THE ROLE OF COURAGE IN WOMEN'S MORAL ACTION

Thesis for a Bachelor's Degree in Philosophy at the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium       by Helen von Mott


Recently I had the honor to be a guest speaker at Berkeley University. The event was "Empowering Women's Sexuality" and I was the wrestling segment of the program. After speaking for a few minutes I brought out my mats and asked for volunteers from the audience who would be interested in coming to the front of the room and wrestling with me. These women had no technique, no skill, and I wasn't offering to give them any. "Try to kill me." I told them, "I just want to feel how ferocious you can be. Don't worry, I won't hurt you, and I won't let myself get hurt. Show me how powerful you are." Every single woman in the audience wanted to wrestle. Every one. Many of them expressed a kind of wonder at how turned on they felt just being able to "let go" like that. Many of them got turned on just watching. I wound up taking my mats to a party after the lecture and wrestling the women there who didn't get to wrestle in class. When I got tired, they wrestled each other.

Helen von Mott


Helen (front) in playful action

Helen von Mott is a person well accomplished in the area of female fighting, both theoretically and practically. This is her Bachelor's thesis which she wrote many years ago while at KUL (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven), the most important university in Belgium and one of the oldest and most respected universities in Europe.


In this essay I will explore how the concept of women as the "weaker sex" has led them to be viewed as naturally inferior. Women themselves have internalized this image, making it a self-fulfilling prophecy. All moral action involves an element of courage, yet when women are viewed as weak by themselves and others, they expect less of themselves and less is expected of them. Their actions reflect this, as do their accomplishments. Traditionally women have been seen as being capable of courageous acts, but the type of courage attributed to them has been of a purely passive nature, the courage of a martyr. Womenís courage has been the courage of endurance, while courage to take action in the face of adversity has been a virtue of the male. Because of their perceived powerlessness, womenís choices have been either severely curtailed or eliminated altogether, and without choice, morality is impossible. Only that which we choose to do freely is worthy of the name "virtue." It is due to this powerlessness that women often feel paralyzing fear when confronted with moral decisions. Moral decisions often involve confronting men who do hold power within society. Women are taught to feel inferior to men, and when confronted with the possibility of conflict with a man (even if he is ethically incorrect) a woman will often decline from moral action, out of fear. Also, because women are taught to be weak, and even to see this weakness as a virtue, they will often tend to avoid conflict completely. They will therefore neglect to defend a moral position, or decline to take action in the face of danger, even if by failing to do this a moral wrong is committed. Men also need to confront fear when faced with a moral decision, but the issue of inferiority due to gender is non-existent. Because of this, men are more free to act more constantly moral than are women. To gain the same freedom, women must overcome their fear of men and the sense of their own powerlessness.

        The first thing that a woman must gain control over in order to become free is her own body. Being in conrol of her own body means being able to choose courses of action without being constrained by fear of physical intimidation. The concept of "womenís weakness" has been used by countless philosophers throughout the centuries to justify the lesser position that women occupy within society. Women have come a long way in gaining equal educational opportunities, but they are still less educated as a group (largely because less is expected of them) and the idea of women as "the weaker sex" remains. As long as this is so, women will never be seen as truly equal, because where reason fails to preserve the upper strata of society for men, physical and therefore emotional intimidation often prevails. When women are taught to defend themselves physically, they will see themselves as truly equal and will also be able to choose despite their fears.

        The "naturalness" of womenís weakness has been used as a tool for denying women an equal place in society throughout the history of philosophy, despite the fact that no empirical evidence exists to substantiate this viewpoint. The so-called fact of a womanís physical inferiority has simply been accepted as common sense. Other scholars have dismissed the possibility of women being able to cope with hard physical labor, disregarding the fact that in pre-modern agricultural societies women are and have been expected to do as much or more of the hard physical labor as men.

        Women must not look on their bodies solely as objects with which to attract men, but must take pride in the excellence of the action of which their bodies are capable. Currently this is not so. From birth, little girls are most praised not for their actions, but for their appearance. They are made to think of themselves not as beings who act, but as sexual objects who are acted upon. This passive attitude towards life has given men and women alike a perception of women as victims. This can be illustrated in the violent nature of mass media entertainment. Successful attacks on women, or violent situations in which a woman is rescued by a man, reinforce the cultural view of women as "the weaker sex."

          The first philosopher clearly to see the need for the physical training of women was Plato (427-347 B.C.). In Book V of the Republic, Plato contends that the physical difference between men and women is trivial. Because of this, women must be given the same physical and military, as well as educational training, as men, so as to make equally efficient "guardians." (Although womenís education is today almost identical to that for men, their relative lack of physical training continues to handicap them in the world; a point that will be examined more closely in my discussion of Aristotle and courage, below.) According to Plato, the fact of a womanís gender makes her no less fit to rule than a man, any more than a man with hair is more fit to rule than a man who is bald (Book V, Part VI, 454c). In his emphasis on the need for coeducational physical training, Plato went so far as to recommend that women exercise naked with men, as part of achieving the equal education of guardianship.

        Professor Allan Bloom of Yale University, in his "Republic: An Interpretive Essay," opined that this type of equality would paradoxically lead to a repression of sexual desire. In Bloomís opinion, this would be a bad thing, and would lead to sexual indifference as opposed to sexual equality. In his words, "men can be naked together because it is relatively easy to desexualize their relations with each other." This seems to ignore the fact that in Platoís time and our own time, many men feel a sexual attraction to other men equal to or greater than the desire they feel for women. I am not arguing that exercise in the nude, with men, is necessary in order for women to achieve equality; but the fascination with women strictly as sexual objects must be overcome in order for women to achieve equality. So in a sense, Bloom is right, in that male sexual desire must be repressed to some extent in order for women to be perceived as equals; but he is wrong in his assessment of this outcome as an undesirable state of affairs. In every society some degree of repression is necessary, in order for the society to function. We take pride in our rationality, and that rationality itself requires some suppression of the passions. Complete physical independence is necessary in order for women to find moral equality in an increasingly amoral society. Specifically, if women were educated as Plato described in the Republic, todayís frequent violence against women would hardly exist, because women would not be perceived as easy targets and objects of derision for physical incompetence. Rather, they would be seen as full equals: not persons with "complementary virtues" as Kant and Rousseau would have it, but as fellow human beings.

        Plato is often called "the first feminist," but this term is misleading. In actuality he did not see women as genuinely equal to men, but instead tells us "in general the one sex [i.e., male] is much better at everything than the other."

        Another point to be made is that although Plato paid lip-service to equal education, his own academy consisted almost entirely of men, with very few exceptions. Richard C. Lewontin describes the exchange in Book V as "the earliest one in which intellectuals explain to each other why affirmative action just wonít work" in academic life." He says of Plato: "I suppose he searched for candidates but none were suitable" (Lewontin, "Platoís Women"), using the faulty arguments of todayís professional academicians to underscore the faulty actions of Plato. Professor Lewontin sees the predominance of men in Platoís guardian class as well as in his academy as being comparable to womenís situation in modern universities.

        Plato also made it clear in the Republic that he did not advocate equality due to any belief in "human rights" in the modern sense, but for the good of the hypothetical state. He felt that some women were better than some men at some things, but that the male gender was the superior gender overall. Therefore, the title of "first feminist" really is not applicable to Plato. Besides this, he tended to forget himself even in his theoretical advocacy of egalitarianism, and in the same book he refers to female guardians as "guardiansí wives." Meanwhile, in the Laws Plato is relentlessly misogynistic, and in a warning that the failure to regulate the private realm endangers the state, he wrote:

It is a grave error in your law that the position of women has been left unregulated . . . the very half of the human race that is generally predisposed by weakness to undue secrecy and craftiness Ė the female sexóhas been left to its disorders by the mistaken concession of the legislators . . . . Womanóleft without chastening restraintóis not, as you might fancy, merely half the problem, nay she is twofold and more than a twofold problem, in proportion as her native disposition is inferior to manís. Laws, 780e-781b.

        In Timaeus, Plato explains that man has two souls. The immortal soul is situated in the head, which is the most divine part of the body. The mortal soul resides in the breast, and is divided into two sections, one superior and one inferior. The superior section, he asserts, "is endowed with courage and passion and loves contention; [the gods] settled it near the head . . . in order that being obedient to the rule of reason it might join with [reason] in constraining the desires" (Timaeus, 70a). Plato compares this part of the soul to the menís quarters in a contemporary Greek household, while the part-soul that he compares with the womenís quarters is the part that he associates with bodily desires. (It is interesting to note that in Platoís time, women were viewed as the more amorous or lustful of the two sexes, and thus more likely to be ruled by their passions.) Nancy Tuana, in her book Woman and the History of Philosophy, feels that this analysis proves that Plato associated the virtue of courage strictly with the male.

        In addition to this, in Timaeus Plato tells us a creation-myth of how in the beginning of the world there was only man, woman being a secondary creation; a pattern familiar to most of us from the story of Adam and Eve. Each soul was assigned to a star, and was implanted in a body that was created as equal in perfection with all other men. Manís fate thereafter was determined by how he responded to his bodily passions. If he conquered his emotions, then upon the death of his physical body a man would ascend to his assigned star. However, those men who were "cowards or led unrighteous lives" (my emphasis) would be rebornóas women! "At the second birth he would pass into a woman, and if, when in that state of being, he did not desist from evil, he would continually be changed into some brute [animal] who resembled him in the evil nature which he had acquired" (Timaeus 42b-c). There is considerable space for doubt as to whether Plato himself had a literal belief in this myth; the misogynistic sense of the piece is clear enough, nonetheless.

        Despite all this, until as late as the 19th century Plato remained the only philosopher to have seen women on a reasonably equal footing with men; therefore he deserves credit in that regard.

        Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), on the other hand, believed womenís inferiority to be entirely natural and firmly based on their physiology; thus setting the tone for philosophical discourse on the subject for thousands of years to come. Feminine inferiority, in his opinion, was due the fact that women had "less heat" in their bodies than did men:

More females [infants] are produced by the young and those verging on old age than by those in the prime of life; in the former the heat is not yet perfect, in the latter it is failing. And those [men] of a moister and more feminine body are more wont to beget females . . . . now all these characteristics come from a deficiency in natural heat (Generation, 766b 28-33).

        In his Physiognomics, Aristotle discussed the body types of different animals, and concluded that by virtue of their physical makeup, women could not help but be soft and cowardly. (Physiognomics, 809b 3-10) He sums up by saying: "the male is more upright and courageous and, in short, altogether better than the female." These statements show how his biases affected his science; but they likewise influenced his Ethics and his other works of philosophy as well.

        In Aristotleís Politics he argues that it is the nature of woman to be ruled by man, just as passions must be ruled by reason. He says that because "the male is by nature superior and the female inferior . . . the one rules and the other is ruled." (Politics 1254b 6-14) Woman, by necessity, must be ruled: by her husband if she is "free," by her master if she is a slave. Women are capable of virtue; but the virtue of a woman is her obedience to a virtuous man. "The temperance of a man and of a woman, or the courage and justice of a man and of a woman are not, as Socrates maintained, the same; the courage of a man is shown in commanding, and of a woman in obeying." (Politics, 1260a 20-23) Aristotle leads the way for Rousseau, Kant and others by laying the groundwork for the "equal but different" argument, which is still popular today. Aristotle says that "the excellences of the [woman] are in body, beauty, and stature; in soul, self-command and an industry that is not sordid." (Rhetoric, 1361a 8-9) It is tempting to think that Aristotle, by recognizing "industry" as a feminine excellence, has seen fit to bestow upon woman a modicum of equality; but alas this is not so. For Aristotle the inclusion of industry as a feminine excellence excludes women from the possibility of "higher" excellences. This is because he believes that to lead the life of an artisan or tradesman is "ignoble and inimical to excellence," and that "leisure is necessary both for the development of excellence and the performance of political duties." (Politics, 1328b 36-1329a 2) Of course, both of these are excluded from the feminine realm. Aristotleís misogyny, and his belief in the inferiority of women, equating women with passivity and incapacity outside their domestic sphere, is a fundamental part of his metaphysics. Yet although we are taught that Aristotle was one of the greatest thinkers of all time, with most of Western philosophy being based on his work, this element of his thought is hardly ever examined in an academic setting.

        The object of this work is not, however, to catalog the pervasive misogyny in Western philosophy, but to see how the perception of women as inferior beings has stripped them of the courage necessary for morality. Therefore, having shown the low esteem with which women were held in the foundational works of that philosophy, I will now go on by investigating the nature of courage and its evolution from ancient to modern times, without the female. (It is interesting that the Greek word for courage, andreia, is literally translated as "manliness," and the word "virtue" is itself taken from the Latin vir, meaning "man.")

        Plato, in his Protagoras and Laches, discussed the nature of courage, but failed to come up with any satisfactory answer as to what courage actually is. He did conclude, however, that that an essential element of courage was the knowledge of good and evil, indicating a tie between courage and morality. His logic was as follows: Courage is a virtue that is to be admired. Action taken in the service of evil is not to be admired; but to know if an action is performed in the service of good rather than evil, the actor must be able to distinguish between the two. This definition seems flawed, in that it digs too deep, and conflates courage with wisdom. What motivates a courageous act in no way detracts from the strength of will needed to perform the act.

        Aristotle has a much more forthright approach to his examination of courage than his predecessor Plato. For Aristotle, "while [the brave man] will fear even the things that are not beyond human strength, he will face them as he ought and as the rule directs, for honorís sake; for this is the end of virtue." (Nicomachean Ethics III5a 10) For Aristotle, it is essential that in order to qualify as brave, a man must not act out of passion, fearlessness (rashness), ignorance, fear of punishment or pain, experience, or supreme self-confidence (i.e., a sanguine nature). Instead, he must act with regard to a noble end, despite any fear that he may feel. Aristotle also affirms the possibility of sacrifice in acts of courage, saying: "It is for facing what is painful . . . that men are called brave. Hence courage involves pain, and it is justly praised; for it is harder to face what is painful than to abstain from what is pleasant."

        On this point I must agree with Aristotle in that the possibility of pain must be embraced in order for a physical act to be called brave. Unfortunately, women are sheltered from birth, and encouraged to fear physical pain to the point of avoiding it at all costs. "Roughhousing" with parents (i.e., the father) is usually off-limits to female children, and while boys are often allowed to work out their differences physically among themselves, it has been considered "unseemly" for young ladies to engage in such "masculine" activity. In addition, hard-contact sports such as football, boxing, rugby, and wrestling have been customarily eliminated from the feminine experience even in so-called egalitarian schools. So the perception of woman as the "weaker sex" becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Women are denied the opportunity of engaging in strenuous physical activity, and so become unable to do so. The only time that touch is permissible to woman is within a sexual, or maternal, setting. Friends sometimes do hold hands or hug, but an aggressive physical attitude for women is actively discouraged within the confines of modern society.

        As a result, when put in a potentially hostile situation, women have the tendency to "freeze up." Nothing in their experience has prepared them for dealing with inflicted pain, and we fear that which we do not know. In the hopes of averting the path of aggression, women will often turn to the only defense that they have been taught: absolute passivity! (There is even a popular myth that says that this is the best way for women to deal with hostile situations. Lest any credence be given to this, I would like to point out that in most reported violent attacks on women, when any strong resistance has been shown, the resistance has been enough to break off the attack altogether. In psychological profiling it has been shown that most would-be rapists prefer passive victims, so as to fulfill their fantasies of omnipotence.) Women often harbor so much fear that the very threat of physical discomfort will be enough to dissuade them from doing what they feel is ethically right. Sometimes the passive defense works (although most often it doesnít), but every time it is used it fosters resentment, for it strips away honesty and forces women to use their weakness instead of their strength to defend themselves. Furthermore, it serves to convince women of their own lack of physical ability.

        For the purposes of this paper I will use a very Aristotelian definition of courage. Courage is an affirmation of all that is noble within the human spirit, but it is an affirmation that takes place in spite of worldly circumstances. A courageous act involves the possibility of sacrifice, up to and including the sacrifice of oneís own life. Fear is an essential part of any courageous act, for courage lies in feeling fear and actively affirming what is right in spite of that fear. There can be no courage where there is no fear. A courageous act for a woman, however, more often ends in the ultimate sacrifice than does a courageous act for a man. This is largely due to her lack of physical training and her own mental impression of her helplessness. As a result, women feel (often rightly) that for them there is no middle ground regarding acts of courage. When they act in accordance with their conscience against societyís expectations, they often risk much more than do their male counterparts. This is because the personhood of the male is already taken for granted within our patriarchal society. When a man asserts himself regarding what he believes to be right, there is no conception that he is somehow "out of line," so long as he acts within the boundaries of propriety. If however a woman asserts herself in the same way, she is often seen as "a radical," "a militant feminist," "masculine," or worse.

        This type of societal reaction to womenís strength is a form of manipulation and interferes with female autonomy. For the 18th century German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), autonomy was the source of human dignity and the foundation for all moral action. "Manipulation" can be understood as anything that tries to influence a person to make rational decisions on irrational grounds. It can also be achieved by withholding information, so that the person making the decision is incapable of formulating a rational basis for a decision. The conception of femininity is a manipulation that encourages women to base decisions regarding behavior no on reason, but out of a desire to fit in with society. When women are taught to be "feminine," their rights regarding the possibility of decision-making without undue, illogical interference are violated, including choices about moral action. (The same strait-jacket is the case for men and "masculinity"; but the limits, for men, do not affect the bounds for morality and courage.) For Kant, one is under a moral obligation to do something if it is required by the principles one accepts as a rational being, free from "determining causes" and independently of all desire. For a woman, however, determining causes have typically become so much a part of self-image that it is virtually impossible for her to think rationally.

        Feminine passivity often manifests itself in servility. When one is servile, one cannot be moral, for if one respected a system of moral rights one would be compelled to learn oneís place in it, to affirm it proudly, and not to take abuses of it lightly. When a woman subjects herself to servitude she shows either an ignorance of her moral rights or a disregard for them. The same can of course be said of the subjector, but he doubtless feels justified in thinking that the woman has waived her rights to autonomy in favor of an easier life. The problem with this agument is that some rights (e.g., the right to respect as a human being) cannot be waived. When a woman misunderstands her own rights or does not hold them in high enough esteem, she can only be expected to make this mistake concerning the rights of others as well. From a Kantian perspective, to behave in an ethical manner is to be aware of and to respect the moral law. This involves holding the moral system in esteem, and being unwilling to give up oneís place in it. The moral law is a system of fundamental rights and duties. A personís respect for humanity as a whole is evidence in that personís respect for the moral law. This system is universal. Therefore each person must treat his or her own rights with the same deference that he or she would treat the rights of others. "Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of another, always at the same time as an end and never simply as a means," says Kant. Servility is an immoral act because it is a disregard for oneís own place within the moral law. Forfeiture of autonomy is immoral as well, because, as Kant saw it: "Autonomy is the ground of the dignity of human nature and of every rational nature, and therefore lies at the foundation of all morality." Only fully autonomous persons are capable of making the Good into the exclusive aim of their actions. So in the sense that femininity encourages passivity, discourages autonomy, and thus inspires servility, the idea of a "feminine nature" is itself immoral. (It is ironic that Kant himself would disagree with me on this point, since he, like Aristotle, believed womenís morality to be "different" from menís morality.)

        For Kant, woman was the "fair" or "beautiful" sex, while man was he "noble" sex. He believed that the "fair" nature of woman refined the noble nature of man. He wrote, in Anthropology: "As culture advances each party must be superior in his own particular way: the man must be superior to the woman by his physical strength and courage; the woman to the man, however, by her natural talent for gaining mastery over his desire for her. In a still uncivilized state of affairs, on the contrary, all superiority is on the manís side." Therefore the superiority of the woman to the man is not even due to any autonomous talent she may bring to the relationship, but strictly by her value as a sex object and manipulative skill in such a role. Womanís "feminine charm" is given to her by the culture, while a manís natural physical superiority is given to him by birth. Kant also believed that reason was a defining characteristic of a moral entity, yet he discouraged women from strengthening this capacity. He justified this in Observations by saying that deep meditation and sustained reflection "do not well befit" the female sex. Further, even if a woman were to succeed in such endeavors, she would "destroy the merits that are proper to her sex . . . at the same time she will weaken the charms with which she exercises her great power over the [male] sex." So women are to be excluded from the realm of reason, and thus of morality in the Kantian view, not because they are incapable of pursuing this goal, but because in doing so they would inhibit menís development. So much for a woman being an end in herself!

        In the Kantian analysis, the purpose of women is to refine men by encouraging in men the noble qualities that they are attracted to, e.g., wisdom, courage and accomplishments. Men in turn are attracted to womenís beauty. Therefore, although a woman is capable of reason, it is her proper place to see the world not through the eyes of reason, but through the eyes of beauty. He writes: "A womanís education is not instruction but guidance. She must know men, rather than books." Further: "One will seek not to broaden [womenís] total moral feeling and not their memory, and that of course not by universal rules, but by some judgment upon the conduct that they see about them." So womenís moral instruction is to be based on emotion, instead of reason. "Women will avoid the wicked not because it is unright, but because it is ugly; and virtuous actions mean to them such [actions] as are morally beautiful. Nothing of duty, nothing of compulsion, nothing obligation!" (Observations.) However, he points out in his Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, that true moral action should not be based on feelings, but instead on universal principles founded on reason. It seems then that Kant advocates the socialization of women into amoral creatures. This can be summed up in his view of the marital relationship: "The principal object of marriage is that the man should become more perfect as a man, and the woman as a wife." (Observations.) The moral goodness of women therefore, is again defined in terms of servility. Yet as we have seen, in the Kantian analysis morality and servility are mutually exclusive ideas. According to Kant, people have a duty to perfect themselves. Despite this, he argues against women perfecting themselves as women, because in doing so they would be less apt to serve men.

        Kant bases this servitude on womenís natural weakness. A womanís biological timidity is the natural result of having to bear the fetus. (Anthropology.) The woman is dependent upon the man in her entirety. Kant argues that this protection is a womanís right, and not a liability. Obviously this is a hollow argument, for this reliance strips women of their autonomy, which is, as we have seen, necessary in order to live a moral life. Men become their wivesí "curators" and dictate to them not only what their actions should be but what their very will consists of. (Anthropology.) Unfortunately, Kant is correct in his assessment in that this is how society has traditionally operated; but he is wrong in calling this state of dependence "natural."

        In The Phenomenology of Spirit, the German philosopher Georg Hegel (1770-1831) writes that human relationships are based on the fight for recognition. This is what he refers to as the master/slave relationship. Although Hegel used the terms "master" and "slave" rather more literally than I will employ them herein, there are definitely parallels between the Hegelian historical situation in which "Man" has found himself, and the role of women. (Simone de Beauvoir saw this as well, and believed that the tendency to oppress others was natural to human consciousness; again, we should not confuse Ďnaturalí with Ďdesirable.í In her central work The Second Sex, she wrote that oppression is the result of the "existentís" desire to flee from herself/himself by identifying superiority as the oppression of another. "In each man that exists today, the husband wants to find himself in his wife, the lover in his mistress . . . he is seeking in her they myth of his virility, his sovereignty, of his immediate reality.") Hegel believed, ironically in retrospect, that a free society would come about with the ultimate victory of Napoleon Bonaparte. For Hegel, history is the history of warlike masters and working slaves. To be human is to be one or the other. For the master, recognition is valued above life itself, indeed, the way one gains recognition is by risking oneís life, for risking oneís life is the base level of human value. The recognition that a master gets, is that of being called "master" by other human beings. This recognition is empty, however, because what the master really wants is recognition by an equal, and this he cannot get from a slave. Two masters could never recognize one another, because they would always fight to the death.

        The slave is the slave because he was not willing to put his life on the line and the master was, and therefore the slave was dominated. However, because mastery is actually an impasse, the slave can realize what the master cannot: that is, real freedom. That is actually what the master wants, but canít have because he is trying to gain freedom through domination, and that does not work.

        Freedom, and the idea of freedom, only become possible through the master as a catalyst in the life of the slave. Because the slave has been subordinate, he recognizes the value of autonomy. At first he sees this autonomy as only belonging to the master, but he can see what freedom is and so begins to desire it for himself. The slave has an advantage, in that he doesnít want to be what he currently is, while the master is unwilling to change, although he isnít truly happy. But although the slave can see what freedom is, the reality is that he is still a slave. He became a slave because of his fear of death. He automatically assumes that the master can kill him. His knowledge allows the master to retain his position without having to fight. Because the slave will not risk his life, he is dependent on the master. To overcome his slavery he must overcome his fear of death. The goal of the slave is not to become a master himself, but to evolve out of slavery. When there are no more slaves, then mastery is impossible. The slave sees that the meaning of recognition (and therefore freedom) lies in mutual recognition. He can see this, while the master cannot, because the slave is capable of seeing the humanity and the autonomy in the master as well as in himself, while the master only sees himself as truly human. Only if the slave comes to find his own existence in and for himself can he realize a humanity that is mutually recognizable. The slave can only change the fight between himself and his master by changing the conditions in which the fight takes place.

        It is important to note here that for Hegel, the slave and not the master was responsible for transforming nature. The master needed only to dominate the slave, and the slave would change nature according to the masterís whims. The reason that womenís slavery has been so difficult to combat lies here. Women are subject to a peculiar kind of slavery that denies them access to the world. Hegel assumed that when the slave worked he made new conditions for himself, and when he worked again he improved on those conditions, so there was a constant process of improvement.

        For women, this is not so. Like the Hegelian slave, women are dominated by the fear of losing their lives. Because women are unwilling to risk their lives, they become dependent on men. They are not recognized as equal human beings, because they are not willing to risk as much as men in order to assert their humanity. Even if a woman is willing to risk her life for this, it is still assumed that she is not, and she is treated with less respect than a man. At the very least, she is challenged more than her male counterparts, for she is seen as a natural slave, and her attitude of autonomy is viewed as disrespect for her masters. However, because her work cannot change the condition of the world, it is impossible for her to end her slavery in the way that Hegel described. However, Hegel also said that the slave must change so that he no longer fears death from the master.

        Hegel uses the term Bildung, which can be translated either as "transformation" or "education." Here I shall use the term "educative forming." Women are not put in positions where they can change the world through work, but they do have the opportunity to be educated. Through education, women can see the ideal of freedom, just as Hegelís slave could see freedom through his work. Women must also learn to think about the education they receive, for often the education given to women educates them to think like slaves. Education can free women from their economic dependence, but often dependence on men by way of protection is imposed by the framework within womenís own minds. In order to overcome this tendency, women must transform themselves through physical education. This physical transformation will engender a psychological transformation, so that women will no longer fear death at the hands of their "masters." Educating women to the possibility of their own strength will allow for mutual recognition to take place. This will also be of benefit to men, for the love and recognition they will receive from their mates will be the love and recognition of equals, not subordinates. When women are seen as human, moreover, men will be less able to commit unethical acts toward them. This is true even if men at first do not see women as equals, for in defending themselves, women will keep unethical acts from taking place. Thus the educative forming of women will not only lead to their emancipation, but will also lead to an ethical education for many men, as well. Through mutual recognition, both genders will benefit.

        Hegel saw that when the slave had the idea of freedom, but could not yet act on this idea, he put up mental defenses to justify his inaction. One of the justifications was that of stoicism. In stoicism, the slave tries to convince himself that it is enough to know he is free, and the real conditions are unimportant. The problem with this argument is that it amounts essentially to lying to oneself. External conditions are precisely what determine the extent to which a person is actually free. All persons are free, but freedom always lies within a limited situation with a finite number of possibilities. So all people are free, but some people are more free than others. To know that your soul is free, is not sufficient to feel free. To be free is to be free in comparison with others who are free as well.

        To justify external situations, a slave often results to solipsism. Solipsists will say to themselves: "Nothing is real, except what I make of reality." At the core of this is contradiction. It is impossible to affirm reality, and simultaneously to deny its existence. The outcome of full-blown solipsism is suicide, the supreme act of denying the outer world. Suicide can often take the form of denying the probably outcomes of self-destructive behavior. Solipsism is an illusory freedom, and often ends in the tragic destruction of life. If real freedom were gained, solipsism would be unnecessary, because women would have more actual options, and would not need to choose imaginary ones.

          Christian theology, for Hegel, was the third and final way that a slave can convince himself of his own freedom while retaining his subservient status. To the Christian way of thinking (in common with more than one other religion), the contradiction between the ideal and the real is a necessary part of existence. Through his religion, the slave convinces himself that no ideals can ever be recognized in this lifetime. He sees everyone as a slave, with God being the ultimate master. What happens here is that the slave takes over his own slavery. Even if he were freed, the slave would still see himself as a slave to God.

        The philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900) saw the entirety of Judeo-Christian ethics as "slave morality." By contrast, he saw power as the fundamental goal of human existence. Some would argue that the Nietzschean "will to power" was not necessarily power over others (as it has been often interpreted and applied), but the power to affirm oneís own existence by the ability to say "yes" to whatever life may throw in oneís path. He described the "sacred yes" as the state of mind in which "the spirit now wills its own will" (Thus Spake Zarathustra), as opposed to the will of the priests, the authorities, et cetera. The individual will was all-important, and a willl that was genuinely free from traditionalist dogma was the foundation for the true mode of human being. The "first order will" is the will of the actor, while the "second order will" is the will of the he who is acted upon. Essential to the first order will is a will to an activity. "Muscular anticipations" are an essential part of a personís will. The will itself doesnít cause physical activity, but some kind of physical activity is the ultimate goal. Nonetheless, freedom of action is not a prerequisite of freedom for Nietzsche, but rather, in order for freedom of will to occur, a person must want to do something. Some activity must at least be anticipated by the person; and this desire to act must be his own desire, not one that is imposed. Because women historically have been denied the possibility of action through economic, social, and physical repression, their first order will has been taken from them. Because they are ignorant of the possibility of creating their own existence, women often take a laissez-faire approach to life in general. Women in this category arenít motivated to do anything, because in their hearts they hold the conviction that they canít do anything. In order to exercise free will, women must know their options. In order for women to know their options, they must have experience of them. Once again, women can only experience these options through education, and that education must be both moral, mental, and physical.

        For Nietzsche, the fundamental difference that distinguishes the master mentality from the slave mentality is that those with the master mentality see the good as that which is strong, and the bad as that which is weak. On the other hand, the slave mentality sees the good in that which is weak, and evil in that which is strong. The term "evil" as opposed to "bad" denotes a certain judgmentalism in the ethics of a slave, for it emphasizes a mode of behavior that is absolutely forbidden on a universal, as opposed to a personal, level. Slave moralities want to claim that they are not founded on human ideologies, but are in some way objective, and therefore more "real" than master moralities. "At the heart of the slave moralityís absoluteness," it has been said by a commentator, "lies the moral agentís eschewal of responsibility for the creation of his own morality."

        Nietzsche disagrees with Hegelís notion of freedom, and even with the idea of freedom itself. He saw that the term "freedom" was ultimately arbitrary, since it was an ethical value, and therefore an "artificial" creation of man. So the modern notion of freedom, for Nietzsche, is merely a type of conformism. In his view, the freedom won by Hegelís slave was worthless, since it was a slaveís form of freedom. When the weak prevail in a society, then slave moralities become established as the norm. A result of this type of morality is a slavish nature, some of the characteristics of which are: resentfulness, self-deception, meekness, and weak will. These are precisely some of the personality traits that arise out of womenís fear of menís strength. Instead of embracing and saying "yes" to the possibility of physical conflict, and thus being able to go beyond it, women put on the mask of passivity and become stuck with it, paralyzed by their inability to choose. When a woman seeks to be "feminine," she further affirms her weakness by conforming to societal norms, without questioning how those norms affect her humanity. Assuming the values of the "feminine" woman does away with the need for a free and creative assertion of oneís own individual being, because the values of femininity are accepted as absolutes. A woman cannot become her own person when she strives for the artificial goal of femininity.

        Embodied in the victory of the slave is the spirit of revenge. This is true as well of victories won by using guilt and sex as weapons. Instead of acting to assert her own strength, the woman reacts to the strength of the male and thus is diminished in both his eyes and her own. In The Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche tells us that reactive forces have to do with negation or denial, whereas active forces have to do with affirmation. Reactive forces are characterized by resentment, bad conscience, and an ascetic ideal. Resentment is not a natural feeling, but rather an imaginary form of revenge. When women resent the autonomy of men, they deny their own responsibility and by doing so, put themselves in an even more passive position. The resentful woman will try to separate force from what it can do by accusing men of putting her in a position of subservience. Instead of embracing the positive qualities of physical power, she will generalize and say that all physical aggression is evil, because it was used against her as a means of subjugation. When women feel resentment they often accuse men of being at fault for their own failures, without taking any kind of action to improve their worldly situation.

        Bad conscience is where a person turns against self, and is a continuation of resentment. Once again one fails to take action, and instead looks for an agent upon which to heap the blame for oneís situation in life. Bad conscience is different from resentment, however, in that now oneself is the recipient of blame. An internal sense of pain develops through the imposition of guilt. The truth of either the resentful womanís perception of the world or the "bad conscience" womanís perception is not the issue. What is the issue is that both perceptions limit the possibility for positive action to take place.

        Slave morality finds the justification for both resentment and bad conscience in the ascetic ideal. The triumph of reactive forces comes about through fictions, which have real effects. First, accusation is used to get active forces to limit their power, and then bad conscience is used to get people to accuse themselves. In subscribing to an ascetic ideal, people negate the existence of this world in favor of another. For women this happens by way of denying their actual feelings and desires, in favor of what the "should" feel or desire. Women negate actuality in favor of the illusive, fictitious ideal of femininity. But real emotions and desires cannot be negated, and women only become more resentful. Nietzsche points out that the resentful person can never love or respect another in the active sense. The person who resents builds up her hatred and resentment so that even the dearest and most loving memories have an undercurrent of hatred to them. This type of bitter hatred and resentment is often stereotyped in the person of the so-called "militant feminist," which I prefer to call a "matriarchist." The loss of the ability to forget is a key characteristic of the resentful person, and clearly this is true in the case of the matriarchist, who is unable to forget the pain that has been inflicted on her by men in her past. Because she cannot forget, her ability to receive new impressions is severely impaired. She despises the passivity that is expected of her as a woman, but instead of taking action in a positive way (that is, through creative strength), she falls back on the conditioning of passivity, and instead of embracing the world, shuns it in the form of "gender separatism." Her mind is constantly focused on blame and accusation; thus her ability to admire, respect or love is dulled by the onslaught of her constant hatred. (I use the matriarchist here in order to illustrate a point, but this type of attitude can just as easily be found in a housewife, maid, waitress, or any other woman who is not satisfied with her life and feels that her underachievement is due exclusively to menís domination over her.) When a woman blames man for her worldly position, she effectively gives up her power over her own life, and therefore her own moral action.

        In order to act morally a woman must not blame, but accept and affirm the good within her. She must be able to grasp her own life, its past, present and future, and welcome it as the creative force which brought her into being. She must say, "I am good, and every other consideration is secondary." Only then will she have the freedom of will , the strength, and the courage to take the necessary action to create her own life. To be able to create oneís own life is for Nietzsche true freedom, and only in this way is moral action possible.

        Simone de Beauvoir (1908-86), probably the leading woman philosopher of the 20th Century, believed that no matter how compelling the social forces involved in shaping feminine nature may be, women can always choose to change. Her purpose in writing her landmark feminist work, The Second Sex, was to examine the forces that shape womenís behavior so that women could free themselves from oppression, through understanding. She believed that women should exhibit personality traits that society typically considers "masculine," because "masculine" virtues are the ones that most effectively deal with the problems of everyday life.

        She begins The Second Sex, unsurprisingly, with a critique of the Aristotelian conception of woman. She critiques his opinion (as well as that of Kant, Hegel, Sigmund Freud, et al.) as "naturally" inferior, by pointing out that the formal cause of a fact or condition is not its final cause. A strictly biological understanding of women, argues de Beauvoir, goes far in the way of limiting her possibilities. She criticized Freudís theory of "penis envy" by pointing out that of course the woman envies the man (especially given the relative conditions of freedom and power between the genders in Freudís time and place), but it is his freedom (or in the words of de Beauvoir, his "transcendance") and not his male member that is the object of this avarice. Freud saw aggression in women as attempted compensation for their penis-less condition. For Freud, the "normal" woman was the one who gave up any desire for an active life and instead passively awaited impregnation. (Freud is still seen as the father of psychology, and at least some psychologists and psychotherapists still see his many works as the fundamental texts of their science. It is not difficult to imagine a strong woman getting angry when she is told that she is abnormal because she wants an active life, and then having her anger held up as proof of her "typically emotional" nature!)

        Although womenís bodies are on the whole weaker than those of men, for de Beauvoir physical strength should in no way limit human potentiality. The femaleís way of dealing with the world is naturally more limited, through the restrictions of menstruation and gestation, but de Beauvoir dismisses physiological critiques of equality, writing in The Second Sex: "whenever physiological fact takes on meaning, this meaning is at once dependent on a whole context; the weakness is revealed as such only in light of the ends which humans propose, the instruments available, and the laws which are established." The point she is making is that in a technological society such as ours has long since become, physical strength is less or not relevant. As the times and social settings change, so too will the most valuable human characteristics.

        While I agree with de Beauvoirís assessment of values, I disagree with her dismissal of the importance of physical strength. The body is essential to our existence, and without the ability to keep their bodies safe, women will continue to be dependent. It seems that de Beauvoir never even considered the possibility of a woman being able to assert herself physically as a defense against a violent man, but rather believed that if women were seen as equal then menís respect for their humanity would act as a defense. She writes: "If the respect or fear inspired by women prevents the use of violence towards her, then the muscular superiority of the males is no source of power." But as is evident by menís treatment of other men, respect and even fear are not enough to prevent violence, so the muscular superiority of the male will continue to be the source of power. It is a fact of biology that women, in general, will not ever be as strong as their male counterparts, but, as anyone who has studied martial arts will tell you, muscular strength does not always equate with physical superiority. Although women may be weaker, as long as they are familiar with their own bodies and have been educated in their use, this weakness need not result in dependence.

        In closing, I maintain that as all moral action involves an element of courage, and only freely voluntary actions are worthy of the name "virtue," the perception and self-perception of women as powerless, inferior to men, and lacking in courage, have militated against moral action by women throughout history. In order to defend their moral positions, consistently take moral actions and stands, even in the face of danger, women must reject dependence on men by preferring equality, reject "female weakness" by cultivating moral, mental, and physical strength, reject fear of men and the sense of powerlessness, in favor of bold, self-reliant, and risk-taking activity, and reject passivity and withdrawal in favor of active, courageous involvement with the world. Doing so will result in courage; courage will result in womenís freedom to choose moral actions and defend moral positions in the only meaningful way, through personal volition.


Helen (top) in serious action

It is my belief that only in the next generation are we going to truly understand what the female body is capable of, and that the world has possibly never really experienced a 'real' woman. What I mean by that is a woman who has been encouraged from birth to compete and use her body in an athletic fashion. A woman who has been raised well nourished, educated and exercised in order to further her own individual development. A woman raised to be a human being, not merely a brood mare/companion. She is a new species. I feel like I have accomplished quite a bit in my life, but no matter what my skill, it won't come close to being able to compare with that of a girl in training from the time she was eight! When that little girl becomes a woman she won't have to manfully assert her equality with the opposite sex, it will simply be assumed. She will be a woman that has grown up without ANY fear of men. In the history of the planet that has never been possible. Thinking about that gives me some hope for the future even in these dark times.

Helen von Mott

 

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