POP culture

Premises Of Post-Objectivism



Copyright Thomas Gramstad

Copyright Pennsylvania State University Press

Published in the essay anthology Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, edited by Mimi Reisel Gladstein and Chris Matthew Sciabarra, Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999.

"My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute." (Ayn Rand, Appendix to Atlas Shrugged) "Heroism is the only alternative." (Phyllis Chesler, Patriarchy: Notes of an Expert Witness)

Ayn Rand formulated and presented a new vision of human being. She achieved a wide-ranging integration of mind and body, a unified conception of love, sex, self and relationships. She viewed love as a response to values, and romantic love as a unity of reason and emotion, virtue and desire, admiration and passion, human pride and animal lust. Sex, for Rand, is an expression of self-esteem - a celebration of oneself and of existence. A relationship provides a trade of spiritual values, offering psychological visibility (and thereby spiritual growth) through the perception of oneself as an external reflection in another self.

And yet, despite this achievement, Rand made a mistake - a mistake that limits the range of her achievement, and undercuts the scope of her integration, a mistake that preserved elements of Platonism and collectivism in her integration of love and sex. Rand maintained a Platonic view of gender, which translates into gender-role collectivism. The goal of this article is to identify these elements and their effects, to establish how and at what levels they contradict more fundamental ideas in Rand's philosophy, and finally to suggest an extended Randian<1> position that incorporates gender individualism and Feminist insights, thus providing the foundation for a Randian-Feminist synthesis. I hope to unleash a hidden potential in Rand's thought - a potential from which a conceptual foundation for The Female Hero can be established.


What exactly was Rand's view on gender? A careful analysis of the Randian canon reveals that Rand had a view that remained unchanged - one is tempted to say unchallenged - throughout her entire life. This view permeated the fabric of her thinking, surfacing at irregular intervals both in her fiction and non-fiction.

For example, there is this description of Dagny Taggart, the powerful heroine in Atlas Shrugged (136):

  [I]t was astonishing to discover that the lines of her shoulder
  were fragile - and beautiful, and that the diamond band on the
  wrist of her naked arm gave her the most feminine of all aspects:
  the look of being chained.
For Rand, a person's physical appearance expresses his or her gender, and Rand operates with distinct and separate bipolar gender roles (masculinity and femininity) linked to the person's biological sex (maleness and femaleness respectively). Hence, the look of being chained is associated with femininity, and femininity is seen by Rand as the psychological expression of biological femaleness.

There is also this description of Dominique Francon, the heroine of The Fountainhead ([1943] 1986, 262):

   She stood leaning back, as if the air was a support - solid
   enough for her thin, naked shoulder blades. ... She seemed
   too fragile to exist; and that very fragility spoke of some
   frightening strength which held her anchored to existence
   with a body insufficient for reality.
One finds that all of Rand's heroines are of very slender - or fragile - build. This also includes Kira in We The Living, Karen Andre in Night of January 16th, and the various heroines in The Early Ayn Rand.

The sex in Rand's novels is always described as a combat of wills, and sometimes as a physical combat, such as the notorious "rape" scene in The Fountainhead<2>, and Bjorn Faulkner's "rape" of Karen Andre in Night of January 16th (Rand 1968, 82-83). To a lesser degree this also applies to Dagny Taggart's sex scenes in Atlas Shrugged, especially the one with John Galt (956-957). This combat is not a combat of equals, and the woman is never the aggressor. The man is always superior in both mental and physical strength.<3>

Here is another description of Dagny Taggart that illustrates this ideal (154):

   She stood as she always did, straight and taut, her head lifted
   impatiently.  It was the unfeminine pose of an executive.  But
   her naked shoulder betrayed the fragility of the body under the
   black dress, and the pose made her most truly a woman.  The proud
   strength became a challenge to someone's superior strength, and
   the fragility a reminder that the challenge could be broken.
Several other examples of male dominance may be found in the pieces of fiction compiled in The Early Ayn Rand, e.g., "Kira's viking", and "Vesta Dunning".<4> Interestingly, the editor of this collection, Leonard Peikoff, identifies a development in Rand's writing whereby the early fiction, with dominating heroines, rather quickly turns into the male domination typical of Rand's mature fiction (in Rand, 1984, 4). Peikoff, in further describing the Randian heroine's feelings for her hero, calls her "the opposite of a feminist" (34), and in yet another instance he offers this description: "The hero, who now has primacy over the heroine, is a completely recognizable Ayn Rand type" (259).<5>

A discussion of the nature of sex in Atlas Shrugged, aimed at explaining the integration of mind and body, love and sex, evaluation and desire, and often repeated in Rand's non-fiction (Rand [1961] 1968; Binswanger 1986), also carries with it strong gender-role implications:

    A man's sexual choice is the result and the sum of his
    fundamental convictions.  Tell me what a man finds sexually
    attractive, and I will tell you his entire philosophy of life.
    Show me the woman he sleeps with, and I will tell you his
    valuation of himself. ... He will always be attracted to the
    woman who reflects his deepest vision of himself, the woman
    whose surrender permits him to experience - or to fake - a
    sense of self-esteem.  The man who is proudly certain of his own
    value, will want the highest type of woman he can find, the
    woman he admires, the strongest, the hardest to conquer -
    because only the possession of a heroine will give him the sense
    of an achievement, not the possession of a brainless slut.
    (Rand 1957, 489-490)
Just as Rand's heroines are slender/fragile and feminine, her female villains are often athletic or large, and unfeminine or masculine, such as Eve Layton in The Fountainhead<6>, or Comrade Sonia in We the Living.<7> There seems to be a pattern in which heroes are masculine, heroines are feminine, female villains are unfeminine or masculine, and male villains are unmasculine or feminine. Rand seems to engage in the "gendering" of evil, in that characters whose gender identities and/or gender expressions are considered inappropriate to their biological sex, are portrayed as evil. This tendency is apparent in Rand's fiction and non-fiction.


According to Rand: "Men are metaphysically the dominant sex" (Rand 1975a). What exactly does it mean to be a "metaphysically dominant sex"? The answer may be found in an article in The Objectivist written by psychologist Nathaniel Branden (1968), Rand's close associate for eighteen years, and the founder and former leader of the first Objectivist movement:

   The difference in the male and female sexual roles proceeds
   from differences in man's and woman's respective anatomy and
   physiology.  Physically, man is the bigger and stronger of the
   two sexes; his system produces and uses more energy; and he
   tends (for physiological reasons) to be physically more active.
   Sexually, his is the more active and dominant role; he has the
   greater measure of control over his own pleasure and that of
   his partner; it is he who penetrates and the woman who is
   penetrated (with everything this entails, physically and
   psychologically). ...  [M]an experiences the essence of his
   masculinity in the act of romantic dominance; woman experiences
   the essence of her femininity in the act of romantic
Here Branden describes man as the romantic initiator and aggressor, and woman as the challenger and responder to the man.<9> Throughout the Randian canon, this formulation is not merely a preference, but a natural law. It is fair to say that this is a part of Rand's philosophy, even though "sexual psychology" is not strictly a part of any of the five major philosophical disciplines.<10> But the errors that Rand make concerning gender are philosophical in that they contradict or entail philosophical principles and positions. Moreover, Rand's gender credo is a part of Objectivist culture. But the credo itself is unsupported by scientific knowledge and logically incompatible with the larger context of Objectivism as a philosophical system. Furthermore, it is both anti-individualist and antifeminist.

Since the substance of Rand's claims are addressed throughout this article, it is worth quoting at length from her important essay "About a Woman President":

   For a woman qua woman, the essence of femininity is
   hero-worship - the desire to look up to man.  "To look up"
   does not mean dependence, obedience, or anything implying
   inferiority.  It means an intense kind of admiration; and
   admiration is an emotion that can be experienced only by a
   person of strong character and independent value
   judgments. ... Hero worship is a demanding virtue: a woman
   has to be worthy of it and of the hero she worships.
   Intellectually and morally, i.e., as a human being, she has to
   be his equal; then the object of her worship is specifically
   his masculinity, not any human virtue she might lack. ...
   Her worship is an abstract emotion for the metaphysical
   concept of masculinity as such ... It means that a properly
   feminine woman does not treat men as if she were their pal,
   sister, mother - or leader. ... To act as the superior, the
   leader, virtually the ruler of all the man she deals with,
   would be an excruciating psychological torture.  It would
   require a total depersonalization, an utter selflessness, and
   an incommunicable loneliness; she would have to suppress (or
   repress) every personal aspect of her own character and
   attitude; she could not be herself, i.e., a woman; ... she
   would become the most unfeminine, sexless, metaphysically
   inappropriate, and rationally revolting figure of all: a
   matriarch.  This would apply to the reigning queen of an
   absolute monarchy, but it would not apply to a woman in any
   field of endeavor other than politics.<11>
   (Rand [1968] 1988 267-69)
Rand mentions Joan of Arc as the most heroic woman - and the most tragic symbol - in history, not primarily because she was burned at the stake, but because she had to assume the role of leader in order to revive the fighting spirit of the soldiers.<12> It is interesting to compare Rand's view of Joan of Arc with her penchant for gendering characters. Rand's view seems to be that the heroism of Joan of Arc is not due to military actions and achievements, or to opposition and resistance to torture. Rather, it resides in Joan's alleged rejection of femininity. This is a forceful illustration of the natural law-like status that Rand ascribes to her own conceptions of the masculine and the feminine in sexual psychology.


An obvious alternative interpretation of the sexual act, namely that who conquers and who surrenders need not be predetermined either in fact or by gender, that the sexual power transactions may shift, change and reconfigure themselves over time (and that this shifting and uncertainty of outcome itself may be a part of the sexual tension and build-up), is not addressed neither by Rand nor by other Objectivists. The Randian version of erotic combat seems monotonous compared to the rich natural variation of expression in human sexuality - even when limiting oneself to consider rough and passionate sex only.

The lack of awareness of alternatives may be rightly interpreted by feminists as an example of what Riane Eisler ([1987] 1995) calls "the dominator model" at work, whereby human interaction is always interpreted as instances of corresponding domination and submission. This is distinct from what Eisler calls "the partnership model", whereby human interaction is interpreted as a voluntary exchange between equals (xvii). Replacing power hierarchies (especially gendered power hierarchies) with equality and choice has always been a major (perhaps, and ideally, the major) concern of feminism, and a discussion of this aspect of feminism is essential for understanding the tensions between Rand and feminism.

Interpreting Rand with Eisler's terminology, one may argue that Rand's general philosophy as well as her heroic characters upholds "the partnership model", which is the only moral basis for human interaction and transactions, what Rand calls "the trader principle". Yet, the literary images of human sexuality projected by Rand, as well as several of her explicit non-fiction statements are written in the language of "the dominator model". This is an inherent contradiction in Rand's writing, and a feminist rereading of Rand must address, and if possible, resolve it.

There are three interaction style alternatives to male conquest and the domination of women: "women conquering men", "switching between submission and conquest", and "equality without power difference fetishism". Are these alternatives compatible with Rand's philosophy? Or does her philosophy contradict her own position on gender, which entails a restrictive and limited view of human psychology and sexuality?

The alternatives above are underemphasized in Rand's work, because of her gender restrictions. Indeed, if Rand's gender style preferences are viewed as universal gender-role prescriptions, the alternatives would be rejected in toto by any ardent Objectivist. This would indeed be a strange and tragic outcome for a philosophy that started out as a highly integrated vision of love, sex, self and relationships.


Sandra Bem (1993), a leading psychologist and researcher on gender and gender roles, identifies three "lenses of gender" - three main categories of deep, hidden cultural assumptions of gender that are embedded in cultural discourses and social institutions as well as in individual psyches:

   The first lens ... is androcentrism, or male-centeredness.  This
   is not just the historically crude perception that men are
   inherently superior to women but a more treacherous underpinning
   of that perception: a definition of males and male experience as
   a neutral standard or norm, and females and female experience as
   a sex-specific deviation from that norm.  It is thus not that man
   is treated as superior and woman as inferior but that man is
   treated as human and woman as "other".

   The second lens is the lens of gender polarization.  Once again,
   this is not just the historically crude perception that women and
   men are fundamentally different from one another but the more
   subtle and insidious use of that perceived difference as an
   organizing principle for the social life of the culture.  It is
   thus not simply that women and men are seen to be different, but
   that this male-female difference is superimposed on so many
   aspects of the social world that a cultural connection is thereby
   forged between sex and virtually every other aspect of human
   experience, including modes of dress and social roles and even
   ways of expressing emotion and experiencing sexual desire.

   Finally, the third lens is the lens of biological essentialism,
   which rationalizes and legitimizes both other lenses by treating
   them as the natural and inevitable consequences of the intrinsic
   biological natures of women and men. (2)
While Rand was not a biological essentialist (even though several of her positions on gender would seem to require a basis in biological essentialism), she favored androcentrism and gender polarization, both incompatible with her Objectivist philosophy. In my view, Rand's Objectivism logically entails "metaphysical equality" of women and men (not androcentrism) and gender nonessentialism (not gender polarization).

Nonessentialism, in the context of gender and social science, does not mean a denial of identity of consciousness, as Rand's supporters might fear. It means a rejection of biological determinism - specifically, it means a rejection of the idea that biological sex alone determines or delimits human behavior. It means that environmental and cultural factors, as well as individual choice, will always be a part of the picture, and that they may override, direct or redefine the expression of genetical or biological tendencies at any time. So the term 'essentialism' means one thing in philosophy (a universal and immutable Platonic essence), and something else in the social sciences (where 'essence' is translated into an assumption of a transcultural, transindividual biological determinism).

According to Rand and Objectivism, on the other hand, consciousness has a particular identity.<13> However, this identity is the same for men and women. In fact, this is the only gender position compatible with Objectivism.<13b> The idea of a gendered identity of consciousness is not only unsupported; there are many indications against it, including the empirical fact of human variety with overlap between men and women, the fact that no characteristic isolated to one sex only has been found, and the fact that the variety of characteristics within each sex is actually larger than it is betweenthe sexes.<14>

The idea that the identity of consciousness is gendered is incompatible with a key idea of Objectivism, namely that people are born tabula rasa, that is, without inborn ideas, i.e., their mind is a "clean slate".<15> This means that all of an individual's ideas and actions are open to rational evaluation and may be changed volitionally. The idea of a universal "gender essence", upon which the idea of a gendered identity of consciousness rests, is a Platonic construct. Both this construct itself and its implementation in the form of biological determinism are totally at odds with Objectivism.


Starting with the biological dichotomy of male and female,<16> does it exist, and do we need a corresponding psychological dichotomy of masculine and feminine? The terms "masculine" and "feminine" presuppose that there is a similar psychological dichotomy, on the same level of reality as the biological one, that is, as something given and determined by nature. The implicit claim is that men normally are or should conform to an approved list of psychological characteristics perceived or defined as "masculine", and that women normally are or should conform to a complementary list of psychological characteristics perceived or defined as "feminine". And, as an immediate and unavoidable implication of this, that the not-masculine man and the not-feminine woman are abnormal or immoral. The "gender-deviant" boy or girl may be subjected to psychiatric treatment against his or her will, including incarceration, drugs and electroshock.<17> Such implications seem to be inherent in the terminology. But is there really a sex-gender link?

Sandra Bem (1971) demonstrates the existence of two widespread, fairly specific polarized stereotypes or notions of gender in our culture, assigned to men and women respectively and exclusively. This bipolar view on gender assumes that "masculinity" and "femininity" are opposite ends of a scale. However, this view is false. "Masculinity" and "femininity" are two independent variables. An individual may have much of the one and little of the other ("masculine") or little of the one and much of the other ("feminine"), or much of both (which is called "androgynous") or little of both (which is called "undifferentiated"). Since about 50% of men and women describe themselves as androgynous, gender stereotypes are wrong at least half the time and have poor predictive power.

In our culture, the good part of "masculine" characteristics centers on "instrumentality" or mastery, e.g., being strong, enduring, independent, verbally accurate, competent in making and using tools, persevering and excelling in one's activities, and in the ability to organize and lead. In contrast, the bad part of "masculinity" includes being cold, emotionally repressed, focused on beating others rather than on self-improvement (aggressive competitiveness), unable to admit and deal with doubt or failure, and compulsive in one's inclinaton to dominate and control others.

The good part of "femininity" centers on expressivity: emotional openness, the ability to listen and nurture, being cooperative, easygoing, warm, loyal, playful, adept at non-verbal communication skills, and able to identify and express emotions. The bad part of "femininity" includes passivity, helplessness, submissiveness, repression of "aggressive" feelings, and lack of self-assertion, of independent action, of systematic pursuit of goals, and of structure.

Western culture, however, often downplays feminine characteristics altogether, equating moral virtue with maleness. By contrast, the androgyny model challenges those who would privilege the masculine alone as virtue. More importantly, it sees no automatic link between maleness and "masculinity", nor between femaleness and "femininity". It assumes "masculinity" and "femininity" are defined with wide differences in different cultures; a characteristic that is considered "masculine" in one culture is considered "feminine" in another. The grouping of characteristics into grab-bags labeled "masculinity" or "femininity" is arbitrary, it is the result of cultural invention, not natural law. In other words, androgyny seems to exempt or disconnect gender from sex.

It follows from this that the constituent characteristics of gender stereotypes are arbitrarily joined and assigned; they are not dictated by nature. One's psychological characteristics are not determined by one's reproductive system. Biology is not destiny. This suggests a need to encourage males to acquire those characteristics (or rather the positive part of them) that our culture calls "feminine", not instead of, but in addition to, the masculine characteristics. And females need encouragement to acquire the best of "masculine" characteristics in addition to "feminine" characteristics (that is, the best of both worlds).

One effect of encouraging the best of the "masculine" and "feminine" characteristics in everybody, that is, promoting cultural, psychological and ethical androgyny,<18> is that androgyny counteracts the bad parts of both "femininity" and "masculinity". That is, the good parts of "femininity" drive out the bad parts of "masculinity", and the good parts of "masculinity" drive out the bad parts of "femininity". There are no "masculine virtues" and no "feminine virtues", only human virtues that should be encouraged in everyone. And there are many morally neutral psychological characteristics that should be available to (i.e., socially permissible for) anyone inclined toward them.<19>

Being androgynous means having more options to choose from, because one is in touch with a bigger part of one's humanity. Thus one's ability to deal with different situations is better. Androgyny also implies that one will be able - and permitted - to develop in directions chosen by oneself. Androgyny translates into freedom and gender individualism. It encourages the development of a complete and integrated human character and personality, in contrast to the two incomplete half-humans of sex stereotyping.

For many, "femininity" and "masculinity" appear to be two vague and yet strangely limiting separate modes of being whose reconciliation is impossible. Consequently, women and men are viewed as so fundamentally different that they may as well have come from different planets. Replacing these two terms with more descriptive and objective ones like "expressivity" and "instrumentality" may be a step toward resolving such conflicts within and between individuals. Warren (1982, 184) notes: "What's artificial is the notion that combining these diverse characteristics is more difficult than separating them." This combination is the goal of feminist androgynists.


The concept of androgyny has been criticized for reproducing the same flaws inherent in "masculinity" and "femininity" - namely, the idea of metaphysically given gender essences (even if coexisting in the same body). If our goal is to liberate virtues, and vices from arbitrary gender categories, why not abandon androgyny, along with femininity and masculinity?

There are two reasons to reject this line of reasoning: First, androgyny has served to undermine and expose several flaws in traditional gender views, such as the notion that masculinity and femininity are opposites and cannot coexist in the same person, and the notion that sex determines gender, or that gender expression (as well as sexual orientation) must follow and adhere to sex stereotypes. Second, since it is unlikely that "femininity" and "masculinity" will drop out of popular usage, a strategy is needed to counteract their most damaging collectivist implications. Androgyny is that strategy; it is a concept of a process, the process of transcending the masculine-feminine duality.<20>

One may question whether "masculine" and "feminine" are valid concepts at all. Will anything at all remain when all cultural artifacts and restrictions of gender have been overcome? If so, what would be left? If what is left is essentially the same, only habitually referred to as "feminine" when found in a woman and "masculine" when found in a man, then there is no reason to have two concepts for it. One concept will do.<20b> Moreover, since whatever it is that is left is something that will vary in degree and composition between individuals, using the two categories "femininity" and "masculinity" to refer to it will be misleading because such a use would suggest that the degree and composition varies with gender, rather than varying with individuals, and that leads back towards gender stereotypes and away from individual variation and authenticity.

So we are faced with two alternatives: Either the terms "masculine" and "feminine" may be used to describe any individual, independent of one's sex, and without any moral component (so that there is no implication of moral degradation in describing someone as a "masculine woman" or a "feminine man"). This alternative translates into the descriptive use of instrumental and expressive characteristics, as described above. The benefit of this approach is that it actually starts with what most people associate with and mean by "masculine" and "feminine", and then there is some hope of making it clear that these words do not refer to unalterable natural or biological characteristics, nor mutually exclusive ones, but to a diverse reality which is changeable, voluntary, volatile and to a large degree cultural and social.

Alternatively, "masculine" and "feminine" may not refer to phenomena that constitute two opposite or separate realms (if they point to anything at all), but to some common aspect of the human condition (for example characteristics related to an authentic expression of sexual orientation, style preferences, and values on a fundamental level common to all humans). But if so, the existence of two opposite categories for the same, one, fundamental reality is misleading - especially so because the categories are construed as opposites. Hence, both terms ought to be abandoned. Besides, a lot of other already existing terms would seem to capture this reality better: authenticity, identity, vitality, life force and soforth. However, I think it unlikely for this to happen (that is, people will not abandon the use of the words "masculine" and "feminine"), so we probably have to live with the first approach for a long time.

A problem in the historical and etymological connection between femininity and women and masculinity and men, is that, in a Randian context, it may encourage the unwarranted and harmful conclusion that only men are worthy of hero-worship, and only women are to be granted the privilege of hero-worshiping. Ideally, in the long run, we should abandon the terms "masculinity" and "femininity" altogether, as remnants of a collectivist past. Gender liberation or gender individualism encourages individuals to take pride in and develop their own unique gender identities. Perhaps most or all concepts of androgyny will make themselves superfluous through the creation of a "postandrogynous", or individualist, society.


Androgyny as an empirical fact and a moral ideal is not dependent on nonessentialism. That is, androgyny does not require that there be no connection between (biological) sex and (psychological/cultural) gender. One other possibility is that there is such a connection, but that it is weak and may be overridden or altered. In other words, cultural factors and individual choice may override or modify a sex-gender or biology-behavior link.

A third possibility is that there is a large biological component in gender - for example, gender might be conceived as a kind of sex-related sexual temperament or some equivalent thereof. Even this model does not provide validation for or justification of the rigid gender roles and gender polarization of our culture. Cultural anthropology has documented the enormous variation in "gender temperaments" between and within cultures.<20c> Within this model, we would operate with many subcategories of maleness and femaleness, mapping a large continuum of types depending on many variables or dimensions, a situation that would in effect be functionally similar to ethical androgyny. Hence, this model too is compatible with and in fact leads to gender individualism. In other words, biology does not imply collectivism or conformity.

Furthermore, biological determinants need not be, and often are not, linked to or determined by sex. There is a lot of genetic variation (from the standpoint of biological evolution, that's the whole point or survival value of having two sexes in the first place), so a prominence of biological factors does not translate into or justify gender stereotypes. Indeed, in terms of genetic variation and natural selection, one could argue that eradicating individual differences and variety, which is the function and purpose of gender-role collectivism, is opposed to our biological nature, because natural selection needs biological variation in order to work. This article is written on the assumption that gender is an ethnicity (a cultural artifact), rather than a temperament - that is, that gender is defined primarily or ultimately by culture and by choice, rather than by biology),<21> since biological claims about human behavior are notoriously uncertain and biased (see note 28). But the choice is not between individual freedom on the one hand, against an alliance of science and gender-role collectivism on the other.

Branden (1996) predicts a revival of "animal self-assertiveness" as a factor in a revival of masculinity and femininity. To me, the idea of an "animal gender pride" suggests an image of a unique and personal gender identity that one experiences as if one is born with it. This may not be what Branden has in mind, but this emphasis on a pristine and unapologetic pride suggests an appealing image of an innocent and undamaged personal pride untarred and untouched by a gender collectivist culture.


This approach means that we must reject Rand's description of a femininity that sees the object of a woman's worship to be specifically a man's masculinity, "not any human virtue she might lack" (Rand [1968] 1988, 268). Rand's claim is too narrow in three ways: First, it posits masculinity as the only object worthy of hero-worship, and second, it only permits women the privilege of hero worship, not men. But Rand's claim is wrong in a third way as well: in its tacit assumption that if one admires or worships some other aspect than masculinity/gender in the other, this can only happen if one does not possess (at least not to the same degree) the trait or virtue in question. And if it is a basic character virtue that one lacks and therefore seeks to find in another person, the relationship must degenerate into Platonic (incomplete in itself) love (examined below).<22>

But one can possess a virtue in the same degree as one's lover, and still worship an expression of that virtue in a realm or through skills that one does not possess. For example, I may be as courageous as my lover, but lacking her physical skills and training, I can worship her courage as expressed through her abilities as a skydiver or kickboxer. Possessing a virtue is one thing, skills and arenas for its expression is something else, and it is the latter, the unique embodiment of virtues, skills, characteristics, preferences, experiences, gestures, ideas and beliefs and so forth, that constitute the flavor and style of a unique personality. It is this flavor and style that are the building blocks of a person's sense of life, which, according to Rand, is the main component of a person with whom one falls in love. Being in love implies that two persons' senses of life resonate.

So Rand posited an asymmetry between femininity and masculinity, and hence between men and women, and that was a mistake. However, there is an asymmetry here, one not properly addressed or explored by Rand. Hero-worship and heroism/being a hero are asymmetrical a way other than Rand assumed. Being a hero (which, for Rand means having a productive purpose, developing and using one's abilities and creativity to the fullest, and earning pride in the process)<23> is something that one can achieve for oneself, and recognize and acknowledge in oneself through one's self-esteem and pride. But hero-worship requires another, one who is the object and recipient of worship.

This constitutes a fundamental asymmetry. On the one hand, developing a fully self-sufficient ego with an independent first-hand 'creator' approach to life is a demanding task. Indeed, it is this task which is the very theme of The Fountainhead. Still, it involves primarily oneself and thus one self. It rests on factors that are in principle available to the individual in the first place, factors within the individual. Finding another self, however - that special other self with whom one has a great deal in common - and developing and maintaining a relationship with this other resonating self, depends on many external factors that may be outside an individual's control. In other words, "finding oneself" is a self-contained task, so to speak, while finding another is not. And this is the asymmetry.

The need for hero worship is also outwardly directed. It is the need for connection, the crucial foundation for a love relationship. And since this connection emerges through a process of mutual psychological visibility, the need for a hero to worship in a romantic-sexual context, speaks to the very essence of the relationship. One might say, in this context, that it is even more crucial than the need to be a hero.<24> What each hero needs from a relationship, then, is not primarily the recognition of his or her own heroism, but an outlet for the act of worshiping the other's heroism. Both need to be heroes in the first place, and both need an external source for hero worship.

A romantic relationship with only one hero and one hero-worshiper is dysfunctional; it would reduce the hero-worshiper to a kind of metaphysical parasitism. Rand can easily be read to support and uphold such a position. This is why Rand has never been popular with feminists; and it is certainly a strange position for her to hold, as an individualist.<25>

There must be an equality of worth and an equality of "soul trading" in a relationship, and the asymmetry between being a hero and worshiping a hero (between pride and admiration) destroys that equality, unless both lovers do both. However, since Rand equates masculinity with being a hero, and femininity with hero-worship, she obscures our perception of the heroic in women.

I have argued for the mutuality, equality and symmetry of these needs in all humans, regardless of gender. The paradox is that my case is based on inferences drawn from a rereading of Rand's own philosophy. This suggests that Rand's personal views of gender are at variance with that philosophy.


Given this mutuality, this "Randian androgyny" of heroism and hero-worship if you like, how different can two people be and still retain a relationship that is equal and mutual? What about Rand's heroes and heroines? Do they fall short of this standard?

Rand's heroic characters, in my view, when examined in isolation, "as individuals", are acceptable, because the author makes it clear that each person is and must be morally complete. The relationship must be its own goal and reward, not a means to some other "higher" end. The key concept here is "moral completeness" (an Aristotelian concept), or in Randian terminology, "the self-sufficient ego". As Rand states through the character of Howard Roark, in order to say "I love you", one must first be able to say the "I" (Rand [1943] 1986, 377). Exploring this topic, Allan Gotthelf (1989), an Aristotelian scholar and an Objectivist, introduces the opposing concepts of "Aristotelian love", and "Platonic love":

   Aristotelian love is that conception of love according to
   which love of another human being (I) stems from a fundamental
   completeness of person - an achieved moral character and
   its consequence, an authentic self-love; and (II) is aimed at a
   heightened, and joyous, self-experience, as an end in itself,
   not a means to some greater end - because there is no greater
   end for a human being than his own happiness on earth, and such
   love is a source of profound happiness.

   Platonic love is that conception of love according to which
   love of another human being (I) stems from a fundamental
   incompleteness of person, and (II) is aimed at some higher
   goal and value beyond the love relationship itself, through
   which the desired completeness is approached.
Gotthelf identifies six key aspects of the Aristotelian alternative to Platonic love. First, that there is nothing higher or more real than the individual. Second, that completeness of character (moral perfection) is possible. Third, that humans can achieve full virtues. Fourth, that humans take pride in this, and that this is profoundly good. Fifth, that love of others is an expression of love for self. And sixth, that love is an end in itself.

Gotthelf also identifies romantic love as a species of Aristotelian love. Rand was an Aristotelian in her conceptions of love and sex, building upon and enhancing foundations laid by Aristotle. Since all of Rand's heroes and heroines are (or come to be) morally complete, they practice Aristotelian love. However, if one considers their larger context, a gender role pattern emerges. A rereading of the Randian canon reveals a pattern that reflects Rand's personal preferences, rather than a universal prescription to be inferred or derived from her philosophy.


For Rand, gender is metaphysical, not human-made. Rand is an advocate of what I call "Platonic gender". Platonic gender is the idea that there exist universal ideal forms of masculinity and femininity, forms that all men and all women respectively and separately either share by birth or ought to adhere to by choice. Rand suggests that gender must be chosen by the individual, in accordance with the individual's biological sex.<26> Hence, Rand appears at first glance to be a nonessentialist, insofar as she posits that individuals do not have an inborn gender identity.

However, Rand claimed that the woman who is or aspires to be the political leader or ruler of men, will do damage to herself. This is an essentialist claim, since apparently the woman cannot choose away the alleged damage (resulting from her loss of femininity and her alleged psychological masculinization), a damage that cannot happen to a man. So on the one hand, gender is chosen, but on the other hand, it is not. Rand's ideas of gender are in conflict with her general philosophical ideas of free will, universal moral virtues, and women's equality.<27>

The idea of Platonic gender runs contrary to Rand's Aristotelianism. In particular, it is incompatible with Aristotelian love, which is the basis for Rand's theory of love. In contrast to Platonic gender, we can formulate an alternative concept: Aristotelian gender. Aristotle's concept of the personal daimon may serve as a basis for this concept: each person is conceived to be constituted of a 'daimon,' a unique personal identity that is the great sum of all an individual's characteristics (inborn, learned, or chosen - and comprising personality as well as character traits). The gender daimon is that part of this sum which is related to gender. The daimon concept emphasizes the individual and underscores the empirical fact of human variety and uniqueness. This places primacy on the individual context, rather than on the uniform enforcement of universal rules as suggested by Platonic constructs. Aristotelian gender is entirely unique to the individual. Implicit in this view is that one should not try to impose one's own gender daimon on someone else.

Hence, the concept of Aristotelian gender aims (1) to clarify the individuality and variety of gender, and (2) to thwart the uniform collectivism inherent in the traditional, "Platonic" conceptions of gender, masculinity and femininity. Aristotelian gender forms a basis for gender individualism. In a sense, both Aristotelian gender and psychological androgyny are aspects of the same reality. When we examine this reality from the vantage point of Rand and Aristotle, we may call it "Aristotelian gender". When we assume the vantage point of feminism, equality, psychology and cultural anthropology, we may call it "androgyny".


My point then, is that the ideas of contemporary feminism concerning the relationship between gender and sex are compatible with Objectivism and individualism, unlike Rand's own personal views of gender. Moreover, these ideas are best supported by empirical findings, unlike research purporting to support biological essentialism, "research" that is usually biased, methodologically flawed, and conceptually ambiguous.<28>

So, gender is man-made, not metaphysical;<29> there are no universal gender forms of masculinity or femininity. Gender is Aristotelian; it is personal and unique to the individual. Gender and sex are two different things.<30> Hence, those who uphold Platonic gender, including Rand,<31> commit the epistemological fallacy that Rand called "package-dealing", treating two different things as if they were one and the same thing.

Platonic gender is in conflict with the idea of tabula rasa, that humans have no inborn ideas. Platonic gender is sex as destiny and sex as duty: a rationale for cultural and social enforcement of collectivist gender roles, and for other arbitrary rules regulating the expression of gender and sexuality.

The idea of gender roles (and rules) is a form of collectivism, and is incompatible with individualism. The feminist claim that there is no connection, or a weak and breakable connection, between sex and gender<32> is thus not merely an empirical claim, but also a moral imperative. By removing the collectivist restrictions on gender, it becomes possible to treat people as individual humans first, thus liberating them to choose their own path. Ironically, many feminists hold a view on gender roles that is much closer to individualism than are the views of many Randians. When it comes to issues of gender, contemporary feminism is more "Randian" than Rand.

According to Rand, "Man is a being of self-made soul" - and so, of course, is Woman. So why should Man (or Woman) let tradition or other group thinking decide their gender expression or sexual preferences? People of course have a right to be anything they want to be, including a right to limit themselves with collectivist stereotypes. Rand developed and advocated a philosophy of enlightened self-interest, with an imperative to "be all you can be". But this striving for one's best self, this "moral ambitiousness", is irreconcilable with the idea of reducing oneself to a stereotype, to an interchangeable unit in a collectivist binary gender machine.


Rand ([1968] 1988) tells us "that a properly feminine woman does not treat men as if she were their pal, sister, mother - or leader." But she is inconsistent with her own philosophy. Relationships go through dynamic shifts. They are not always about sex or love-making. Sometimes a relationship is about emotional support. For example, through a difficult moment, during stress or a crisis, one or the other may temporarily assume a role like that of a sister, brother, mother or father, a situation where a sexual emphasis might be inappropriate.

And pal? Certainly friendship is a vital and necessary ingredient in any long-lasting romantic relationship. Often a long-lasting relationship begins as a solid friendship. A lover can be a good pal.<33> There are also such things as sexual friendships - friendships that take on a sexual component, without the assumption of a lasting romantic relationship, and without love in the strict sense.

Furthermore, sex and love-making are much richer and more complex realms than Rand seems to allow. Let us identify four different main categories of interaction in human sexuality:

  1. male domination with active penile penetration
  2. female domination with active vaginal engulfment
  3. switching roles, sometimes one dominates, sometimes the other
  4. equality with neither partner more active or dominating

Since this is a conceptual categorization, the four roles may be combined in different ways, or used alternatively in the same sexual experience.<34>

Sciabarra (1995, 200) describes an interpretation of the sexual act as portrayed by Dmitri Sergeyevich Merezhkovsky, a Russian Symbolist poet in the Silver Age era of Rand's youth:

   Merezhkovsky had viewed the sexual act as the highest form of
   unity, since each body is interpenetrated by the other.  For
   Merezhkovsky, true human being involves a synthesis of the
   womanly aspect in man, and the manly aspect in woman.
Sciabarra further points out that this ideal of an indivisible androgyne goes beyond what Objectivists - so far - have accepted, even though some Objectivists reject many culturally-induced gender stereotypes (at least in the intellectual and emotional realms).

There are two points that require comment here: First, the ideal of "interpenetration" is an unfortunate term because it is androcentric, evoking the image of penile penetration to the exclusion of vaginal engulfment. A better term might be, for example, permeation. Second, while the idea of a mutual interpenetration (or permeation) certainly is an improvement over androcentric, one-sided active male penetration and passive female reception, it is still problematic. The concept seems to hide a great variety in the reality it attempts to describe, ranging from complete female domination and active engulfment to complete male domination and active penetration. Just as the male penetration-concept excludes the three other main interaction categories, the mutual interpenetration concept seems to over-emphasize the "equal roles"-category (and perhaps male penetration as well, due to choice of words).

All four sexual-interaction categories are compatible with the feminist "partnership model", as defined by Riane Eisler, only when identified as equally valid personal preferences. None of them would be acceptable or compatible if enforced as a universal prescription.


In this article, I have argued that Ayn Rand laid the foundations for a revolution in our philosophical understanding of human sexuality, love and relationships, but that her project has been prohibited from reaching its full potential because of flaws and inconsistencies in her notions of gender. The fundamental contradiction is that, in metaphysics, Rand is a gender nonessentialist (gender must be chosen), while in metaethics, ethics, and esthetics, Rand is a gender essentialist (gender must be chosen correctly). The gender-role restrictions that Rand prescribes as normative universals, and their Platonic underpinnings, undercut the very individualism and revolutionary sexuality inherent in Rand's philosophy.

Because we live in a culture that is both androcentric (derived from its ancient Greek roots)<35> and misogynistic (derived from its Christian heritage), we are culturally deprived of symbols and myths of female power, female heroism. While it is equally important that men reclaim their emotional and nurturing sides ("feminine" virtues), cultural deprivation demands that we concentrate on women reclaiming power and mastery ("masculine" virtues). This is where the heroic potential in Rand's philosophy meets feminism.

It is my belief that a feminist rereading of the Randian canon can energize and contribute to feminism, by nourishing its individualist aspects. What we need are symbols and myths that integrate female power and sexuality, strength and beauty, courage and grace. What we need is not "heroines" (who are usually reduced to passive prize objects/rewards for male heroes), but female heroes (active heroes who happen to be female). The term "heroine" serves to masculinize what can otherwise be an excellent term for a virtuous person - namely hero - because it prevents women from being subsumed under the category of "hero". This is a prime example of how the male is defined as the norm, the human, and the female as a deviation from that norm or as "other" (see also Hofstadter 1987). So starved are we, that we grope at any sign, any crumb, we can find of the female hero in popular culture.

As part of the feminist enterprise, archaelogists, historians and cultural anhtropologists (like Riane Eisler) are rediscovering, reclaiming and reinterpreting ancient images and myths of female power and female heroism. These images and myths of a "new ancient feminism" (Stone [1979] 1990) can be used as vehicles for assessing and interpreting the feminist potential in Rand's philosophy.

There is an archetype of female power and heroism that is known in all cultures and all times, even among the most androcentric and misogynistic ones: The Amazon.<36> Heroic Amazon traditions, ancient Greek mythology and philosophy (including androcentrism), and Rand's ancient Greece-influenced philosophy have a number of intriguing conceptual and historical interconnections.

Rand compared one of her heroines to a Valkyrie, a powerful Amazon feminist symbol (see note <5>). Is there a basis for an amazon feminist interpretation of Rand,<37> and how would such an interpretation relate to the author's explicit androcentrism?


The Amazon archetype may be the most radical and subversive alternative to gender-role collectivism. The heroic image of a strong and proud woman undaunted in pursuit of her goals is an archetypical image of individualism. Such women, real or imaginary, are excellent role models - heroes - for girls and young women. This is where one of the main front lines of the battle for the future of feminism will be: over the ethical, social, political and esthetical meanings and evaluations of Amazon symbols and role models. The popular culture icon of the contemporary female action hero is a relatively new phenomenon in films, but an old trend in myths and literature.

Popular culture provides many examples of how Amazon myths are rewritten in order to sunder female power and female sexuality. Red Sonja, a 1985 Dino de Laurentiis movie, based on the character from Robert E. Howard's Conan stories, is one such example. Red Sonja is a strong and capable Amazon warrior, and she has sworn not to make love to any man that has not beaten her in a sword fight. As a result of her prowess and ability, she is a virgin. This is an old idea; we also find it in Goethe's story about Siegfried and Brunhilde, where Brunhilde is far too strong to be conquered, and so Siegfried cheats her into believing that he has actually conquered her. But Brunhilde is chaste; she does not use her power to get a lover, as a man would do.

There are several ancient Greek myths with similar motifs, such as the myth of Atalanta, an Amazonian huntress and the best athlete in Calydon, who could outrun any man, and would only marry a man who could outrun her. She was beaten when she was tricked into stopping to pick up three golden apples dropped by one of her suitors. The message remains that a woman must renounce her power, if she is to have a lover, or to exist as a sexual being.

The idea that Amazons are chaste or asexual beings stems from the conception of sexuality as an act of conquest by which the male subdues a passive female and makes her surrender. In this frame of mind, the act of sex is always interpreted as penetration - and, hence, domination - even if it is initiated and lead by a female giant interacting with a male dwarf. Sex is penetration, and penetration is domination. Thus, the male has, by his (biological) nature, the role of domination as an active agent or subject; and the female has, by her (biological) nature, the role of submission as a passive object. But a strong, autonomous, female hero is not submissive, and has not surrendered. Conventional wisdom wants us to believe that such a female denies her own femininity and sexuality; that she is and must be virginal.

However, the original meaning of the term "virgin" is a woman who is whole unto herself, not controlled by a male (Naisbitt and Aburdene 1994). She has a self-contained identity, or in Rand's terminology: a self-sufficient ego. Artemis and Athena were called virgins, even though they took lovers, because their myths are not defined by family members; theirs were self-contained identities.

The literal meaning of virginity is not sexual celibacy or abstinence, but the state of being unmarried. Larson (1995, 100) writes:

   The virgin, because purity was a kind of freedom from the sexual
   claims of any man, was theoretically more free than the wife.
   This conceptual freedom was translated into the power of virgins
   in myth.  Virgins were associated with the wild and untamed;
   hunters were often required to maintain chastity.  The verb
   damazo, "tame", referred to the taking of a wife.<38>
This is a powerful illustration of the cultural sundering of female sexuality and female power. In order to be a sexual being, a woman must be accessible to a man, available for conquest and penetration. If she is not, she cannot have a sex life, and a sexuality, because these are given to her by the man. She cannot take them on her own; she cannot herself win or conquer a man, and take him into her, engulfing him - or so this mythology will have us believe.

Hence, as a result of this monotonous over-emphasis on the first sexual-interaction category, male domination and conquest, the powerful woman is widely imagined as virginal, and perhaps even sexless. Rereading Rand's "Woman President" essay in this context is illuminating. Rand describes the woman in power as "totally depersonalized", "utterly selfless", "incommunicably lonely", "unfeminine", "metaphysically inappropriate", and "rationally revolting". Rand's supporters often cite her defense of women as the intellectual, emotional, moral, and political equals of men. While this claim about equality is largely true if one emphasizes Rand's meta-ethics and ethics rather than her views on gender and sexuality,<38b> Rand's view of gender is part of an old, ignoble canonical tradition stretching back to the androcentric society of ancient Greece. Walker (1983, 1051) notes, about virtue:

    Latin virtus was derived from vir, 'man', and originally
    meant masculinity, impregnating power, semen, or male magic,
    like Germanic heill.  Patriarchal thinkers defined manliness
    as good and womanliness as bad, therefore virtus became
    synonymous with morality or godliness along with other
    synonyms hinting at male sexuality: erectness, uprightness,
    rectitude, upstandingness, etc."
Rand speaks of the "excruciating psychological torture" of women who are allegedly defeminized, masculinized and made sexless by being powerful and rise to a leadership position over men. What about the girls who stumble and languish in their search for a worthy role model, a vision of female heroism? How can young girls know what they should be looking for? What about the boys who are longing for the vision of a female hero, perhaps without even knowing what they are longing for? Some girls find both inspiration and role models through identification with male heroic characters, and that's fine, but we should not have to rely on literary or artistic crossdressing. Then again, how could it be different in a culture whose very concept of moral virtue is equated with maleness?


The pernicious combination of androcentrism and gender polarization has sundered female power and female sexuality, thus depriving us all of female heroes. This whole approach corrupts and degrades the female, in fact and on principle. A new fusion of female power and female sexuality is needed, a new vision of the Female Hero. The archaic and stale androcentric monopoly on interpreting the meaning and scope of human sexuality must be broken by those who have long since outgrown it. The Western Canon has for too long been starved for integrated symbols of female power and female sexuality. Dagny Taggart at her best is a glaring exception - a railroad-running Randian protagonist of Amazonian proportions. But Amazon myths, images and stories have often been repressed, obscured, rewritten in an androcentric image. Still they persist, return and resurface.

At this time, a revival seems to be under way in popular culture. Amazon heroes are coming (or coming back) in art, books, magazines, TV-series, comics, music.<38c> A few years ago, Wonder Woman, The Bionic Woman, Modesty Blaise and Pippi Longstocking were rare examples of popular female action heroes.

There is an increasing interest in real life female heroes such as lifeguards, fire-fighters, astronauts, and athletes. Women are gaining access to professions and positions traditionally associated with masculinity, including traditionally "masculine" sports. Female martial artists excel in power, skill and self-confidence. Female bodybuilders, sculptors of living flesh, are using the body as a vehicle to express determination, power, beauty and sexuality, an integration of mind, body and spirit (Frueh, Fierstein and Stein 2000; and Ian 1991). Any woman getting serious about such an athletic pursuit is engaging in an inherently feminist and heroic act, insofar as she is taking control of her own body, building physical as well as mental strength, rejecting femininity as subservience, passivity and weakness (Burton Nelson 1994). Such strong women threaten not men, but male privilege and masculinity. They challenge and change the very assumptions of androcentrism and gender polarization. They constitute a new "Power Feminism for the 21st century" as advocated by the new feminists (Wolf 1993).

The cultural revival is expressed further in the explosive popularity of the larger-than-life TV-action-fantasy-series hero Xena, who has sky-rocketed into the American consciousness. Xena is a role model for many young girls. Other cinematic examples can be found in the Alien movies, Terminator 2, and in the fantasy & science fiction work of feminist writers in the heroic fiction tradition.<39>

Perhaps the long winter is drawing to a close, as it is realized that female-hero deprivation in the culture is a problem for both girls and boys, women and men. Indeed, to the extent that men are responsible for androcentricity and gender polarization, they have also punished themselves. They deprive and drain their own existence of the inspiration, zest and color that only a female hero can bring. A master-slave relationship among men and women entails mutual dependency. As Rand ([1943] 1986, 691) observed, "[A] leash is only a rope with a noose at both ends". A master may be as rigidly confined to his role as a slave. Both the master and the slave could benefit greatly from breaking out of a gender role prison. They would lose their separate role perks, but they would collaborate in the process of dismantling the polarization that has crippled them.

This is the potential in Rand's vision - and in its synthesis with feminism. Rand limited herself to the task of projecting Man the Hero, the ideal man. The time is ripe for Woman the Hero, the ideal woman - woman as equal and woman as conqueror. Those who wish to carry forth Rand's legacy should take it upon themselves to uphold "Randian androgynes" - a fully realized heroism that extends to female and male heroes equally.

It is a synthesis that clears Rand's philosophy of androcentric and Platonic gender ideals, while clearing feminism of any vestige of collectivism and victimology. This is what a synthesis of Rand and feminism can achieve: heroism for everyone, human virtues for everyone (no "feminine" or "masculine" virtues, only human virtues), and the possibility of morally neutral personality options for everyone. The future belongs to the androgynes and postandrogynes.


<1>I use the terms "Randian" and "Randianism" as broad terms describing the philosophy and philosophers influenced by and building upon Rand (on a par with Aristotelian, Kantian etc.). Hence "Randian" is a broader term than "Objectivist" (but narrower than "Aristotelian", if one agrees that Randianism is a tradition within Aristotelianism).

<2> See Rand ([1943] 1986), 219-221. I do not mean to suggest that these scenes imply or advocate rape. There is a distinction between rape and physical force, and the two must not be confused. The essential characteristic of rape is non-consensuality (Amsden 1983b).
The use of physical force need not be part of rape, because it can be consensual. Erotic combat is a valid and moral preference. If one of the lovers has a distinct physical prowess and "superiority", this can be a resource for sexual playfulness and a basis for hero worship in action.
Just as there can be physical force without rape, there can be rape without physical force. Having sex with an unconscious person is rape. Sex coerced with threats is rape, even if no actual physical force is exerted.

<3> One might argue that Dagny Taggart was mentally superior to Hank Rearden and that, in spite of this, they had a love affair. But this love relationship was a temporary one - it was over the very moment that Dagny set eyes on John Galt. At that point, Galt became the center of Dagny Taggart's romantic-sexual life. Both Rearden and later Francisco D'Anconia immediately accept Galt as the winner of Dagny's love. Hence, the Rearden-Dagny Taggart relationship is not an exception to Rand's general ideal of male superiority, but a particular way to illustrate how this ideal is supposed to work.

<4> Consider also Rand's reply to Peikoff concerning Think Twice: "Do you think that I would ever give the central action in a story of mine to anyone but the hero?" (1984, 333).

<5> While Dagny Taggart is usually perceived to be the mature and most fully realized Rand heroine, a case may be made that in the context of feminism, gender and sexuality, Kira Argounova of We the Living may in fact be a better candidate. See Valérie Loiret-Prunet's essay in this volume. Since We the Living is an early work of Rand, the male hero has not yet gained primacy over the heroine. Kira is in fact stronger than both Andrej and Leo, and profoundly determines the course of their lives, even though she chooses the pose of submitting to them. The descriptions of Kira underscore her strength and power, her heroism (3, 4 and 26-37). She is contrasted both to her stereotypically feminine sister Lydia and to the masculine Communist Comrade Sonia, and she may in many ways be perceived as androgynous. She is also compared to a Valkyrie (27) - a symbol of female power and the conqueror of heroes.
Dagny Taggart, on the other hand, is subject to the mature Rand's increased literary efficacy with male primacy.

<6> Rand [1943] 1986, 581: "She had the special faculty of making satin and perfume appear as modern as an aluminum table top. She was Venus rising out of a submarine hatch. Eve Layton believed that her mission in life was to be the vanguard - it did not matter of what. Her method had always been to take a careless leap and land triumphantly far ahead of all others. Her philosophy consisted of one sentence - "I can get away with anything". In conversation she paraphrased it to her favorite line: "I? I'm the day after tomorrow." She was an expert horsewoman, a racing driver, a stunt pilot, a swimming champion."

<7> Rand [1936] 1959, 51: "The young woman had broad shoulders and a masculine leather jacket; short husky legs and flat masculine oxfords; a red kerchief tied carelessly over short straight hair; eyes wide apart in a round freckled face; thin lips drawn together with so obvious and fierce a determination that they seemed weak; dandruff on the black leather of her shoulders."

<8> Rand generously condemns the irrationality of Freudianism; yet one of the most bizarre consequences of Rand's views on gender is that she actually provides some rationalization for Freud's concept of "penis envy". After all, if a penis is required in order to be a powerful subject, a seducer, a sexual initiator and aggressor, and a hero, then surely it must be rational to want one?

<9> One wonders whether a romantic liaison between a man and a physically stronger, bigger or more energetic woman (or even a woman equal in these respects) would be considered abnormal or immoral; the formulations would seem to favor such a conclusion.

<10> Rand divides philosophy into the five disciplines metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics and esthetics.

<11> Actually, one need only consider Rand's Playboy interview to see a contradiction with her general philosophy:

   Playboy: Do you believe that women as well as men should
   organize their lives around work - and if so, what kind of

   Rand: Of course.  I believe that women are human beings.
   What is proper for a man is proper for a woman.  The basic
   principles are the same.  I would not attempt to prescribe what
   kind of work a man should do, and I would not attempt it in
   regard to women.  There is no particular work which is
   specifically feminine.  Women can choose their work according
   to their own purpose and premises in the same manner as men do.
This is Rand's general philosophy, and it directly contradicts what Rand says in her "Woman President" essay.

<12> For a much more plausible and better-investigated interpretation of Joan of Arc, see Leslie Feinberg (1996), chapter 4 and Walker (1983), s.v. "Joan of Arc".

<13> See Rand 1990, 75-82, 154-58 and 193-96, and Peikoff 1991, 48-52.

<13b> The idea of two universal and separate gendered identities (a "male" and a "female" consciousness) leads inevitably to polylogism - an idea that Rand was strongly opposed to, and that Objectivist epistemology rejects.

<14> See for example Fausto-Sterling 1992; Tavris 1992; Caplan and Caplan 1994; Lenskyj 1987; Rothblatt 1995; Vetterling-Braggin 1982.

<15> See Rand [1964] 1970, 28; 1975b, 190.

<16> Even the assumption of a male-female duality is being challenged, by intersexuals and transgenders as well as by increasing historical and cultural anthropological data suggesting that several, perhaps most cultures operate with more than two sexes/genders. See, for example, Rothblatt 1995 and Feinberg 1996.

<17> See Burke 1996 and Feinberg 1993.

<18> By "ethical androgyny", I mean a moral imperative that identifies all virtues (and all vices) as human virtues (and vices). This rejects the idea of gendered (masculine or feminine) virtues (and vices). Ethical androgyny must not be confused with androgyny as a gender expression (androgynous looks, "unisex" clothing etc.), since it assumes all gender expressions to be equally valid, as morally neutral options available to the individual.

<19> See Trebilcot 1982.

<20> In Randian terminology, we could say that androgyny is a concept of method.

<20b> An important principle in Rand's epistemology states that concepts should not be multiplied beyond necessity.

<20c> See Mead 1965.

<21> Note however, that the sex-gender distinction follows from and depends upon the canon of Western ideas and culture. Other cultures (notably many Native American and African cultures) without a history of gender rigidity and oppression, without androcentrism, biological essentialism and gender/sex dualism, depart from the duality. See Mead [1949] 1975 and Feinberg 1996, especially chapter 3.

<22> In a Randian or Aristotelian context, Platonic love is unhealthy and undesirable for several reasons. First, Platonic love assumes that sex, as opposed to "pure love" (an example of the mind-body dichotomy), is impure and base. Second, it assumes that love has a "higher purpose" than itself, i.e., that love is a means to some other goal, such as moral or religious improvement. Thus, love is not a goal in itself, but is demoted to a lower status. Third, the idea of Platonic love, based upon Plato's metaphysics, rejects the importance of the individual, and the possibility for completeness of character for which an Aristotelian ethics provides.

<23> Interestingly, and unfortunately, neither "hero", "heroism", or "masculinity" is explicitly defined in the Randian corpus, and none of these terms are to be found in the index of any of Rand's books, nor in The Ayn Rand Lexicon. Masculinity is, however, implicitly equated with being a hero, since femininity is defined as hero-worship. But notice how this concept of masculinity contradicts Rand's general philosophy - where heroism is understood as a human character trait, as a sum and effect of human life-affirming and necessary virtues. Recently Andrew Bernstein (1998) has addressed the issue of heroism in an online article, discussed by Gramstad (1998).

<24> It must be stressed, however, that these two needs are not to be conceived as dualistic opposites, but as relational and as mutually reinforcing, thus constituting an organic unity. Consider Gail Wynand's worship of Dominique in The Fountainhead: "It was a strange glance; she had noticed it before; a glance of simple worship. And it made her realize that there is a stage of worship which makes the worshiper himself an object of reverence." (Rand [1943] 1986, 509). In other words, the ability to worship is both an expression of a person's heroism and a causal factor in creating and establishing that heroism. In order to become heroic, one must first desire heroic being, and in order to desire this, one must value (or worship) the perceived heroism in another. So hero-worship is more fundamental, but the fundamental and the derivative constitute a reciprocal bicausal organic whole. For a discussion of the role and importance of organic unity in Rand's thought, see Sciabarra 1995, especially 17, 117, 128, 138, 145, 256, 269 and 403 n. 5.
A relationship with one hero and one hero-worshiper would sunder the organic unity of the relationship, and create dualistic opposition (conflict). This is why we talk about "opposite" sexes and a "war between the sexes". This feminist rereading of Rand stresses organic unity in its rejection of "opposite" sexes and the gender-role collectivist ideology associated with them.

<25> The famous Russian film creator Andrej Tarkovskij has said that when the masculine world and the feminine world meet in a relationship, the feminine must give way and reorient itself according to the masculine. This attitude seems to be very common in Russia, taken for granted even by the Communists. Rand may have inherited this attitude from her environment (see Sciabarra 1995). It was a part of the Russian air she breathed, an aspect of the Russian culture of her youth, and may have been reinforced by Rand's childhood admiration of Hollywood.

<26> See Rand [1968] 1988. See also notes 15 and 34.

<27> See note 11.

<28> See for example Fausto-Sterling 1992; Tavris 1992; Caplan and Caplan 1994; Lenskyj 1987; Rothblatt 1995; Vetterling-Braggin 1982.

<29> Normally I would say "human-made", not "man-made". However, I use the term man-made at this juncture, because "the metaphysical versus the man-made" is a central motif and a well-known phrase in Rand's philosophy (see her essay by that title in Rand 1982b). Furthermore, the androcentrism, misogyny, gender polarization and biological essentialism in our culture, are to a large degree man-made.

<30> For a discussion of the different meanings of sex and gender, see the introduction to Vetterling-Braggin 1982. See also Burke 1996 and Bem 1993. See also this popular online source: What is Gender? An Anthropologist From Mars, http://www.chaparraltree.com/raq/whatis.shtml.

<31> It is a curious parallel between Rand and Aristotle that neither was able to overcome so many of the poor gender stereotypes of their respective ages, in spite of rethinking and innovating so many other areas of their contemporary thought. Even more curious is the fact that Plato was a gender egalitarian; he did not accept the low and restricted view of women of his day. Aristotle was the one who, in advocating male and female essences, applied Platonic forms to gender.

<32> See Vetterling-Braggin 1982, part 4. See also Tavris 1992; Caplan and Caplan 1994; Lenskyj 1987.

<33> Rand's novels have many instances of this. For example, Dagny was a pal to Frisco before their love affair ended; after they became "enemies", their relations retained elements of friendship. Hank and Dagny were friendly business associates.

<34> There are other dimensions as well, concerning, for example, degrees of tenderness, and of playfulness (Branden 1983). Yet another dimension is the type of activity, such as polymorphous (nongenital) sex. The idea of genital sex as the only worthy form of sex, while anything else is just "foreplay", is another result of the androcentric and gender-polarized view of human sexuality. In order to fully realize its sexual potential, each sexual activity needs to be recognized and perceived as an end in itself, not as a means to some other or "higher" end.

Moreover, since the gender of the lovers does not make any difference (there is no such thing as a gender role or a gender duty), the lovers need not be of different sexes. They may both be of the one sex, or the other sex, or one of each sex. Being heterosexual, I frame this whole essay in heterosexual terms, but I do not see any reason to assume that the arguments I make are not equally valid for a gay or lesbian couple. Quite the contrary, unlike many Objectivists, who exhibit antigay sentiment, I say that we don't need to know the developmental origins of homosexuality in order to evaluate its morality. 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 is in stark contrast to Rand, who perceived homosexuality as "immoral" and "disgusting", a result of "psychological flaws and corruptions" (Rand 1971). One might assume that she would be most opposed to lesbianism, since that, by her own definition, supposedly cannot involve a hero. This assumption seems to be confirmed in Rand's expressed disgust with the Women's Lib movement: "[T]o proclaim spiritual sisterhood with lesbians, and to swear eternal hostility to men - is so repulsive a set of premises from so loathsome a sense of life that an accurate commentary would require the kind of language I do not like to see in print." See Rand (1975a, 175). Rand's antigay sentiment has been softened somewhat by Peikoff (1994). Peikoff's statement is worth quoting at length:

   Romantic love is the status of one individual to another when
   that individual is irreplaceable in the person's life, a
   profound passion that was not necessarily sexual, but of a
   completely different order than friendship. ...  And [Rand]
   felt that this was a very profound need of man, to have
   relationships that have this deeper commitment. ...  Now, she
   did not see any reason why one man could not feel this for
   another, or for that matter, one woman for another. ... Ayn
   Rand, as you know, was not a great admirer of women - and I
   asked her ... if you had a choice, would you have wanted to be
   born a man? ... And ... she said ... "Oh no, then I would have
   to love a woman." ... And the idea for her as a woman and as a
   man-worshiper, having her love object as a woman was just to
   awful to be contemplated.  Now, therefore, she had great
   sympathy for the idea of Man as the hero and another man seeing
   that, particularly in a case like Wynand and Roark where
   they're equals, and yet at the same time Roark has an edge of
   strength, and Wynand sees that this is what he could have
   become.  It was a setup for two such passionate valuers, one to
   reply to the other.  She told me she even had Roark nude,
   naked, in front of Wynand, when he, ... came out of the water,
   on the yacht, and Wynand says to him, "it should have been a
   statue of you".  That's the closest she got to hinting, not
   that there was a sexual relation, but that Wynand was in love
   with this man, so profoundly that he even had a special
   esthetic pleasure from looking at his body.
Peikoff admits that "philosophy as such has [nothing] to say about sexual orientation", but he suggests that Roark and Wynand do not have a sexual relationship, because "essential" to sexuality is "conquest and surrender, or dominance and submission". Rand, he says, saw these roles not as arbitrary, but as having an "anatomical basis. There has to be a reason in the nature of the two bodies why one conquers and one surrenders. Otherwise, she thought it was arbitrary, demeaning and irrational. ... for that reason she believed that homosexuality was improper. Not immoral. ... You could be completely moral and just trapped in an upbringing and conclusions that you didn't understand, but objectively wrong, in that, knowingly or not, it is a defiance of one of the conditions of a mature and healthy sexual relationship. But that is not the same thing ... as this irreplaceable male love relationship", symbolized in the Roark-Wynand connection.

Given Rand's expressed disgust with homosexuality, and her view of romantic love as an "integrated response of mind and body, of love and sexual desire", as a "profound, exalted, lifelong passion that unites ... mind and body in the sexual act" (1988, 54-56), it is clear that Peikoff has deviated from Rand's position - even while maintaining her Platonic view of gender.

<35> It may be noted that Ancient Greece had its share of strong women, exemplified in pantheons, myths, literature, theater plays and so forth. But the range of choice, expression and societal participation for women was severely limited. According to Larson (1995, 8): "As a general rule, only heroines who lack significant familial ties (i.e., husband or son) can stand alone" - and thus be independent female heroes.

<36> The Amazons comprised different peoples living in Asia Minor and North Africa, among whom women were political and military leaders, and soldiers (Bell 1991; Stone 1976, [1979] 1990; Walker 1983). They are known from Greek legends; the Greeks feared them and they were long believed to be invincible. The term has survived in the vernacular, usually referring to any tall and strong woman - or, more generally, referring to any woman who is vigorous, unafraid, outspoken. Women like this are known in all cultures. But androcentric societies disparage and debase them, and institutionalize social and cultural patterns that suppress and oppress such qualities in girls and women.

<37> The soc.feminism terminology FAQ file defines Amazon feminism thus:

   Amazon feminism is dedicated to the image of the female hero in
   fiction and in fact, as it is expressed in art and literature,
   in the physiques and feats of female athletes, and in sexual
   values and practices. ... Amazon feminism rejects the idea that
   certain characteristics or interests are inherently masculine
   (or feminine), and upholds and explores a vision of heroic

<38> Modern texts about reclaiming "Wild Woman" archetypes address the same situation. See for example Estes 1995.

<38b> But one may ask, if a woman, qua woman, is incapable of being a sexual conqueror and thus of experiencing sexual conquest, can she then be said to be the emotional equal of man? And if the rapture and power of a sexual conquest, caused by the conqueror, is a measure of character strength or virtue, as Rand often seems to suggest, can one then truly say that woman are morally equal to man when it is assumed that she is incapable of (or must be discouraged from) being a conqueror?

<38c> Borrowing a phrase from Rand: today we are witnessing "[T]he first of their return".

<39> For example Elizabeth Moon, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, Joanna Russ, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Mercedes Lackey, Tanith Lee, Anne McCaffrey, David Weber, James Schmitz, Ingar Knudtsen.


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