comments ago.

Rick Giles replied: "Oh dear. Sounds like 'hell bent' might be another ghetto trigger word. I just meant dedicated! Focused! Sounds like you're offering me the last word then? I'll take a crack at that later."

As I said: Jesus Christ on a Bicycle. Later indeed!