Eternal feminine

The eternal feminine is a psychological archetype or philosophical principle that idealizes an immutable concept of "woman". It is one component of gender essentialism, the belief that men and women have different core "essences" that cannot be altered by time or environment.[1] The conceptual ideal was particularly vivid in the 19th century, when women were often depicted as angelic, responsible for drawing men upward on a moral and spiritual path.[2] Among those virtues variously regarded as essentially feminine are "modesty, gracefulness, purity, delicacy, civility, compliancy, reticence, chastity, affability, [and] politeness".[3]

The concept of the "eternal feminine" (German: das Ewig-Weibliche) was particularly important to Goethe, who introduces it at the end of Faust, Part 2.[4] For Goethe, "woman" symbolized pure contemplation, in contrast to masculine action, parallel to the eastern Daoist descriptions of Yin and Yang.[5] The feminine principle is further articulated by Nietzsche within a continuity of life and death, based in large part on his readings of ancient Greek literature, since in Greek culture both childbirth and the care of the dead were managed by women.[6] Domesticity, and the power to redeem and serve as moral guardian, were also components of the "eternal feminine".[7] The virtues of women were inherently private, while those of men were public.[8]

In popular cultureEdit

In Wide is the Gate, the fourth novel of the "Lanny Budd" series by Upton Sinclair, Lanny says to Gertrud Schultz, "What Goethe calls das ewig weibliche is seldom out of my consciousness; I don’t think it is ever entirely out of any man’s consciousness."

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Susan Abraham, "Justice as the Mark of Catholic Feminist Ecclesiology," in Frontiers in Catholic Feminist Theology: Shoulder to Shoulder (Fortress Press, 2009), p. 207.
  2. ^ Frances Nesbitt Oppel, Nietzsche On Gender: Beyond Man And Woman, pp. 6–7, 16–17, 22 et passim.
  3. ^ Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination (Yale University Press, 2nd ed. 2000, originally published 1979), p. 23.
  4. ^ Oppel, Nietzsche On Gender, p. 16.
  5. ^ Gilbert and Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic, p. 21.
  6. ^ Oppel, Nietzsche On Gender, p. 4.
  7. ^ Oppel, Nietzsche On Gender, p. 4.
  8. ^ Oppel, Nietzsche On Gender, p. 7.