Abstract: Zarathustra addresses a ‘little old woman’. Everything about women, he tells her, has pregnancy as a solution. A man should be brought up for war and the woman for the recreation of the warrior. The woman’s task is to bring out the child in the man. The happiness of a man is ‘I will’, of a woman ‘he wills’. Her world becomes ‘perfect’ when she obeys out of total love. The old woman replies with‘a little truth’: ‘You are going to women? Then don’t forget the whip’.
It seems to be quite irrelevant that it is put in the mouth of the old woman – this is merely a rhetorical device designed to intensify the force of Zarathustra–Nietzsche’s views on women: ‘You see, even old, that is, wise, women agree with me’, he implies. Nietzsche's biography might be brought to bear on his views on women. He was raised in a family of women of rigidly moralistic views. His marriage proposals were all rebuffed; and the women whom he seemed most to admire, Lou Salomé and Cosima Wagner, were strong-willed individuals who did not especially subscribe to conventional roles for women. No doubt, Nietzsche had many motivations for complicated reactions to "woman as such.”
Though the formal point of this passage is to advise the potential free spirit on how to comport himself with women, its main value is as a manifestation of how deeply the Lou Salomé affair had damaged Nietzsche’s attitude to women. There is a very marked contrast between Nietzsche’s empathetic stance towards the plight of women in nineteenth-century Europe in the pre-Lou period and this raising of male chauvinism to the point, even by nineteenth-century standards, of caricature, this insulting slapping down of everything Lou aspired to. It is not hard to see what has happened. In the aftermath of the affair, Nietzsche eased his pain by taking a kind of fictional revenge. The passage, in other words, is cut from the same cloth as the pathologically disturbed letters he wrote to Rée and Lou Salomé at precisely the same time as he was writing Part I of Zarathustra. It is, as he himself says of those letters, incompatible with the rejection of ‘resentment’ by his innermost mode of thinking.
Nietzsche might also be seen as sexist's divided attitude because he personifies Life and Wisdom as women in Zarathustra posing Zarathustra as the lover of both. To be set against Zarathustra awful remarks about women in Part I, however, is the fact that in its two ‘dance-songs,’ one in Part II and the other in Part III, ‘Life’ (whom Zarathustra claims to love unreservedly) is portrayed as a woman, ‘wild and not virtuous’( Zarathustra II §10) who dances in an ecstatic circle with ‘flaming, flying hair’( Zarathustra III §15, in part, surely, a portrait of the heroine of Nietzsche’s favourite opera, Carmen). One can analyse this divided attitude to women in terms of Nietzsche’s own categories of the ‘Dionysian’ and the ‘Apollonian’. Women attract Nietzsche because the erotic represents transcendence of suffering individuality, à la Tristan und Isolde, the ‘intoxicated’ absorption into a ‘higher community’, Dionysian, as described in The Birth of Tragedy. Burnt by the Lou affair, however, he reacts with the exaggerated Apollonianism represented by The Birth of Tragedy as the Doric response to the harmful side of Dionysianism: Apollo’s ‘majestic rejection of all licence’ (Birth of Tragedy §2) So dangerous are women that they must be pressed back into the cage of nineteenth-century Apollonian's chauvinism.
By Part III of Zarathustra, written towards the end of 1883 as he was beginning to recover a certain, at least temporary, equilibrium after the Lou affair, Nietzsche’s text has calmed down somewhat, and even performs a kind of penance for the whip remark. In The Other Dance-Song ( Zarathustra III §15) Zarathustra tries to make Life dance to his tempo by cracking his whip – as seemingly advised to do in Part I. Life asks him to stop. Surely he knows that ‘noise murders thoughts’, in particular the ‘tender’ thoughts she is beginning to have about him. Even in Part III, however, Nietzsche remains opposed to female emancipation: ‘women are becoming mannish,’ he claims, because there is so little ‘manfulness’ in men – only a properly mannish man will ‘redeem the woman in women’(Zarathustra III §5).
Nietzsche's sexism's divided attitude is a complex topic. In some of his writings he mouths the inflammatory misogynistic imagery of Schopenhauer's "On Women," arguably the most notorious denunciation of women in German. For Nietzsche's repetition of Schopenhauerian images (see, for example, Beyond Good and Evil, §232-39). At other times, he presents psychological brief descriptions depicting interactions among women and men; frequently in these, he seems to be sympathetic to women.(This is particularly evident in, for example, Gay Science, §71, which concludes, "In sum, one cannot be too kind about women."). He frequently personifies abstract ideas in female form, and he appeals to stereotypical images of women, although in the latter cases he often plays with the images or refers explicitly to male perceptions of women. Presumably, his preface remark in Beyond Good and Evil, "Supposing truth is a woman - what then?" has been interpreted as sexist because it utilizes stereotypical images of women. An example of Nietzsche's explicit discussion of male fantasy occurs in Gay Science, §59.