You know, the guy who said “God is dead” and really shook things up in the philosophy world? Yeah, him. Well, apparently he also claimed that women were God’s second mistake. Ouch, talk about harsh!
Now, before you grab your pitchforks and start a riot, let’s take a closer look at what he actually meant. There are a few different interpretations floating around, and honestly, they’re all pretty wild.
Some say Nietzsche was simply trying to point out the inferior position of women in society at the time. Others think he was criticizing the concept of “womanhood” as a limiting societal construct. And then there are those who believe he was just being a big ol’ misogynistic jerk.
What Did Nietzsche Mean, “Woman Was God’s Second Mistake?”
As with many of Nietzsche’s writings, this statement can be interpreted multiple ways. Interpreting it fairly literally, this mostly shows that Nietzsche meant that: 1) God makes mistakes; 2) Creating Woman (and femininity) was high among those mistakes. Of course, he also wrote that creating man was God’s “greatest blunder.”
Was Nietzsche a Misogynist?
People who have studied Nietzsche’s writings point out that Nietzsche questioned everything, he was a provocateur, and he also frequently utilized irony and metaphors.
His writings generally display extreme misogyny, though not always. Furthermore, his use of irony and metaphors leads some to interpret these passages non-literally, and at the very least, make it difficult to discern his true intent.
Based on his writings overall, however, the common consensus is that Nietzsche did despise most feminine qualities, believing instead that the ideal human was an “uber-mensch,” someone who embodied the qualities that were, overall, even more masculine than any living man.
It follows that this hero “uber-mensch” was not only hyper-masculine, but the complete opposite (in Nietzsche’s view, apparently) of a woman.
Nietzsche’s Praise of Women
Nietzsche also wrote in Human, All Too Human, that “the perfect woman is a higher type of human than the perfect man, and also something much more rare.” This is both, seemingly, a compliment to some women while, at the same time, still a criticism of most women in general.
Nietzsche seems to be asserting here that if a woman were very perfect (by his definition) then that specific woman would be superior to even the most perfect man.
Of course, however, by adding in “also something much more rare” he seems to be claiming that, by far, most women are not, in his view, perfect and therefore most women are still inferior to men.
What Was God’s First Mistake?
To really understand what Nietzsche might have meant by “Woman was God’s Second Mistake,” it’s crucial to realize that he also wrote, “Man had himself become God’s greatest blunder.”
(This should not be conflated with man being the first mistake. God’s first mistake, in chronological order according to Nietzsche, appears to be God creating animals in a failed attempt to cure man’s boredom.)
The context in which he wrote these statements was his work titled The Antichrist. In this passage, he also writes of man, “God had created for himself a rival, science makes equal to God […] Science is the first sin, the germ of all sins, the original sin.”
It’s doubtful that Nietzsche himself genuinely believed science to be a sin, but was stating this in an ironic way perhaps to show the way in which he believed science was viewed by God and by people who accepted traditional thinking.
What Was the Context for “Woman Was God’s Second Mistake?”
Taking into account both his use of metaphors and irony, as well as his overall body of work, it’s interesting to consider the sentences that immediately follow Nietzsche’s claim that woman was God’s second mistake:
“’Woman is in her essence serpent, Heva’ – every priest knows that; ‘every evil comes into the world through woman’ – every priest knows that likewise. ‘Consequently, science too comes into the world through her’….Only through woman did man learn to taste the tree of knowledge. – What had happened? A mortal terror seized on the old God.” – Friedrich Nietzsche (The Antichrist)
As stated earlier, in this passage it is also explained that in Nietzsche’s view, God created animals in a failed attempt to alleviate man’s boredom, and that this was his first mistake.
Nietzsche continued to assert that God created woman in another attempt to alleviate man’s boredom. It succeeded in alleviating his boredom, however – apparently due to the evils described in the same passage – Nietzsche proclaimed that creating woman was God’s second mistake.
But was he being ironic here, as well? Was he perhaps again describing how he thought women were viewed by God and the establishment rather than how he viewed women? Or was he, in fact, actually communicating his own opinions?
Was Nietzsche Effeminate or Masculine?
Speaking of irony, despite his apparent extreme contempt for femininity, some who knew Nietzsche noted that he himself possessed a rather feminine nature. A female friend also described him as “tender” with women he knew in person.
Although in his writings he wrote disparagingly of women being often sick and weak, Nietzsche himself often suffered from poor health. Due to illness, in his 30s, he had to take a leave of absence from work and then resign his professorship.
He moved residences frequently in an effort to find a climate that might help him feel better, until one day, when he was only 45, he collapsed. After that, he was too weak and ill to take care of himself, and so he was instead taken care of by women – his mother and then after her passing, his sister.
It’s reasonable to speculate, when he criticized women’s weakness and sickness, and proclaimed that they were “God’s second mistake,” was he really describing a loathing of certain characteristics that he may have actually detested in himself?
Nietzsche’s Relationships with Women
The woman who described Nietzsche as feminine in person was Lou Andreas-Salomé. She wrote in her memoir that Nietzsche had proposed to her, but she declined his proposal. She was the one who noted that he had a feminine nature to him.
As mentioned earlier, despite the extreme contempt and disdain for women that Nietzsche expressed in many of his writings, he actually depended upon their care for much of his life.
His father died when he was very young, leaving him to be raised in a family of all females. He grew up in a household made up of his mother, his younger sister, their grandmother, and two aunts.
When he fell ill in mid-life, it was his mother who cared for him until her death. After that, his sister took care of him until he, himself, passed away.
As is the case for many famous individuals, rumors abound about his more personal activities, as well.
Interpreting Nietzsche’s “Woman Was God’s Second Mistake”
Nietzsche’s statement “woman was God’s second mistake,” can be interpreted in different and even conflicting ways. Literally, Nietzsche asserted that: 1) God makes mistakes; 2) Creating Woman, i.e. femininity, was one of the biggest mistakes. Interestingly, however, he also wrote that God’s “greatest blunder” was creating man.