1899 | “Berth deck cooks aboard cruiser U.S.S. Brooklyn” | Edward H. Hart


Any woman still maintaining that the terms “masculinity” and “femininity” should be put between scare quotes, as mere social or grammatical constructs, is invited to walk unescorted into the midst of this bunch.  In shorts.

Me, I’ll wait here.  Let me know how that worked out for you.

At the other end of the same spectrum of male/female relations, Simone de Beauvoir locates Vinca (Colette’s fictional jeune fille), who feels unaffected “the morning after,” having merely satisfied her girlish curiosity with the help of her young friend Phil.   For his part, Phil is quite taken aback by the calm with which Vinca has survived his boyish efforts to initiate her.   De Beauvoir comments, “in truth, Phil is wrong to be astonished, his amie has not met the male.”

So it seems there can be too much, but also too little, of a good thing!

The highs and the lows of a woman’s life are not meliorated by treating  masculinity and femininity merely as roles.  Denial only demeans the woman who is trying to figure out her situation.  Likewise, to deprive masculinity of a place of honor on the social map — even divesting young men of due process when accusations are leveled on college campuses — will turn the terrain that tolerates this injustice into a desert for young women too.  We need to learn the difference between civilizing our animal powers and erasing them, between asserting our dignity and sterilizing our lives.

One time the wife of a college president asked me how Plato, “a man, can write about women?”  “Because,” I said, recalling how he was known in antiquity, “he’s the divine Plato!”

If God can talk to men, and it’s not beneath His/Her dignity, why can’t women talk to them as well?


About Abigail

Abigail Rosenthal is Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Brooklyn College of CUNY. She is the author of A Good Look at Evil, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, now available in an expanded, revised second edition and as an audiobook. Its thesis is that good people try to live out their stories while evil people aim to mess up good people’s stories. Her next book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher, forthcoming and illustrated, provides multiple illustrations from her own life. She writes a weekly column for her blog, “Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column” (www.dearabbie-nonadvice.com) where she explains why women's lives are highly interesting. She’s the editor of the posthumously published Consolations of Philosophy: Hobbes’s Secret; Spinoza’s Way by her father, Henry M. Rosenthal. Some of her articles can be accessed at https://brooklyn-cuny.academia.edu/AbigailMartin . She is married to Jerry L. Martin, also a philosopher. They live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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