Be Your Own Hero

by Roger E. Bissell


Consider the difference between the two superficially similar statements “You’re my hero” and “Be a hero for me,” both of which I have heard (or read) issuing forth from Objectivist women.[1] 

The former is what I think Ayn Rand was getting at – the need for a person’s psychological-spiritual well-being to have someone to look up to. It is a description and positive evaluation of the other person, and it places no particular expectation or pressure or demand on the other person. One takes responsibility for one’s own values and feelings – and one is being both just and vulnerable toward the other in stating them honestly and openly. 

The latter, on the other hand, is everything the other isn’t. It is based on the hope or desire or insistence that another person will orient his focus and actions not primarily toward what will satisfy his best interests, but specifically toward satisfying you, living up to your expectations by being your champion and defender, “riding in on a white horse,” as the saying goes. 

When Objectivist women express their disappointment and/or anger that the Objectivist men of their acquaintance are not being heroes (“where are the heroes?”), they are apparently operating on the latter premise. They are judging those men for not “coming through for them” as champions and defenders – and thus revealing instead their sexism, male chauvinism, insensitivity, etc. 

I think the antidote for this is a good dose of Kahlil Gibran (“I am not in this world to live up to your expectations, nor you to mine” – or those approximate words.) Alternately, it would help to read or read some of Nathaniel Branden’s works on self-esteem. Once, years ago, he made the very helpful suggestion that one’s independence and self-esteem will be enhanced by realizing that “no one is coming to save you” (or those approximate words).  

If Ayn Rand had realized this explicitly before she got so bent out of shape about academic philosophers not jumping on her band wagon after reading Atlas Shrugged, she might not have spent two years bemired in the depression she suffered.[2] How different things might have been – both personally and creatively – had she not been so hurt and bitter and angry about this. 

That’s a lesson we should all take to heart. Be your own hero, and stop expecting others to do the job of defending you and championing your values. And above all, stop berating them because they haven’t picked up the yoke on your behalf. 

If someone actually does ride in on a white horse and kills a dragon or two for you, by all means express your gratitude. But also be prudent enough to regard him with a cocked eyebrow and a mind focused on discerning an important factor: did he defend you as part of his wider self-interest, or was it part of a felt obligation to “save” you? If the latter, you really don't want to tarry over your expressions of gratitude and give him a false impression of vulnerability to his heroics. No need getting hooked up with someone who has his own self-esteem problems – as valiant as he appears! 

Now, granted, there is more than one plausible reason for women to feel outraged that men are not coming to their defense.  One of those reasons, in fact, presupposes (or is consistent with) women of independence and self-esteem simply wanting men to exemplify the virtues of justice and integrity. Goodness knows, such people are rare enough in this life. 

Nonetheless, it is true that some Objectivist women and men approach life – as I myself have, from time to time – by taking a more passive approach to problems, hoping for someone on a white horse to come along and rescue them, rather than a more pro-active approach. My suggestion is not intended to be condescending, but is simply offered as a helpful tip to those who may be sitting back, hoping for someone else to be their champion or hero.  

Some Objectivist women are laudably vocal in protesting against mistreatment by insensitive males. It is also good that they experience that protest as flowing from their self-esteem and independence. But what is puzzling to me is why they would ask “where are the heroes?” To ask that question is to presuppose that no heroes are present, which would imply that such women do not experience themselves as heroic. Nor is there any mention of the absence of heroic females, only males. So there does appear, in some quarters, to be an expectation that males can and should be heroic, with no corresponding expectation of females. 

But a real hero doesn’t want a simpering, clinging little weakling draping herself on him or throwing herself at his feet. He wants a real heroine, a woman of achievement and character, who yet swoons with anticipated ecstasy at the sight of a metaphysically potent male. Now, that’s a victory for a man, to have that kind of effect on that great a woman!  

Also, consider the quasi-religious aspect of hero-worship. (I am speaking here of erotic hero-worship, not the “Platonic” kind of a 10-year-old boy for a baseball star, for instance.) In theistic worship, the worshipper is aiming at a receptive attitude,[3] in which God can spiritually penetrate or enter into the worshipper and do His wonderful thing. (Whatever that is. Yuk.) Anyway, it’s not a big stretch to analogize to sex and hero-worship, is it? A great woman who truly loves and is loved by a great man becomes receptive so that he can physically penetrate her – and the rest is ecstasy, we hope! 

To continue the parallel to religion:  a worshipper must trust in the goodness of God in order to be truly receptive to Him. Trust, on some level, is important in romance, too – so the trust aspect of worship applies here, too. Feeling safe with one’s lover is not – on the face of it – a quintessential Objectivist value, but in my opinion it should be![4]

[1] I wrote this essay specifically in response to things I have read/heard Objectivist women say over the past 40 years of my experience, some of them within the past 10 years or so. I assure you the reader that these manifestations are real, and I simply offer my observations and suggestions in the spirit of "if the shoe fits, wear it." 

[2] My source for this claim is Barbara Branden's biography, The Passion of Ayn Rand. On p. 301, she states, "Within little more than a year after publication [of Atlas Shrugged, 1957]...Ayn began sinking into a profound, terrible depression. It was a depression that would last almost without abatement for more than two long years." Rand's mood, Barbara says, was "tense, irritable, demanding, with violent outbursts of rage and bitterness. During some part of nearly every day, she wept in pain and frustration." What bothered Rand was not the bad reviews, the outpouring of hatred against her, or the initial slow sales of Atlas, but "that there was no one to object to the attacks, no one to oppose them, no one with a public name, a public reputation, a public voice, to speak for her in that world which was villifying her, to defend her, to fight for her..."

In the end, it was not people of public stature stepping forward to defend Rand that helped raise her out of her depression. It was the "growing success of NBI, in conjunction with her two years of conversations with Nathaniel [Branden]." (p. 308) Barbara quotes Rand as saying: "The man who really saved my life during this period was Nathan. I was almost paralyzed, and it was his understanding of the culture which helped me clarify and identify what was really happening." (p. 308)

Rand had spent years pouring out her heart, soul, and phenomenal intellect and creativity in support of the intellectual and the businessman, and she no doubt had put high hope on some of them endorsing and applauding what she had done. This would have given a considerable boost, not only to her spirits, but also to the fortunes of her book. But I think it was a basic mistake to count on this, as she apparently did and paid a steep emotional price for doing so. Luckily, she had people who cared to help her deal with it. 

One other point: How a hero or heroine in a novel or drama copes with a cold sore is of no earthly interest to me (though it might be to some, I suppose). But how they cope with debilitating depression, especially when it has a large existential/cultural component, is of great interest to me. Part of why I admire people, whether in fiction or in real life (such as Rand’s life and times) is seeing how they cope with big problems, and how they succeed in spite of setbacks and agony and despair. It's also very interesting to note that they often succeed only, or more quickly, because of the help of others who care. 

[3] There is an important difference between receptivity and passivity. One can be receptive and very pro-active, at the same time. I like to think of this as "dropping the hanky." 

[4] I leave it to gay and lesbian readers to draw the appropriate parallels to their own experiences and relationships.