Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand

Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand



The Randian-Feminism Mailing List is a forum for Objectivist and Randian Feminists -- people who share a common interest in Feminist philosophy, issues and perspectives, and in Ayn Rand's ideas and philosophy.  Thomas Gramstad created the list on January 14, 1998. 

April 19, 1999  (Bryan Register)

Looking Through a Paradigm Darkly  -  Wendy McElroy

     Chris Matthew Sciabarra introduced the discussion on Wendy McElroy's essay, "Looking
Through a Paradigm Darkly" (Date: 18-Apr-1999 15:28:18), with the subject line:  And now, a
little "rough sex"... 
This week, we turn to Wendy McElroy's "Looking Through a Paradigm Darkly" - - and we
expand our discussion of the "rape" scenes in Rand's fiction.
I would like to invite Wendy to say a few words about her important essay.  In the discussion, we
might consider whether Rand's paradigm is yet one more attempt at transcending dualism, certainly
one of Rand's distinctive theoretical patterns.  In this instance, Wendy suggests that Rand seeks to
get beyond the limitations of two opposed paradigms: the "traditional" and the "radical" (or "rape
culture") models of sexuality.
To what extent is Rand successful?
We might also consider something entirely different here: that Rand's depictions have little or
nothing to do with her philosophy, and everything to do with her own personal sexual predilections
that are (inescapably) portrayed in virtually all her works of fiction.  Surely one does not have to
buy into Rand's depictions of "rough sex" in order to be a "rational" man or woman, no?
I'm sure the discussion will be lively.  Enjoy!
     Wendy McElroy discusses her essay (Date: Sun, 18 Apr 1999 20:26:07):
Hello all:
I believe my essay "Looking Through a Paradigm Darkly" is the subject for discussion this week,
and I want to make some comments to set a fuller context.
Ayn Rand had a profound influence on my intellectual development. At the age of fifteen, I read
We the Living (still my favorite among Rand's novels) then plunged immediately into her
non-fiction works which I prefer to her fiction. I sent away for the literature being issued from NBI
(Nathaniel Branden Institute) and listened attentively to the recorded series being offered there.
Although my intellectual evolution has taken me far from aspects of Rand's integrated world view
-- e.g. I've adopted individualist-anarchism as a political philosophy -- my basic approach to ideas
is still Randian. That is, I embrace her epistemology and metaphysics without reservation.
The Objectivists I met when I was a teenager went out of their way to provide guidance and
assistance to a stranger (me) who, at that point, had run away from home. They did so on the basis
of nothing but the fact that I shared an ideology with them. I mention this because Objectivists are
often described as cold, cerebral, and dogmatic people who have no more intricacy of emotion
than some of the characters Rand depicts. My experiences indicate the opposite. Thus, the
observations I make below about Rand's characters do not spill over onto the flesh and blood
Randians I've been lucky to have in my life. 
Now onto the critical portion of this e-mail. ;-) 
There are several aspects of Rand with which I have never identified nor understood, and one of
them is her depiction of sexual encounters. My essay focuses largely upon the first sexual
encounter between Dominique and Roark in order to answer the question "Is it rape or
ravishment?" In my opinion, the encounter is ravishment that crosses the line into mildly
sado-masochistic sex -- that is, it falls into the category of mock violence, one characteristic of
which is that either party can end the proceedings at any time by using a code word. The 'code'
with Dominique would have been the word 'no' or any other term of objection. Other 'items'
characteristic of S/M include the bruises left on her body by the sex act, the lack of vulnerable
emotions such as tenderness or playfulness, Dominique's subsequent reveling in the brutality of the
act, the descriptions of the act being so pleasurable that it was painful, Rand's dwelling upon
Dominique's feelings of terror and Roark's rather violent manner, etc. 
I have nothing profound to say about consensual mock violence. I don't think it reveals a deep
masochism on the part of the recipient of the 'brutality,' or an embedded power structure lurking
beneath the surface of the relationship. It seems to me that mild S/M is a matter of preference.
Some people enjoy the thrill, like they enjoy bungee-jumping, and others do not.
I don't bungee-jump much myself.  
But I am bothered by Rand's depictions of quasi-violent sex for another reason: sex in Rand's
novels tends to be like a gong that strikes only one note. I have searched the pages of her novels
for comparable portrayals of lovers laughing in bed, mutual massages, pillow talk, the occasional
flash of shyness, passion that doesn't leave bruises, affectionate words and touches, gentle
taunting...in short, the cornucopia of intimacy. (We the Living comes closest to such depictions,
and may explain my fondness for this one novel.) I know the rejoinder will be that Rand was
portraying 'the ideal,' not the real. This objection makes me take a dimmer view of the depictions.
Why is the sexual ideal basically one response repeated over and over again with variations -- (and
I know the foregoing is a simplistic analysis, but I believe it captures something true). Surely the
closer a human being approaches 'the ideal,' the more he or she embodies complex emotional
reactions, sophisticated psychological insights, a wide and flexible range of behavior. Yet the ideal
in Rand seems to be a diminishment of complexity and flexibility. Again, the rejoinder might be
'Rand couldn't be expected to show every aspect of the sexual ideal.' True, but how about showing
two or three more aspects. After all, the purpose of Atlas Shrugged was to depict the ideal man
(and woman) with the sexual act/attitudes clearly playing a key role in that portrayal. And it is not
as though adding ten more pages to Atlas Shrugged would have put it over the publisher's page
limit. If Rand depicted the sexual ideal as being mild S/M and not much else, I will pay her enough
respect to take her seriously -- that's her ideal, period. 
As with the subject of consensual mock violence, I have nothing profound to say about Rand's
ideal of sex. My problem lies in the fact that she does not claim it as a *personal* ideal, but as
*the* ideal that any rational human being should hold as a matter of principle. I've met dozens of
Randians whose sexuality has been torturous because they tried desperately to live up to the
rational ideal, when nothing within them psychologically gravitated toward the conquest and
surrender model of sex. Interestingly, most of them were sweet, gentle men who were more likely
to bring you flowers than burst through your French doors at night fresh from the quarry. But they
accepted Rand's ideal as an objective one, as well as accepting the 'no compromise' approach
embodied in her moral principle of only having sex with your ideal.
Or in her belief that "there is no disagreement among rational men." 
Rand's impact on people can be powerful. In my case, the impact was overwhelmingly benevolent
but, then, I never took her view of sexuality to heart: I tend to skip over her sex scenes much the
same way I flip past Galt's speech near the end of AS. Nevertheless, I fear that those
who view Rand's portrayed ideal as the only rational or moral approach to sexuality may have been
impoverished rather than enriched by her work, at least in this one regard.
Bottom line: if a girlfriend encountered Roark and wanted my advice on whether to see him again,
I'd reply, "Run fast. Run far." 
I look forward to a week of lively conversation.

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