Homosexuality and Feminism in Objectivism

Stephen Whittington's picture
Submitted by Stephen Whittington on Sat, 2005-12-10 10:47

From my limited readings of Ayn Rand's novels, it seems to me that her view of the female (as lesser than the man - at least, that's the case that Nathaniel Branden formulates) is somewhat bizarre. If this is the case, does this suggest women are of less moral worth than the male? If that is not the conclusion one can draw, then what is?

It also seems to me that many objectivists believe homosexuality to somehow be immoral or wrong. Why is this?

I think perhaps the issues that I have here stems from my discovery of objectivism. It occured more through libertarian reading. Which, actually come to think of it, why is it that many objectivists dislike libertarianism? I can understand that that may be fair in the U.S., when historically they were linked with anarcho-capitalists, but why is it therefore that all libertarian parties are tarred with the same brush? I would suggest that the Libertarianz (The Libertarian Party in New Zealand) is almost perfectly in line with Rand's minarchist state.


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Ted - "Tekla"

AdamReed's picture

Ted - "Tekla" is sometimes a Jewish name, but it is also a common first name among Orthodox and Coptic Christians, being the name of an early Christian saint.

I'd love to pick your brain at dinner some time

Ted Keer's picture

My Russian is quite poor, My grandmother spoke a dialect from what was Hungary and is now Ukraine. We call ourselves Rusyn, or simply ponashemu. Sookin was over my head, although I knew it was not a normal family name. Can you confirm whether Tekla was a mainly Jewish name, or is it a common Christian name? And I thought the Broadway production of Think Twice back around 1998 was a hoot. Her humour, when it shows, is wonderful.

Ted

Ted - "Sookin"

AdamReed's picture

Ted - the name "Serge Sookin" always brings a smile to my face. In Russian, "Sookin" (from "sooka," bitch, and -kin, "son of") literally means "son of a bitch." Who says Ayn Rand didn't have fun?

Toohey, Serge Sookin, inter alia...

Ted Keer's picture

Luke,

I am a conceptual thinker, and do not tend to retain every specific concrete once I have noticed it. I form the relevant judgement, and retain the judgement. I began my career on this list being berated for asserting that Rand had sued Rush for 2112, which "fact" I did not have in a notebook or card catalog. I was called everything just short of being a liar, until someone confirmed that Peikoff had discussed Holzer's statement that Rand had asked about suing them, but that no suit had been filed. My knowledge of Rand is the same, I cannot quote page and verse where she made allusions that obviously implied a hint of queerness (in the conventional sense) in her characters. I was not thinking specifically of Sonia, but she would be an example. (And I am shocked, shocked, that you have not read We the Living. Have you seen the movie? I think I'll post about it on my blog. "Petrograd smelt of carbolic acid." What an opening line!) The two characters who specifically came to mind were Serge Sookin of Think Twice and Ellsworth Toohey. These are not the only examples. And I don't take issue with her use of this device, I just believe it should be looked at critically. As for Peter Schwartz, I stopped my subscription to the Ayn Rand Letter (or whatever it was titled in the late 80's) after failing to find any significant new philosophy in it, mostly just carping on concretes. I may have read that article. I know that I have read a number of such articles, I assume, going back to the Objectivst, which I have hardbound but in storage. I assume that anything in that publication would be considered a part of the Objectivist corpus, hence my comment above.

I am preparing a longer response on the topic of homosexuality in general, which I shall link to when it is complete.

Ted Keer, 04 October, 2006, NYC

Peter Schwartz and Comrade Sonja

Luke Setzer's picture

I vaguely recall Peter Schwartz making some disparaging remarks about gays in his essay "Libertarianism: The Perversion of Liberty."  Perhaps I misunderstood his point, but I got the definite impression that he considered openly gay activists within Libertarian circles a bad sign.  Omniverse may have read this essay as an example of a prominent living Objectivist criticizing homosexuals as well as Libertarians.

I have yet to read We the Living, though our local group intends to discuss it in 2007.  I do recall Ayn Rand mentioning a character named Comrade Sonja in that novel with very masculine qualities which she considered as manifest among many modern feminists.  I do not know if that character leaned lesbian, though.  Ted, did you think of this character when you mentioned "sexual deviance"?

Not a Unitary Phenomenon

Ted Keer's picture

Many people find homosexuality disgusting. This is a visceral reaction, not a philosophically arrived at view. That is, they come to the game already disliking the phenomenon, and then justify it afterward. I myself find people who chew bubblegum absolutely repulsive. But I don't need to act as if this only arose after a long chain of philosophical reasoning.

As for homosexuality itself, the variations upon it are so diverse, that I find judging it as a single phenomenon to be misleading. Some people seem to be hormonally similar to the opposite sex. Others engage in homosexuality on an opportunistic basis. Some homosexual men are overly masculine. (Many more military and cops than you might think!) The biological underpinnings of these patterns may be very different. Many homosexuals are quite damaged psychologically, although much of this is probably due to a lifetime of rejection by their families. Since damaged effeminate homosexuals are often the most obvious example of homosexuality, one can understand why people might draw overly broad and unwarranted conclusions. And likewise, it should be obvious why most people would hide their homosexuality, given the general disdain for it, when possible.

I am deep voiced and look like a truck driver or a football player, but I have been "out" since before I was an objectivist, and believe that the self-confidence I derived from being out made me a better egoist. My girlfriends have known of my bisexuality, and I would estimate that some 2/3 of people to whom I have come out (I usually have to do this, since people don't guess otherwise) have either told me of their own experiences or their desire to "try it out." That is strictly against my policy with family, friends and co-workers!

I've met at least one

Omniverse's picture

I've met at least one Objectivist who stated that he thought homosexuality was disgusting, using Ayn Rand's quote on the matter. I've heard others that aren't as unforgiving, but still want to refer to it as a "psychological flaw" or "mental illness" rather than a rational way of living.

I would agree that this is not the majority of Objectivists, but I think it's a sizable portion, and worth mentioning.

Lesbianism is put down by

Chris Cathcart's picture

Lesbianism is put down by Rand both implicitly and explicitly.

Sad

Implicit Putdowns

Ted Keer's picture

There are more than just two mentions of homosexuality in the Objectivist corpus. Lesbianism is put down by Rand both implicitly and explicitly. There are also character descriptions in her fiction which imply sexual deviance. Omniverse is apparently only mentioning Rand's own words and only when she actually used the term homosexual. (Also, is the Objectivist to be considered part of the official corpus or not?) But Dan is right that there is little anti-homosexual sentiment among self-described Objectivists nowadays. It was my comfort with my own sexuality which lead me first to doubt the Catholic Church at age 13, when the issues involved became explicit to me. I remember reading Rand's first statement on the topic within a week of discovering her at age 16, which I did thru her non-fiction. I thought, well, that's the only thing I disagree with by her so far. Except for causing a few jaws to drop when I mentioned my then boyfriend at an NYU O'ist club meeting back in 1992, I have never found anything but open minds. (I have had both male and female lovers.) Rand's description of the essence of femininity as being man worship was her own personal projection, not a formal definition. Her principles are consistent with the full dignity of every rational valuer.

Ethics of Homosexuality in Question?

Dan Edge's picture

Omniverse,


I appreciated your responses to Stephen's questions.

One question.  You wrote that the ethics of homosexuality is "quite a controversial topic among Objectivists."  Have you gotten this impression from Objectivists that you've met?  I'm aware of very, very few Objectivist who even question whether or not homosexuality is moral.  The near universal belief is that it is completely ethical and morally optional.  Those very few who disagree with this are generally morons who no one listens to anyway.

Rand simply didn't understand the phenomonon of homosexuality and was factually incorrect in her belief.  She's got so much else going for her, I think it can be forgiven.  Smiling

Answers

Omniverse's picture

On Feminism and Femininity:

There is nothing about Objectivist philosophy that states that men have any intrisic or automatic value that makes them more valuable than women. Men and women are all people, with the same rights, and held to the same ethical standards.

Nathaniel Branden has distanced himself from Objectivism for many years now, so I wouldn't necessarily take his comments on Objectivism at face value. Read the books written by Ayn Rand specifically about her philosophy and draw your own conclusions; I don't think you'll find anything indicating that men are intrinsically better than women.

Now there are certain notions in the philosophy regarding sexuality, where the man is dominant and the woman is submissive, that may be misinterpreted to mean that men are better (e.g. more valuable, of higher moral worth, etc) than women. Bear in mind that this viewpoint is not the same as the ridiculous notion held by many religious institutions, where the woman in a man-woman relationship is little more than a slave. This somewhat leads into the next topic.

On Homosexuality:

I'll start by showing the two known documented quotes from Ayn Rand herself on the topic, as it was not a topic she wrote a great deal about.

"All laws against homosexual acts should be repealed. I do not approve of such practices or regard them as necessarily moral, but it is improper for the law to interfere with a relationship between consenting adults. Laws against corrupting the morals of minors are proper, but adults should be completely free."

The following exchange also occured in 1971:

Question: This questioner says she read somewhere that you consider all forms of homosexuality immoral. If this is so, why?

Answer: Because it involves psychological flaws, corruptions, errors, or unfortunate premises, but there is a psychological immorality at the root of homosexuality. Therefore I regard it as immoral. But I do not believe that the government has the right to prohibit it. It is the privilege of any individual to use his sex life in whichever way he wants it. That's his legal right, provided he is not forcing it on anyone. And therefore the idea that it's proper among consenting adults is the proper formulation legally. Morally it is immoral, and more than that, if you want my really sincere opinion, it is disgusting.

This is actually quite a controversial topic among Objectivists. That homosexuals have the right to behave homosexually (by having homosexual sex, engaging in romantic homosexual relationships, etc) is rarely debated, as this does not infringe on the rights of others and can't be coherently identified as the initiation of force or fraud.

The debate lies purely in whether homosexuality is ETHICAL. Since the above quotes are all Ayn Rand said on the topic, we know that she thought that homosexuality "involves psychological flaws, corruptions, errors, or unfortunate premises" but we have no documented information on what she thought these flaws, corruptions, errors, and unfortunate (I assume she meant false or incorrect?) premises supposedly are.

Another problem is that knowledge on homosexuality, its causes and roots, and the psychology behind it is a much more studied subject now than it was in 1971. I think most rational people can clearly conclude that few homosexuals choose to be homosexual and actively suppress or ignore heterosexual instincts. It's not the same as being, say, Marxist, or subjectivistic, or altruistic, where one can clearly identify the (flawed) logic behind it and pose an argument. I think the notion of asking a homosexual to "defend his position" is almost as silly as asking a heterosexual the same question, because it wasn't a conscious decision made by the person.

That being said, if someone cannot choose their sexuality, wouldn't it be immoral for them to act against their sexuality and be unhappy, instead of going along with it, in accordance with their rational self-interest?

My personal opinion is that there is nothing intrinsically wrong or immoral about being homosexual, and that much of this "controversy" comes from people unwilling to accept the notion that Ayn Rand may have drawn a wrong conclusion or may have misapplied her own philosophy.

On Libertarianism:

Like the topic of homosexuality, I'll begin with some quotes from Ayn Rand herself.

"... [T]ake the word "liberal." In the nineteenth century, this was a proper term which stood for one who defended rights and limited government -- except that it never represented a fully consistent political philosophy. So historically, what started as nineteenth-century liberalism gradually became modern liberalism. (Conservatives used to claim that they were the true liberals, but they have given up doing so.) Similarly, some people today use "libertarian" to designate the pro-free enterprise position, but there are some modern liberals who call themselves libertarians as well. This stealing of terms with undefined connotations is so prevalent today that I simply do not use any of these words. This is one reason I prefer "pro-capitalist" to "conservative." When what is being disguised or destroyed is not exactly what you uphold, then drop the word and use another."

"Above all, do not join the wrong ideological groups or movements, in order to "do something." By "ideological" (in this context), I mean groups or movements proclaiming some vaguely generalized, undefined (and, usually, contradictory) political goals. (E.g., the Conservative Party, which subordinates reason to faith, and substitutes theocracy for capitalism; or the "libertarian" hippies, who subordinate reason to whims, and substitute anarchism for capitalism.) To join such groups means to reverse the philosophical hierarchy and to sell out fundamental principles for the sake of some superficial political action which is bound to fail."

The main argument that most Objectivists pose against Libertarianism is the lack of a proper philosophical backing to their political philosophy. Without this, one can easily draw incorrect conclusions, or support ideologies that at their face seem logically consistent with capitalism or freedom but clearly aren't when examined rationally.

Some of the tension comes from the fact that libertarians tend to have, at the very least, a sympathetic view of anarchism ("It would be great, if it could actually work." type arguments), and regard a proper government that exists to protect the rights of its citizens as a necessary evil rather than the necessary good that it is. Often times they downright support contradictory notions such as anarcho-capitalism, where the free market is somehow supposed to provide the government as a service like anything else.

Another source of tension is that the two movements are closely intertwined in some ways, with libertarianism being somewhat of an offshoot of the Objectivist political philosophy. Being that most libertarians at least have a passing knowledge of Objectivism, one can almost conclude (I won't conclude this, but I can see the argument) that those who identify themselves as libertarian specifically mean that they support capitalism but disagree with Objectivism in other areas, since they would call themselves Objectivists if they didn't.

Personally, I don't think that the Libertarian party should be held to different standards from the other political parties, and I think it's silly to not vote Libertarian because they contain some evil while voting for something as blatantly evil as a Democrat or a Republican.

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