©2008 NewFoundations

What is Woman?

Famous & Infamous Men Offer Images of Abuse or Respect

Observe how the greatest minds yield in some degree to the superstitions of their age
-- Thoreau, Journal, Jan 31, 1853
edited 5/10/18


Throughout the ages
, men of repute -- good, or otherwise --  have addressed the question, “What is woman?” Their answers stand in stark contrast to the findings of science and to the obvious dictates of common sense.

Torn by conflicting values, or incongruous feelings, men of immortal fame, or infamy, are revealed as mortal, all too mortal. Whenever the topic turns to women, brilliant thinkers become illogical; great philosophers, small-minded; and sensitive poets, unfeeling. Indeed, hatred of or condescension toward women unite completely unrelated historical personalities such as Aristotle, Napoleon, and Freud.

How could so many highly intelligent men be so singularly unintelligent in their views on women? We leave that for the reader to decide. But in this sense, this collection is not just about women, but also about men.
To be sure, celebrated men appear from time to time to take up women’s cause. Often they are unlikely champions: introverted thinkers, bohemian artists, sardonic cynics, and bomb throwing revolutionaries. Disparate in every other way, they nevertheless are ideologically united in outrage at man’s injustice to woman. One can hardly imagine stranger compatriots than John Stuart Mill, the gentle saint of British liberalism of the Victorian age, and the urbane and acerbic American intellectual H. L. Mencken, for instance, and yet they both denounced the injustice routinely visited on women with equal vehemence.

Sometimes these apparent champions turn out to be more unbelievable than unlikely. The consummate revolutionaries, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, for example, both sympathetically describe women as victims of a poisonous blend of male oppression and industrial capitalism; and both advocate their liberation. Yet in private Marx also bitterly complains about his wife’s nagging, wishes his newborn daughter male, impregnates his housekeeper and persuades Engels to take the blame.

The German poet Friedrich Schlegel once observed, “Women are treated as unjustly in poetry as in life. If they are feminine, they are not ideal, and if ideal, not feminine.” This collection of quotations bears witness to the trenchancy of this comment.

Gary Clabaugh, Ed.D.
Professor of Education, La Salle University

Leo Rudnytzky, Ph. D.
Professor Emeritus of Foreign Languages and Literature, La Salle University

“Man has quite enough in this life to find out his own individual calling,
without being forced to decide where every woman belongs.”
-- Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Persons Quoted
The quotations were gotten from a variety of sources: diaries, collections of letters, speeches, essays, introductions to books, newspapers and journals. Imaginative literature was excluded as source to ensure authenticity of the views expressed.

Aristotle Holmes MarxEngels Shaw
Calvin Jung Mencken Strindberg
Darwin Kafka J. S. Mill Tolstoy
Emerson Kant Napoleon Unamuno
Freud Kierkegaard Ovid VanGogh
Gauguin DH Lawrence Schopenhauer Wagner
Hitler Luther    

A very brief portrait is given with basic biographical data and information on attitudes toward women.