Androcentric Aphorism Lists

As part of preparing a lecture,I needed to find some examples of aphorisms for the class. But looking at lists of aphorisms on the web, I quickly determined that most of them were by men. (Will Rogers “Diplomacy is the art of saying ‘Nice Doggie’ until you can find a rock.” Abraham Maslow “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.”) Great, right? But where are the women

Here are some excellent aphorisms by women:

The President of today is the postage stamp of tomorrow. — Gracie Allen

No woman gets an orgasm from shining the kitchen floor. — Betty Friedan,

When choosing between two evils, I always like to try the one I’ve never tried before. — Mae West

all from The Archive of Amusing Aphorisms,

What are some good feminist aphorisms? Help me out!

22 thoughts on “Androcentric Aphorism Lists

  1. “I myself have never been able to find out what feminism is; I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute.” Rebecca West

    “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”

  2. my vote for “best ever” in this category goes to Gloria Steinem:
    “The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off.”

  3. “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” of course! Irina Dunn (according to Wikipedia?)

  4. Dorothy Parker:

    “Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone.”

    “This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”

    “Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
    a medley of extemporanea,
    And love is a thing that can never go wrong,
    and I am Marie of Romania.”

    Phyllis McGinley:

    “A bit of trash now and then is good for the severest reader. It provides the necessary roughage in the literary diet.”

    Marie Curie:

    “Scientists believe in things, not in persons. ”

    “A scientist in his laboratory is not a mere technician: he is also a child confronting natural phenomena that impress him as though they were fairy tales. ”

    “Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.”

  5. :The master’s tools will never destroy the master’s house. Audre Lorde

  6. “In the unceasing ebb and flow of justice and oppression we must all dig channels as best we may, that at the propitious moment somewhat of the swelling tide may be conducted to the barren places of life.” – Jane Addams

  7. “Knowledge is no guarantee of good behavior, but ignorance is a virtual guarantee of bad behavior.” — Martha Nussbaum

  8. well, I’ve heard a bunch of mysogynist aphorisms from women throughout the history. those may be a great deal of debate as well.

  9. Emma Goldman:

    “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.”

    “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.”

    “Crime is naught but misdirected energy.”

    “Women need not always keep their mouths shut and their wombs open.”

  10. I was worried about the same issue when I taught a class on metaphor. It seemed like all the examples I knew of were by white men. In preparation, I found a few collections of metaphors at the library, including a book called “I Never Metaphor I Didn’t Like.” I was pleasantly surprised that the book author, Mardy Grothe, included many metaphors by women and people of color. Here are some aphoristic metaphors from that collection:

    Light tomorrow with today. – Elizabeth Barrett Browning
    Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place. – Zora Neale Hurston
    The self is merely the lens through which we see others and the world. – Anaïs Nin
    [Simile] Sometimes, it (racial prejudice) is like a hair across your cheek. You can’t see it, you can’t find it with your fingers, but you keep brushing at it because the feel of it is irritating. – Marian Anderson
    There are years that ask questions and years that answer. – Zora Neale Hurston
    Love is a cunning weaver of fantasies and fables. – Sappho

    (These are just the ones that I included in the list I gave my students.) Hope that helps!

  11. From my favorite woman for pithy writing, Abigail Adams

    Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of husbands. Remember all men would be tyrants if they could.

    Great necessities call out great virtues.

    Arbitrary power is like most other things which are very hard, very liable to be broken.

    I am more and more convinced that man is a dangerous creature and that power, whether vested in many or a few, is ever grasping, and like the grave, cries, ‘Give, give.’

    Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and diligence.

    And last, not really an aphorism, but one of my favorite Abigail quotes:
    If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice, or representation.

  12. this is such a great list. what a wonderful thing to look at as a break from work. Maybe fem philosophers could make this list (or some ongoing version thereof) a tab at the top of the page? You know, just for a pick-me-up for all of us after long days dealing with troglodytes.
    (Ann Richards rocks)

  13. “If it were customary to send little girls to school and teach them the same subjects as are taught to boys, they would learn just as fully and would understand the subtleties of all arts and sciences.”

    “[A] person whose head is bowed and whose eyes are heavy cannot look at the light.”

    Both from Christine de Pizan

  14. Oh I have to second Dorothy Parker, who has to be my fav aphorist:

    “The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue.”
    ― Dorothy Parker

    “Don’t look at me in that tone of voice.”
    ― Dorothy Parker

    “Heterosexuality is not normal, it’s just common.”
    ― Dorothy Parker

    “So, you’re the man who can’t spell ‘fuck.'”
    Dorothy Parker to Norman Mailer after publishers had convinced Mailer to replace the word with a euphemism, ‘fug,’ in his 1948 book, “The Naked and the Dead.”
    ― Dorothy Parker

    (Taken from

  15. “It is not in the still calm of life that great characters are formed.”
    -Abigail Adams

  16. “The first rule of holes: When you’re in one stop digging.”
    -Molly Ivins (plus just about everything else Molly ever said!)

  17. I know of a feminist philosopher fond of saying, “Logical form does not determine ontology”. It may be her only short sentence.

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  19. “Narcotics cannot still the tooth
    that nibbles at the soul.”

    Emily Dickinson

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