The eternal feminine is a psychological archetype or philosophical principle that idealizes an immutable concept of "woman". It is one component of gender essentialism, the belief that men and women have different core "essences" that cannot be altered by time or environment. The conceptual ideal was particularly vivid in the 19th century, when women were often depicted as angelic, responsible for drawing men upward on a moral and spiritual path. Among those virtues variously regarded as essentially feminine are "modesty, gracefulness, purity, delicacy, civility, compliancy, reticence, chastity, affability, [and] politeness".
The concept of the "eternal feminine" (German: das Ewig-Weibliche) was particularly important to Goethe, who introduces it at the end of Faust, Part 2. For Goethe, "woman" symbolized pure contemplation, in contrast to masculine action. The feminine principle is further articulated by Nietzsche within a continuity of life and death, based in large part on his readings of ancient Greek literature, since in Greek culture both childbirth and the care of the dead were managed by women. Domesticity, and the power to redeem and serve as moral guardian, were also components of the "eternal feminine". The virtues of women were inherently private, while those of men were public.
Simone de Beauvoir regarded the "eternal feminine" as a patriarchal myth that constructs women as a passive "erotic, birthing or nurturing body" excluded from playing the role of a subject who experiences and acts.
Eternal feminine can also be related to Friedan’s feminine mystique. Both of these terms relate to man being the default setting in society. Although feminine mystique focuses on more of a women’s role in terms of society and eternal feminine deals with women as a whole, they both work together. Feminine mystique resides in the eternal feminine.