Rilke on Sexes and Sexism

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about feminism, sexism, and gender issues, buoyed by events out there in the world, and in my own personal life–getting married and figuring out the meaning of being a wife.

I know so little about the history of patriarchy, misogyny, and gender identity. This creates both the anxiety of not being well-informed, and the optimism that I have a lot to learn. My current Amazon browsing history are lists of books by authors like Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Gerda Lerner, and topics surrounding the world’s oldest prejudice.

I’m overwhelmed just thinking about all these books I’ve come across. Where do I start? Who’s the least biased? Who’s the most enjoyable writer? Reading and educating myself is the best option I know, and it would take years to absorb all these books, and even more years to question, understand and integrate them into my personal life. How do I speed up this process?

In the midst of all this angst, I sat down and opened Rilke On Love and Other Difficulties.

“Do not be bewildered by the surfaces,” he says.

Then he goes on and offers a succinct definition of what it means for humans to be in relation.

And perhaps the sexes are more related than we think, and the great renewal of the world will perhaps consist in this, that man and maid, freed of all false feelings and reluctances, will seek each other not as opposites, but as brother and sister, as neighbors, and will come together as human beings, in order simply, seriously and patiently to bear in common the difficult sex that has been laid upon them.

We are only just now beginning to look upon the relation of one individual person to a second individual objectively and without prejudice, and our attempts to live such associations have no model before them.

And yet in the changes brought about by time there is already a good deal that would help our timorous novitiate.

… some day there will be girls and women whose name will no longer signify merely an opposite of the masculine, but something in itself, something that makes one think, not of any complement and limit, but only of life and existence: the feminine human being.

This advance will (at first much against the will of the outstripped men) change the love-experience, which is now full of error, will alter it from the ground up, reshape it into a relation that is meant to be of one human being to another, no longer of man to woman.

And this more human love (that will fulfill itself, infinitely considerate and gentle, and kind and clear in binding and releasing) will resemble that which we are preparing with struggle and toil, the love that consists in this; that two solitudes protect and border and salute each other.”