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Feminism & Hannah Arendt

In response to:

Woman in Dark Times from the June 24, 1982 issue

To the Editors:

Alfred Kazin writes of Hannah Arendt [NYR, June 24] that “despite her scorn for such feminist tracts as Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, I doubt that she had any more interest in feminism, pro or contra, than Immanuel Kant.” A colleague of Arendt’s said at a memorial program for her that “because she was a true woman, she was not a feminist.”

The record should show that in the last years of her life her views on feminism were beginning to change. I only got to know her a few years before her death, but in several leisurely conversations over dinner she admitted that the woman’s movement was making a noticeable and helpful difference in the behavior of her female students: for the first time they were beginning to speak in class. And she did listen with interest to the arguments that I and other women offered on the validity of feminism and the need for a woman’s movement.

It is regrettable that it took her so long to cease dismissing the insights of feminists, but she was at least ahead of many of her admirers.

Virginia Held

Hunter College

New York City

Alfred Kazin replies:

I reported Hannah Arendt’s opinions on many things; I did not necessarily agree with her and she certainly did not always agree with herself. As for her female students beginning to speak up: an old friend of Hannah’s, agreeing with my observation that she did not easily tolerate criticism, wrote me that she did welcome it—from students generally.

Whatever her growing sympathy with feminism—I have to take Professor Held’s word for this—I never found Hannah a staunch egalitarian when it came to women whose thinking she could not fully respect.

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