Das Ewig-Weibliche zieht uns hinan [The eternally female draws us onward]
J W v Goethe. Faust (1832) Part 2
Several sayings by Goethe are quite opaque; apparently, not even Germans are fully agreed on what this one means. That leaves me free to think aloud about one of its possible interpretations.
I like to think that Goethe is saying that the female impels the male: motivates or encourages him to do or to achieve something. Men and women have had ample time over the last four million years or so to work out what each is better at than the other. Women know, for instance, that men are prepared to cut corners and that, sometimes, that works. Men know that women have a built-in lead over them in the implacable exercise of the will.
Or as a Michael Douglas character somewhere in the movies says, “women are smarter than we are and they don’t play fair.”
As women see it, their basic human right is to be dissatisfied. Like the female weaver bird inspecting the nest the male has constructed and rejecting it, women often give the impression that they are never satisfied. There is always something wrong: why can’t it be fixed? More specifically: why can’t the man fix it? The male had better do something about this, or else. What’s wrong with fulfilling expectations?
Men know this only too well. With maturity they come to realise that, most of the time, it is women who have got it right. This is not to say that they are always right, of course, but they do seem to have a good track-record in this race. Or perhaps they always seem to be in the right, and no man can find a suitable riposte.
My personal testimony is that in the best sense possible, my immediate environment is dominated by women: wife, daughter, sister, two sisters-in-law, niece, honorary daughter; my oldest friend, my daily exercise companion, our next door neighbours either side; my physiotherapist, my GP, my four major clients, my business adviser, our bank manager, our savings adviser and my IT guru: strong, principled, determined women, each of them. I learn a lot from them and it makes me a better man. They have certainly pulled me onward.
I just wish sometimes that they would recognise, in John Lennon’s words, “the little boy inside your man”, knowing that women think that’s just daft. They would much rather see evidence in men – and not as a result of women having to waste time and energy to ‘draw us onwards’ – of self-generated quiet, effective, dependable adult strength. They expect to get it.