MonoRealism Philosophy Site

Sex, Drugs and Rock'n'Roll

Part B

Masculinity vs Femininity

Masculinity and femininity are concepts pertaining to the psychological differences between men as males and women as females. They are valid concepts, as there are objective differences (one symptom being the plethora of man jokes, woman jokes etc.). And by the nature of sexual interest, in which people find the opposite sex attractive, it is the valuable differences (both physical and psychological) which are the basis of the attraction. That is, men will be attracted to "feminine" women, and women to "masculine" men. (Interestingly, even in homosexual couples there tends to be a "masculine" and a "feminine" partner, I believe.)

It is important to bear in mind that masculinity and femininity are sexual concepts: they apply solely to the relationships between the sexes, not to men and women as human beings: that is, not to men and women in their relationship to reality. Both men and women are primarily human beings: their essence is neither masculinity nor femininity, but rationality (both in the sense of having the power of reason, and in the sense that living rationally with its concomitant virtues are desirable for and achievable by either sex).

The fundamental source of the asymmetry between men and women is simple physical strength. It is that which makes feasible the greater aggressiveness of men, and with that aggressiveness enabled their role as hunters, protectors and warriors. Thus, the essence of masculinity is strength. However, while crude physical strength is the fundamental origin, the derivatives in a thinking being run the whole gamut of what a man needs to actually fulfil his roles: every quality determining his ability to handle reality. Depending on a woman's own sophistication, values and circumstances, what she regards as masculine, strong and attractive could therefore comprise anything from big muscles, to political power, to wealth, to intellectual power, to moral integrity.

As masculinity and femininity pertain to differences, they must pertain to traits which are opposite or complementary. So the essence of femininity is something which is opposite or complementary to strength, without implying weakness – as "weakness" implies inability to deal with reality, hardly desirable in a human being in general, let alone the one you entrust your children to! The word that I think comes closest is softness, encompassing such things as gentleness, nurturing and even vulnerability. However, it does not exclude strength, assertiveness, independence and the like. Like masculine strength, "feminine softness" is a relative term: what a woman seeks is someone stronger than her (in at least some ways which she regards as important); what a man seeks is someone softer than him. Thus, the stronger a woman is in an absolute sense, the stronger must a man be to be interested in her, and interesting to her. This is reflected in the difficulty often encountered by attractive, successful professional women in finding a mate: her strength "frightens away" many men – and any man unable to meet her strength, and indeed be attracted by it, is not attractive to her anyway.

Heroes and Heroines

Given that in human evolution a critical male role was protector and warrior, what a female needed and therefore wanted was a male able to be those things: that is, a man able to be her hero. Thus, another aspect of femininity is the desire to find a man she can look up to. Before I'm eaten alive by feminists for that one, it must be made clear that this does not apply to a woman's standing before reality, but solely to what she wants from a man in a romantic relationship. In a free, industrialised society where neither physical strength nor the rule of force are determining factors, success proceeds solely from the mind. In such circumstances women are as capable as men of achieving success, as they are as capable of all the human virtues – such as rationality, independence, productiveness, courage and pride – which produce it.

Ayn Rand, herself a pre-eminent novelist and philosopher – highly accomplished professionally, and very strong in mind and personality – put it this way:

For a woman qua woman, the essence of femininity is hero-worship – the desire to look up to a 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 ... 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 – which she experiences fully and concretely only for the man she loves. (Quoted in The Ayn Rand Lexicon)

If the essence of femininity in terms of how women view men is hero-worship, then I would say the essence of masculinity in terms of how men view women is the desire expressed by the phrase "to have and to hold": the desire to win the love of the woman he chooses, the pride felt in calling her "my wife", the wish to hold and protect her. And for both sexes, the sexual act is the expression and reward of these: for a woman, what she grants to the man she admires, and her reward for being worthy of him; for a man, what he wants from the woman he admires, and his reward for being worthy of her.

Of course, mate selection is a mutual choice in which both partners want the best they can get. A rational man will be satisfied with nothing less than a woman he can admire: he wants to win a heroine. But there is a different "flavour" in that, compared to what a woman wants from her man, derived from the millions of years of human and prehuman history in which the one thing where men are superior to women – physical strength and its concomitants – were vital characteristics for the man. The aspects of masculinity and femininity exist in both sexes: what differs is primacy and emphasis.

Clearly, although it is all based ultimately on physical strength, there is no place for actual physical domination within a pair. After all, the purpose of that strength from the woman's point of view is the protection and provision of her family: to have it used against her or them negates the very reason for its attractiveness. And of course no rational woman of self-esteem would accept physical force from her partner.

Hearts and Flowers

So far we have looked only at the basic psychological implications of human biology and evolution as they apply to the underpinnings of mate choice. But how that choice is felt and expressed, the direct motivator of the pairing and the essential for sticking with it through thick and thin, is romantic love. Just as the act of sex is the most intense natural physical pleasure we can experience, so is romantic love the most intense positive emotion we can feel – and for the same evolutionary reason.

By "romantic love" I mean love coupled with sexual interest, encompassing both the initial intense infatuation, and the longer term, less intense but deeper and more permanent form into which it develops as and if it matures.

You have no choice about being a sexual being, or about having the capacity for romantic love, or having certain basic psychological criteria for choosing a mate. (Though one can fight all these things, it is hard to imagine a rational reason for wanting to!) However, you do have a choice in which specific mate you choose. And like all choices made by a rational being, that choice is based on values, whether conscious or unconscious, chosen or by default.

All forms of love from friendship up are responses to values perceived in the person loved. This is especially true of romantic love, which is the highest form of love held by one adult for another. The basis of mate choice – "I want the highest quality mate I can get" – in a thinking being translates into "I want a mate who embodies my highest values, who expresses my ideals and highest virtues." Of course, this is more than some kind of ticking off a checklist. Like one's response to art, it is an emotional response to a sum: in this case to the sum of a person, to both their theme and their details, goals and expressions: their heart, soul, body and mind. As Ayn Rand put it in The Romantic Manifesto:

I am referring here to romantic love, in the serious meaning of that term – as distinguished from the superficial infatuations ... Love is a response to values. It is with a person's sense of life that one falls in love – with that essential sum, that fundamental stand or way of facing existence, which is the essence of a personality. One falls in love with the embodiment of the values that formed a person's character, which are reflected in his widest goals or smallest gestures, which create the style of his soul – the individual style of a unique, unrepeatable, irreplaceable consciousness. It is one's own sense of life that acts as the selector, and responds to what it recognizes as one's own basic values in the person of another. It is not a matter of professed convictions (though these are not irrelevant); it is a matter of much more profound, conscious and subconscious harmony.

Thus love is not blind, nor causeless, nor irrational: though like all human choices, it can be, usually with painful results. Love is a response to values, your philosophy of life writ large and small in the person of another human being. As Rand continues:

Many errors and tragic disillusionments are possible in this process of emotional recognition, since a sense of life, by itself, is not a reliable cognitive guide ... One of the most evil consequences of mysticism – in terms of human suffering – is the belief that love is a matter of "the heart," not the mind, that love is an emotion independent of reason, that love is blind and impervious to the power of philosophy. Love is the expression of philosophy – of a subconscious philosophical sum – and, perhaps, no other aspect of human existence needs the conscious power of philosophy quite so desperately. When that power is called upon to verify and support an emotional appraisal, when love is a conscious integration of reason and emotion, of mind and values, then – and only then – it is the greatest reward of man's life.