MALE DISPOSABILITY – Florence Nightingale “Women Have No Sympathy”


The general indifference to men’s issues – male victimization in domestic violence and rape, inequality in family life as a matter of custom and law, exponentially higher male homelessness, death, injury and suicide rates – is often blamed on feminism, as if this is some new phenomenon and never happened in the good old days. In fact feminism did not invent or propound this indifference but merely inherit it for the traditional order that feminists flatter themselves by thinking they oppose it. They do not oppose it, they reside in it when it comes to caring about men or men’s issues and they make hypocrites of themselves when they claim their feminism is the remedy.

Here is Florence Nightingale on the subject. To refresh your memory, Florence Nightingale went out from Britain to care for soldiers  wounded in the Crimean War as a nurse. She was “The Lady with the lamp”. The Crimean War was a war fought as part of an imperial policy that benefited everyone with any wealth in her country, women as well as men, quite materially and substantially. This was in the 1850s, hardly the high tide of the suffragette movement or any kind of feminism. This indifference on the part of women towards the plight of these men was just a feature of plain old-fashioned traditional femininity.

From a letter by Florence Nightingale:


I have read half your book thro’, and am immensely charmed by it. But some things I disagree with and more I do not understand. This does not apply to the characters, but your conclusions, e.g. you say “women are more sympathetic than men”.

Now if I were to write a book out of my experience, I should begin Women have no sympathy. Yours is the tradition. Mine is the conviction of experience.

Now look at my experience of men. A statesman, past middle age, absorbed in politics for a quarter of a century, out of sympathy with me, remodels his whole life and policy – learns a science the driest, the most technical, the most difficult, that of administration, as far as it concerns the lives of men – not, as I learnt it, in the field from stirring experience, but by writing dry regulations in a London room by my sofa with me. This is what I call real sympathy.

Another (Alexander, whom I made Director-General) does very nearly the same thing. He is dead too. Clough, a poet born if ever there was one, takes to nursing administration in the same way, for me.

I only mention three whose whole lives were remodeled by sympathy for me. But I could mention very many others…

I have never found one woman who altered her life by one iota for me or my opinions.

Now just look at the degree in which women have sympathy – as far as my experience is concerned. And my experience of women is almost as large as Europe. And it is so intimate too. I have lived and slept in the same bed with English Countesses and Prussian Bauerinnen. No [other woman] has ever had charge of women of the different creeds that I have had. No woman has excited “passions” among women more than I have. Yet I leave no school behind me. My doctrines have taken no hold among women…and I attribute this to a want of sympathy.

It makes me mad, the Women’s Rights talk about “the want of a field” for them – when I know that I would gladly give £500 a year for a Woman Secretary. And two English Lady Superintendents have told me the same. And we can’t get one … they don’t know the names of the Cabinet Ministers. They don’t know the offices at the Horse Guards…Now I’m sure I did not know these things. When I went to the Crimea I did not know a Colonel from a Corporal. But there are such things as Army Lists and Almanacs. Yet I never could find a woman who, out of sympathy, would consult one for my work.

I do believe I am “like a man,” as Parthe says. But how? In having sympathy.

Women crave for being loved, not for loving. They scream out at you for sympathy all day long, they are incapable of giving any in return, for they cannot remember your affairs long enough to do so…They cannot state a fact accurately to another, nor can that other attend to it accurately enough for it to become information. Now is not all this the result of want of sympathy?

I am sick with indignation at what wives and mothers will do of the most egregious selfishness. And people call it all maternal or conjugal affection, and think it pretty to say so. No, no, let each person tell the truth from his own experience.”

An obvious question is that if women are so lacking in sympathy, how then did Florence Nightingale show so much sympathy for men? Perhaps it was because her father had progressive social views for the time, which meant that he had her educated and raised her to desire an active life out in the world. She never married.

Here is an example of what the kind of sympathy we are talking about looks like. Here is an article with one woman interviewing another woman about a men’s rights issue, in this case the “Don’t Be that Girl” poster campaign in Edmonton, and the issues surrounding it, from the perspective of sympathy with men. It can be done. It’s not all that hard. It’s just a matter of caring equally about people.

Jim Doyle
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<span class="dsq-postid" data-dsqidentifier="3115">11 comments</span>

  • I think Flo N goes too far. I would say that women do not care about men like men care about women, and women care far more for women in general then they do men. And men generally have a very hard time of seeing other men deserving of sympathy, unless it is a family relation.

  • That letter was fascinating. I may have to buy the book now, or at least learn more about Florence Nightingale. Her comments are at such variance with the dominant historical narrative of women as the victim of man.

    How much more interesting history is when you read personal letters and essays than when you read a chapter in a history book, whose text has been sanitized to support the beliefs of the day.

  • TMG,
    “I think Flo N goes too far”

    I think she was exasperated after a lifetime of struggling with this, so yeah, maybe she was a little extreme. But then in the rest of oyur comment oyu seem to agree with her assessment.

    Chris Marshall, welcome!
    “How much more interesting history is when you read personal letters and essays than when you read a chapter in a history book, whose text has been sanitized to support the beliefs of the day.”

    Primary texts are the key to everything. In Albion’s seed the author goes through all the kind of stuff to find all kinds of things about colonial America. For instance he looked at church records to find that in Puritan Massachussetts women predominated by number in congregations, they were the motive force behind that whole business.

  • “Her comments are at such variance with the dominant historical narrative of women as the victim of man.”

    Most of history is at variance with the dominant historical narrative of women as the victim of man.

    For example, in the UK universal male suffrage was introduced at the same time as women got the vote, in 1918. Before then only male landowners could vote; around 24 out of 100 men. It would’ve been earlier in 1910/11 but the violence committed by the suffragettes, and subsequent public outcry, made it politically impossible for the Liberal party in power at the time to bring it in.

    Women could also work, some were even doctors. As pointed out by Flo in her letter the problem was not letting them work but getting them to work, as there was just no incentive (and of course women in the lower classes did work, often right beside their husbands). We also have female scientists visiting the Royal Society as early as the 17th Century. The dominant historical narrative wrt women’s “oppression” is a political narrative, and is largely bullshit.

    I definitely recommend reading up on Florence Nightingale. She’s most remembered for her work in the Crimean, though by her own admission her work there was a failure. It was her guilt from this that led her to campaign for the changes that were introduced. All done from her bed no less! (She refused to leave it after returning from the Crimean and even made the prime minister of the time visit her in her bed.)

    And if you do get into Paleography watch out for those S’s. 🙂

  • I agree with this post a lot.

    I am close to many of my female relatives and acquaintances. But from experience I know to not share any of my issues/problems with them, and to deal with them on my own. These women include my wife and my mother. I love them both very much and they are very nice to me. But I know what I can reasonably expect and what I cannot. From past experience, sympathy/empathy is not something I believe they can genuinely give. At least to men.

  • Why would you love them? If you can’t reasonably expect empathy from them, you can’t expect anything from them. Therefore you stand to have nothing to gain. It’s a parasitic relationship and they are the parasites.

  • Quaaludes and NeMi, welcome.

    It’s cultural. I see my DIL really love my son. She has deep insights into him and really cries over his stuff. then again, I catch myself about once every couple of months commending her for being special that way.

  • “Why would you love them? If you can’t reasonably expect empathy from them, you can’t expect anything from them.”

    They are otherwise very nice, and kind to me. The kindness or niceness is not driven by concern so much as by their own ideas of ‘what they must do in order to be nice’, ‘what a good mother does’, or ‘how can I show that I’m a loving person’. But it is still there. People aren’t perfect.

    However, there is a difference between kindness and empathy. They simply cannot put themselves in my shoes or try to understand why I can’t or find it difficult to deal with a particular problem. And any mention of such a problem on my part will be thrown in my face if/when we have disagreements. So it’s best to keep my issues separate from dealings with them.

    My mother has had me listen to her problems since I was three or four years old. I tried doing that a couple times and she just tuned me out and pretty much flat-out said that nobody can fix your problems but yourself. And she isn’t entirely wrong. That attitude did teach me to be self-sufficient.

    It’s a matter of understanding what you can expect from someone and build your relationships accordingly. Make the best of what you have.

  • I think women in general can indeed feel empathy…it’s just that they mostly only turn that empathy into action if it’s not too expensive to do so. I’m sure there were many women in Britain who genuinely felt bad for the suffering wounded soldiers in the Crimea. But relatively few volunteered to help Florence Nightingale, as she notes.

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