I know it sounds funny to say, in a “non-advice column” for and about women, but the most evil people I have known personally were women.

Men are of course able to get a bad job done effectively on a large scale: Attila the Hun, Hitler, Pot Pol, Stalin and the rest of the roster.  But for brimming, steaming, simmering, glad-to-see-you-drown-in-malice, person-to-person harmfulness — on my dime, it’s been women every time.

The real question is not which sex is more evil (with a different meaning, Jane Austen has her heroine say in Persuasion, “We each begin, probably, with a little bias towards our own sex … “), but how to tell if one is sliding down the slope toward cruelty, and how to put the brakes on if one is.

The first thing to admit is that erotic life is competitive.  Once upon a time, this was a truth universally acknowledged.  The new sisterhood between women has not made it less true, but it has made it more like the elephant in the room.

The second thing is that there is a potential for heartbreak in erotic life.  Look at the tragic face of the old lion in the animal documentaries, as he limps off painfully, the loser in the wild fight to control the harem.  On TV, I have seen a French film actress who, at forty, knew exactly how to portray the seductive older woman, being treated like debris by her French male co-panelists, now that she was incurably past her prime.  There are tearful wallflowers at lesbian dances.  Erotic life is competitive.  “When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren.”  (Genesis 29:31.)  Erotic life is competitive.

The third thing is that you have to fight fair.  Thwarting another’s winnings compromises one’s own honor in this arena.  Despite fashionable opinion, erotic life is not an anarchic, Dionysian revel.  It cannot be sustained without honor.


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.
This entry was posted in Culture, Desire, Erotic Life, Femininity, Feminism, Friendship, Gender Balance, Literature, Masculinity, Philosophy, Political, Sexuality, Social Conventions, The Problematic of Woman and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply