It is never easy to express Friedrich Nietzsche's views on anything, since he enjoys paradox, changes his mind frequently, and tends to contradict himself, even within the same work. His ideas about women in The Gay Science have certainly been read as straightforwardly misogynist, not least by Walter Kaufmann, perhaps the most influential Nietzsche scholar of the twentieth century. Kaufmann dismisses the series of aphorisms near the beginning of book 2 in The Gay Science as among Nietzsche's least interesting work, a mere expression of personal prejudice against women. Some of his comments do appear to fit this diagnosis of uninteresting misogyny: for instance, section 66, which reads, in its entirety,
The Strength of the Weak.—Women are all skilful in exaggerating their weaknesses, indeed they are inventive in weaknesses, so as to seem quite fragile ornaments to which even a grain of dust does harm; their existence is meant to bring home to man's mind his coarseness, and to appeal to his conscience. They thus defend themselves against the strong and all "rights of might." *
However, there are two ways in which one might read this as misogynistic. The simplest and least interesting way is to point out that Nietzsche finds fault with women. The other way is to note that he views women mainly in terms of their effect on men rather than as agents in their own right. It is this second, subtler type of misogyny that is most evident in The Gay Science and in Nietzsche's work as a whole. The idea is further explored in section 68:
Someone brought a youth to a wise man and said, "See, this is one who is being corrupted by women!" The wise man shook his head and smiled. "It is men," he called out, "who corrupt women; and everything that women lack should be atoned for and improved in men,—for man creates for himself the ideal of woman, and woman moulds herself according to this ideal." *
This is the misogyny that is characteristic of Nietzsche. He does not directly attack women; indeed, his wise man denies the justice of the attack. Instead, however, he insists on the idea, even more insulting from the feminist viewpoint, that women are not important or powerful in themselves, but only in terms of their influence on men.
*Translated by Thomas Common