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Nietzsche on Gender

Beyond Man and Woman
Frances Nesbitt Oppel

BUY Paper · 256 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813923208 · $21.50 · Mar 2005

Although Nietzsche has been considered by some critics to be a misogynist for his treatment of woman, women, and the feminine, Frances Nesbitt Oppel offers a radical reinterpretation of the philosopher's ideas on sex, gender, and sexuality. In Nietzsche on Gender: Beyond Man and Woman, she argues that a closer reading of Nietzsche's texts and rhetorical style (especially his use of metaphor and irony), as well as his letters and notes, shows that he was strategically and deliberately dismantling dualistic thinking in general, not only the logical hierarchies of western thought (God/human, heaven/earth, mind/body, reason/emotion, ethos/pathos) but also the assumed gender opposition of man/woman. In the process, she pulls the rug out from under the accusation of his alleged misogyny.

Oppel's is the first study to combine recent speculations in gender study and queer theory with an in-depth analysis of Nietzsche's texts. This approach enables her to break through the impasse in feminist studies that has stalled for so long on the question of his misogyny, to redirect attention to the importance he gives to human creativity and self-fashioning rather than convention, and to gesture toward a future human sexuality beyond rivalry and resentment in favor of a sensual materialism in relationship with others and the earth.

Oppel concludes that for Nietzsche, breaking the gender barrier liberates human beings as individuals and as a species to love themselves, each other, and their earthly home as they choose. By emphasizing the physical and material stuff of human existence (bodies and the earth), she says, Nietzsche reclaims for all humanity concepts that have been traditionally associated with "woman" and the feminine. No longer seen as a strong masculine hero, Nietzsche's "superman" becomes a supreme human achievement: the complete acceptance of time, change, and mortality in which human beings will possess the best characteristics of each gender in themselves.

Nietzsche on Gender should be equally engaging for readers interested in Nietzsche in particular and in sexual politics and in philosophy and literature more generally.


Oppel's well researched, provocatively argued, and clearly written work brings the question of woman to the center of Nietzsche's thought to challenge misogynist readings of Nietzsche. Oppel argues that Nietzsche's affirmation of life and testament to a morality beyond good and evil is simultaneously and necessarily an affirmation of a bisexual feminine that destroys the patriarchal category of woman. A must read for Nietzsche scholars and feminist theorists alike.

Debra Bergoffen, Professor of Philosophy and Women's Studies, George Mason University

About the Author(s): 

Frances Nesbitt Oppel is Senior Lecturer in the School of Arts, Media, and Cultural Studies at Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia, for six months of each year. For the other six, she teaches and writes in New York City. She is the author of Mask and Tragedy: Yeats and Nietzsche, 1902–10 (Virginia).

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