‘Ayn Rand’s life and work was a feminist manifesto. Though she wouldn’t like me saying that’, wrote Barbara Branden, a close friend of Ayn Rand and author of The Passion of Ayn Rand.
The relationship between Ayn Rand and the feminist movement has always been one of mutual mistrust. That was why it was quite odd to hear her political theory may be included on the new compulsory module on feminism for A-Level politics.
The philosopher and documentarian of the Holocaust, Hannah Arendt, another well-known critic of feminism, may be included on the new syllabus, too. I was surprised when I first heard these two brilliant thinkers were to be taught as part of a course on feminism, and also concerned that it will cause young people, unfamiliar with them, to categorise their work in a very narrow way.
Both Rand and Arendt explicitly eschewed the feminist movement. Instead, they immersed themselves in a broader range of ideas and areas of study. As Arendt’s biographer, Elisabeth Young Bruehl, noted, ‘[Arendt] did not think of herself as a feminist and she was deeply sceptical of any single-issue political movement, especially one that brought into question the distinction she drew between private and public life’. As for Rand, she simply called women’s liberation ‘a phony and false movement’.
Neither was interested in defining themselves primarily as ‘female’ philosophers and writers. Their sex was merely a fact of their biology, not what they chose to focus on philosophically.