Skip to content


So, I was reading this biography of Wittgenstein last night, before I went to bed. I know, right? I am so intellectual and well-read and so on and so forth! But actually, no I am not: I have been sort of assigned to read this biography, by someone who likes it. The biographical literary work I myself am reading, for fun, is Patti Smith’s memoir about Robert Mapplethorpe. Because it was on sale, and autographed, and I had only intended to pick up some magazines, but it was right there. By the register. Like it knew.

So, anyway, I was reading this biography of Wittgenstein last night, because I am so smart. And I was learning that, like many of us, Wittgenstein apparently had some very embarrassing tastes in college reading. Like, this guy Weininger?

The essence of Woman, [Weininger] says, is her absorption in sex. She is nothing but sexuality; she is sexuality itself. Whereas men possess sexual organs, “her sexual organs possess Women.” The female is completely preoccupied with sexual matters, whereas the male is interested in much else, such as war, sport, social affairs, philosophy and science, business and politics, religion and art… For [Woman], thinking and feeling are the same thing. She looks to man, who thinks in clear and articulated ideas, to clarify her data; to interpret her henids.* That is why women fall in love only with men cleverer than themselves.

And then I was like, “BRB Wittgenstein biography, got to write for Salon’s Broadsheet about James Franco, who now seems a little less bright than one would hope, based on his recently published short story, which of course makes him less sexually attractive.”

But did you notice that this story ends with me writing a piece for Salon’s Broadsheet? Because, yes, it does! Also there is a piece on child abuse legislation and the problems of reporting child abuse! By me! There! So we are all very excited and happy now.

And also! LaToya! PETERSON!

*Yeah. There’s a whole complicated explanation. But, for the record, “henids” basically translates to “stupid lady thoughts, that ladies have, because they are stupid.” Glad I could clear that one up for you. Also, on the list of Weininger’s Favorite Things, we can include: Anti-Semitism! Which, because he was Jewish, worked out really badly. Weininger is really tough to think about for very long. And has nothing to do with this story. Look, I’m sorry I brought it up, all right?


  1. Gayle Force wrote:

    So, the second I got to the James Franco mention, I started shrieking at a friend of mine who is staying with me, “OH MY GOD I MUST READ THIS JAMES FRANCO THING TO YOU!!!! BECAUSE OH MY GOD! IT IS AMAAAAAAAZING!”

    In that way where amazing means, you know, so stunningly bad. Where gaps gape, and shadows are shadow-colored. OBVIOUSLY. We had some hearty belly laughs. So thanks for the links (Go Sady!), and also for inspiring the uproarious read aloud!

    Monday, March 29, 2010 at 10:44 pm | Permalink
  2. SANDITON wrote:

    Omg, Wittgenstein, why’d you got to let down a lady like that. 🙁

    Tuesday, March 30, 2010 at 12:22 am | Permalink
  3. JMS wrote:

    Well, remember that Wittgenstein said “It is his enormous mistake that is great” so presumably he was not on the Weininger train so whole-heartedly.

    Tuesday, March 30, 2010 at 1:22 am | Permalink
  4. Ennu wrote:

    OMG. So are you writing for Broadsheet like officially now? Because I was all mopey after Kate Harding announced she was leaving, but that would make up for it.

    Tuesday, March 30, 2010 at 2:51 am | Permalink
  5. Citizen Taqueau wrote:

    Sex and Character by Otto Weininger is required reading for anyone who’s doing their homework on misogynist essentialism. The guy’s ideas were pretty normal among intellectuals of his time, and he had (and still has) a cult following. There are even those who glamorize his suicide (at 22 years old), claiming that he so vividly predicted the fall of civilization that would come from Men granting full citizenship to Women, that ending his life was the only honest, noble response he could have. I notice those saluting him are still alive.

    Tuesday, March 30, 2010 at 12:18 pm | Permalink
  6. Crito wrote:

    As a hetero dude, I must say–after eight years of active dating and constantly having to overcome the presumption that I was Only Interested In You For Sex–that it sounds downright alien to hear that quality ascribed to women. I thought -I- was the one thinking with my gonads.

    Would someone please problematize this observation for me?

    Tuesday, March 30, 2010 at 4:25 pm | Permalink
  7. Aprilu wrote:

    @Crito, I thought the same thing, that Weininger’s statements are kind of ironic considering that men are seen as sex-obsessed today, but I think his assumption that women are all about ~emotions and men can separate reason and emotion is still very much alive. I think today it’s more seen that women are all about relationships, while men focus on more abstract ideas.

    also, great piece Sady, that James Franco story is embarrassing. with all his interviews about being a writer, I always had the sneaking suspicion that he was just a pretentious dude behind all the talk.

    Tuesday, March 30, 2010 at 8:39 pm | Permalink
  8. Citizen Taqueau wrote:

    Crito, we’re thinkin’ with our Henids!

    Aprilu, you bring up a curious point too. Conventional wisdom in pre-Socratic Athens was that women were sexually obsessed and uncontrollable, and that their sexual behavior had to be regulated by social constructs like marriage and slavery. This was why Aristophanes’ comedy, Lysistrata, was considered so funny. Women, naturally sexpots, were supposed to give up fucking to press a political point — the war is stealing their husbands, wasting their countries’ resources, and it has to end. Of course, when Lysistrata presents this idea, her friends groan, “Let the war continue!” Because they can’t give up teh sex. The whole thing quickly becomes ridiculous. When they don’t have men around, they hit on each other. After a few weeks’ standoff, the women want to mutiny, dying to get laid. Lysistrata is the foolishly proud comic figure, imagining that her eccentric plan can succeed.

    A very interesting thing later happened between Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy. In The Republic, Plato argued that women had the same rational and intellectual potential as men, but (!!) they would have to be exempt from housekeeping and childcare (as men were) in order to become philosophers.

    Aristotle’s point of view was quite different. He posited that women were incomplete, near-human creatures, in which the faculties of reason were absent or vestigial; men contributed all the valuable material to their offspring, and women’s bodies were merely soil to be tilled. As we can observe, his attitudes prevailed.

    Wednesday, March 31, 2010 at 12:37 am | Permalink
  9. Taybeh Chaser wrote:

    It seems like women are seen as whatever (usually) negative thing we need to be seen as in order to keep the patriarchy going in a given place, culture, and time. Too sex-obsessed or too frigid, pure or dirty, over-invested in relationships or just out to use people, over-emotional or practical and earth-bound, too cold and cruel or too soft and nurturing, unable to sit still and concentrate in school because of our flightiness (and thus not suited for education) or better at sitting still because of our passivity (and thus at an unfair advantage over boys), etc, etc, etc.

    Wednesday, March 31, 2010 at 6:49 am | Permalink
  10. alanna wrote:

    @Taybeh Chaser – not only that, but always defined in opposition to whatever is considered a “male” characteristic. And for “male” you can also read “normal”.

    @ Citizen Taqeau – I learned new things from your comment! Thank you!

    Wednesday, March 31, 2010 at 1:37 pm | Permalink
  11. Just felt the need to check in and say the comments on that Salon article made me want to put out my own eye even more than Mr. Franco’s story did. Bless his heart, he did try hard.

    Thursday, April 1, 2010 at 3:00 pm | Permalink
  12. Elizabeth wrote:

    Congrats on the Broadsheet gig! But don’t leave us hanging- does Wittgenstein endorse Weininger and his bullshit? Why is Weininger so extensively quoted in Wittgenstein’s biography? Are these things I should know, or possibly things I would already know if I had gone to college like my parents wanted?

    Thursday, April 1, 2010 at 6:40 pm | Permalink
  13. yinyang wrote:

    LOVE that you’re (apparently) on the staff of Broadsheet now, Sady! An article or two a week from you is awesome; 2 or 3 a day is better than unicorns. I hope they’re paying you super-well, because you deserve it.

    Also, this portion of your abstinence-education article yesterday is priceless:

    “In our current economic climate, spending $50 million a year on anything is a big deal; spending $50 million a year on provably ineffective programs is like allocating a national fund for the deposed Prince of Nigeria. Our nation has received your e-mails, and they are prepared to extend American aid in this time of crisis!”

    Friday, April 2, 2010 at 4:06 pm | Permalink
  14. Minivet wrote:

    I think that weird quote is not that divorced from the general premodern “men are like this, women are like this” stereotypes (for example, there was the idea that only men could have “true” friendships whereas for women everything was carnal). There’s a book about this I unfortunately can’t remember right now.

    Saturday, April 10, 2010 at 4:00 pm | Permalink