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Feminism And Objectivism

Feminism and Objectivism

By William R Thomas

Question: What is feminism, according to Objectivism? And what is the place of women in society according to Objectivism?

Answer: Objectivism is an individualist philosophy. It holds that each person is a rational animal and that all individuals deserve to be free to make any choices in life that do not involve initiating force against others (which also means that one's choices should not violate obligations one has chosen to take on, such as contracts). It holds that all men and women have essentially the same rights, and all should be free to live as they choose. It does not distinguish between men and women in its concepts of moral virtues or fundamental values.

Because it rejects traditional restrictions on women and regards productive work as a virtue for women as well as men, Objectivism shares many of the views of classical, individualist feminism. It rejects the traditional idea that men deserve to have power over women or that women should have different or less freedom than have men. This can be seen in the portrait of business executive Dagny Taggart in Atlas Shrugged, for example. In addition, Objectivists have generally been in favor of a woman's right to abortion, as an extension of the individual's general right to control the uses of his own body.
 
Ayn Rand herself rejected the label "feminist" and even went so far as to provocatively declare herself a "male chauvinist." In addition to her philosophical views per se, she had a view of sexual psychology that ascribed distinctive "masculine" and "feminine" attitudes to healthy men and women respectively. She argued that sexually, women should desire to engage in "hero worship," and that this required having at least one man to whom they could each look up. For this reason she argued in her essay "About a Woman President" that a women should not want to be the commander-in-chief. However, she was clear to explain in that context that she nevertheless held that ability was not the basic issue: "women are not inferior to men in ability or intelligence..." Neither I nor any Objectivist thinker of note today thinks Rand's psychological concepts of femininity and masculinity are integral to the philosophy of Objectivism.
 
There are strong strands of collectivism in today's feminism. These strands of thought treat men and women as hostile classes. Some infamously ascribe radically different thought patterns to men and women as such. Objectivism rejects group-think of this sort, and holds that each individual should be judged based on character, actions, and ability, not merely on the person's sex. Rand called herself a "male chauvinist" because she admired the many great men of history, to whom all of civilization owes so much. Her rhetoric was chosen in response to collectivist feminists and racists who denigrated "dead white men" as such. 
 
Objectivism holds, based on the foregoing, that a woman's place is where she chooses to make it. As a rational being, a women needs to pursue relationships based on mutual respect and the honest exchange of value-for-value. She needs to engage in a career of productive work. She needs friendship and love. Child-rearing may be an important part of her life, but if she so chooses she should approach raising children with the seriousness of engaging in serious work. In short, there is no objective basis for restricting women's choices based merely on their sex. Like all individuals, women have the political right and the moral need to be free and choose their own courses in life.

 

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William R Thomas has written on topics in politics, ethics, and epistemology, and has spoken internationally on the theory of individual rights and Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism. His works include Radical for Capitalism, and, as editor, The Literary Art of Ayn Rand. He is the director of programs for The Atlas Society. Thomas is currently a lecturer in the Department of Economics of the University at Albany.