“Strange visitor from another planet, who came to earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men.”
— Voiceover from the 1950s “Superman” television show
I’m going to tell you two stories. The first is known to be true. The second might be true.
The story that’s true
John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) was one of the greatest philosophers and economists of the 19th century. He is best known for his book On Liberty, which argues for a society based on individual freedom. By the time he was a teenager, he was already famous as a speaker and writer. But at age 20, he fell into a deep depression:
“All my happiness was to have been found in the continual pursuit of [a free society]. The end had ceased to charm, and how could there ever again be any interest in the means? I seemed to have nothing left to live for.”
Mill did not recover from depression until four years later, when he met and fell in love with Harriet Taylor (1807-1858). That love restored his zest for life. In the dedication of On Liberty, published after her death, Mill wrote that she was:
“… the inspirer, and in part the author, of all that is best in my writings — the friend and wife whose exalted sense of truth and right was my strongest incitement, and whose approbation was my chief reward … Were I but capable of interpreting to the world one-half the great thoughts and noble feelings which are buried in her grave, I should be the medium of a greater benefit to it than is ever likely to arise from anything that I can write, unprompted and unassisted by her all but unrivalled wisdom.”
Harriet was undoubtedly a remarkable person, though historians aren’t sure that she was as remarkable as Mill thought. What is certain is that without her influence, most of Mill’s greatest works would never have been written.
The story that might be true
Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) was U.S. President during the War Between the States. He is best known for the Emancipation Proclamation (1863), which declared freedom for all slaves in Confederate states.
Lincoln had grown up in poverty, taught himself law, and had in 1834 been elected to the Illinois State Legislature. At the time, he lived in New Salem, Illnois. In 1835, a New Salem woman named Ann Rutledge died at age 22 of typhoid fever.
All of the foregoing is established fact. What comes next might be true.
Some evidence suggests that Rutledge and Lincoln were in love. Local merchant William Herndon said that “Lincoln’s heart was buried with her in the grave.” Eventually, Lincoln recovered from her death and went on with his life:
“But he had changed, and the change endured. Later he married, but Ann Rutledge was the only woman he ever really loved. Her memory exerted a mystic, guiding influence throughout his life.”
In 1890, Ann’s grave received a new tombstone. The inscription said:
Out of me unworthy and unknown
The vibrations of deathless music;
“With malice toward none, with charity for all.”
Out of me forgiveness of millions toward millions,
And the beneficent face of a nation
Shining with justice and truth.
I am Ann Rutledge who sleep beneath these weeds,
Beloved of Abraham Lincoln,
Wedded to him, not through union,
But through separation.
Bloom forever, O Republic,
From the dust of my bosom.
Two kinds of power
The point of those stories is that I think feminists vastly under-estimate the power of women.
It’s because they believe there’s only one kind of power: the kind that men have.
And they believe there’s only one way to exercise power: the way that men do.
It’s not true.
All of us, male or female, have a mixture of masculine and feminine traits.
But each sex has its own special kind of power. Each sex needs the other to reach its full potential.
Masculine power is direct, like swinging a hammer. It can build civilizations.
Feminine power is indirect, like the gentle caress of a breeze. It can make civilizations worth building.
Masculine power acts; feminine power inspires.
Without inspiration, there’s no action. Without action, nothing gets done. Both are needed.