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de_Beauvoir_-_Intro_to_2nd_Sex

de_Beauvoir_-_Intro_to_2nd_Sex - “M q H i v’.73 32 l l...

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Unformatted text preview: . ,, “M q H i,- v’\'\ .73 32%, l, l r A M \“ Simone de Beauvoir For a long time I have hesitated to write a book On woman. The sub- ject is irritating, especially to women; and it is not new. Enough ink has been spilled in the quarreling over feminism, now practically over, and perhaps we should say no more about it. It is still talked about, however, for the voluminous nonsense uttered during the last century seems to have done little to illuminate the problem. After all, is there a problem? And if so, what is it? Are there women, really? Most assuredly the theory of the eternal feminine still has its adherents who will whis- per in your ear: “Even in Russia women still are women"; and other erudite persons-sometimes the very same—say with a sigh: “Woman is losing her way, woman is lost." One wonders if women still exist, if they will always exist, whether or not it is desirable that they should, what place they occupy in this world, what their place should be. “What has become of women?" was asked recently in an ephemeral magazine.‘ But first we must ask: what is a woman? “Tote mulier in utero,” says One, “Woman is a womb." But in speaking of certain women, connois- seurs declare that they are not women, although they are equipped with a uterus like the rest. All agree in recognizing the fact that females exist in the human species; today as always they make up about one half of humanity. And yet we are told that femininity is in danger; we are ex- horted to be women, remain womenI become women. It would appear, then, that every female human being is not necessarily a woman; to be so considered she must share in that mysterious and threatened reality known as femininity. Is this attribute something secreted by the ovaries? Or is it a Platonic essence, a product of the philosophic imagination? Introduction to The Second Sex {Le deuxiéme sexe] (Vintage, 1974) 1 Franchise, now defunct There are three kinds of footnotes accompanying the trans- lations: those made by the author of the text; those made by the translator which explain French references (indicated by TL); and those made by the editors which point out recurrent features of new French feminist writing (indicated by Ed). —Ed. L. “rob/V}. L C;\/\LL‘_] NOLA- \(CV lL ~ \ 42 Beginnings Is a rustling petticoat enough to bring it down to earth? Although some women try zealously to incarnate this essence, it is hardly patentable. It is frequently described in vague and dazzling terms that seem to have been borrowed from the vocabulary of the seers, and indeed in the times of St. Thomas it was considered an essence as certainly defined as the somniferous virtue of the poppy. But conceptualism has lost ground. The biological and social sciences no longer admit the existence of unchangeably fixed entities that deter- mine given characteristics, such as those ascribed to woman, the Jew, or the Negro. Science regards any characteristic as a reaction dependent in part upon a situation. If today femininity no longer exists, then it never existed. But does the word woman. then, have no specific content? This is stoutly aflirmed by those who hold to the philosophy of the enlight— enment, of rationalism, of nominalism; Women, to them, are merely the human beings arbitrarily designated by the word "woman." Many Amer- ican women particularly are prepared to think that there is no longer any place for woman as such; if a backward individual still takes her- self for a woman, her friends advise her to be psychoanalyzed and thus get rid of this obsession. in regard to a work, Modern Woman: The Lost Sex, which in other respects has its irritating features, Dorothy Parker has written: “i cannot be just to books which treat of woman as woman. . . . My idea is that all of us, men as well as women, should be regarded as human beings." But nominalism is a rather inadequate doctrine, and the antifemininists have had no trouble in showing that women simply are not men. Surely woman is, like man, a human being; but such a declaration is abstract. The fact is that every concrete human being is always a singular, separate individual. To decline to accept such nations as the eternal feminine, the black soul, the Jewish character, is not to deny that lews, Negroes, women exist today—this denial does not repre« sent a liberation for those concerned, but rather a flight from reality. Some years ago a well-known woman writer refused to permit her por- trait to appear in a series of photographs especially devoted to women writers; she wished to be counted among the men. But in order to gain this privilege she made use of her husband’s influence! Women who assert that they are men lay claim none the less to masculine considera- tion and respect. i recall also a young Trotskyite standing on a platform at a boisterous meeting and getting ready to use her fists, in spite of her evident fragility. She was denying her feminine weakness; but it was for love of a militant male whose equal she wished to be. The attitude of defiance of many American Women proves that they are haunted by a sense of their femininity. In truth, to go for a walk with one's eyes open is enough to demonstrate that humanity is divided into two classes of individuals whose clothes, faces, bodies, smiles, gaits, interests, and occu- 43 Simone de Beauvoir pations are manifestly different. Perhaps these differences are superficial, perhaps they are destined to disappear. What is certain is that right now they do most obviously exist. if her functioning as a female is not enough to define woman, if we decline also to explain her through “the eternal feminine,” and if never- theless we admit, provisionally, that women do exist, then we must face the question: what is a woman? To state the question is, to me, to suggest, at once, a preliminary answer. The fact that I ask it is in itself significant. A man would never get the notion of writing a book on the peculiar situation of the human male.2 But if 1 wish to define myself, I must first of all say: “I am a woman"; on this truth must be based all further discussion. A man never begins by presenting himself as an individual of a certain sex; it goes without saying that he is a man. The terms masculine and feminine are used symmetrically only as a matter of form, as on legal papers. in actuality the relation of the two sexes is not quite like that of two elec- trical poles, for man represents both the positive and the neutral, as is indicated by the common use of man to designate human beings in general; whe‘reas woman represents only the negative, defined by limit- ing criteria, without reciprocity. In the midst of an abstract discussion it is vexing to hear a man say: “You think thus and so because you are a woman"; but I know that my only defense is to reply: "i think thus and so because it is true," thereby removing my subjective self from the argument. it would be out of the question to reply: “And you think the contrary because you are a man," ’ for it is understood that the fact of being a man is no peculiarity. A man is in the right in being a man; it is the woman who is in the wrong. it amounts to this: just as for the ancients there was an absolute vertical with reference to which the oblique was defined, so there is an absolute human type, the mascu- line. Woman has ovaries, a uterus; these peculiarities imprison her in her subjectivity, circumscribe her within the limits of her own nature. It is often said that she thinks with her glands. Man superbly ignores the fact that his anatomy also includes glands, such as the testicles, and that they secrete hormones. He thinks of his body as a direct and normal connec- tion with the world, which he believes he apprehends objectively, whereas he regards the body of woman as a hindrance, a prison, weighed down by everything peculiar to it. “The female is a female by virtue of a certain lack of qualities," said Aristotle; “we should regard the female 2The Kinsey Report [Alfred C. Kinsey and others: Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (W. B. Saunders ., 1948)] is no exception, for it is limited to describing the sexual characteristics of American men, which is quite a different matter. 3 This is no longer true. Many new French feminists criticize the way men—45 op- posed to women—think.——Ed. 4.4 Beginnings nature as afflicted with a natural defectiveness.” And St. Thomas for his part pronounced woman to be an "imperfect man," an "incidental" being. This is symbolized in Genesis where Eve is depicted as made from what Bossuet called “a supernumerary bone" of Adam. Thus humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him; she is not regarded as an autonomous being. Michelet writes: “Woman, the relative being. . . ." And Benda is most positive in his Rapport d’ Uriel: “The body of man makes sense in itself quite apart from that of woman, whereas the latter seems wanting in significance by itself.... Man can think of himself without woman. She cannot think of herself without man." And she is simply what man decrees; thus she is called "the sex,” by which is meant that she appears essen— tially to the male as a sexual being. For him she is sex—absolute sex, no less. She is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her; she is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute—she is the Other.‘ The category of the Other is as primordial as consciousness itself. In the most primitive societies, in the most ancient mythologies, one finds the expression of a duality—that of the Self and the Other. This duality was not originally attached to the division of the sexes; it was not de- pendent upon any empirical facts. It is revealed in such works as that of Cranet on Chinese thought and those of Dumézil on the East Indies and Rome. The feminine element was at first no more involved in such pairs as Varuna-Mitra, Uranus-Zeus, Sun-Moon, and Day-Night than it was in the contrasts between Good and Evil, lucky and unlucky auspices, right and left, God and Lucifer. Otherness is a fundamental category of human thought. Thus it is that no group ever sets itself up as the One without at once setting up the Other over against itself. If three travelers chance to ‘ E. Levinas expresses this idea most explicitly in his essay Le temps at l'autre. "[5 there not a case in which otherness, alterity (altérité) unquestionably marks the na- ture of a being, as its essence, an instance of otherness not consisting purely and simply in the opposition of two species of the same genus? I think that the ferru- nine represents the contrary in its absolute sense, this contrariness being in no wrse affected by any relation between it and its correlative and thus remaining absolutely other. Sex is not a certain specific difference . . . no more is the sexual difference a mere contradiction. Nor does this difference lie in the duality of two com- plementary terms, for two complementary terms imply a preexisting whole... Otherness reaches its full flowering in the feminine, a term of the same rank as consciousness but of opposite meaning." I suppose that.Lévinas does not forget that woman, too, is aware of her own con- sciousness, or ego. But it is striking that he deliberater takes a man's point of view, disregarding the reciprocity of subiect and ohiect. When he writes that woman rs mystery, he implies that she is mystery for man. 'l'hus his description, which is in- iCfldCd l0 l3: ObiCCliVC. is in fact an assertion of masculine privilege. 4; Simone de Beauvoir occupy the same compartment, that is enough to make vaguely hostile “others” out of all the rest of the passengers on the train. ln small-tawn eyes all persons not belonging to the village are "strangers" and suspect; to the native of a country all who inhabit other countries are “foreign- ers"; lews are "different" for the anti-Semite, Negroes are “inferior” for American racists, aborigines are "natives" for colonists, proletarians are the “lower class” for the privileged. Lévi-Strauss, at the end of a profound work on the various forms of primitive societies, reaches the following conclusion: “Passage from the state of Nature to the state of Culture is marked by man's ability to view biological relations as a series of contrasts; duality, alternation, oppo- sition, and symmetry, whether under definite or vague forms, constitute not so much phenomena to be explained as fundamental and immedi- ately given data of social reality."" These phenomena would be in- comprehensible if in fact human society were simply a Mitsein or fellow- ship based on solidarity and friendliness. Things become clear, on the contrary, if, following Hegel, we find in consciousness itself a fundamen- ' tal hostility toward every other consciousness; the subject can be posed Only in being opposed—he sets himself up as the essential, as opposed to the other, the inessential, the object. But the other consciousness, the other ego, sets up a reciprocal claim. The native traveling abroad is shocked to find himself in turn regarded as a "stranger" by the natives of neighboring countries. As a matter of fact, wars, festivals, trading, treaties, and contests among tribes, nations, and classes tend to deprive the concept Other of its absolute sense and to make manifest its relativity; willy-nilly, individuals and groups are forced to realize the reciprocity of their relations. How is it, then, that this reciprocity has not been recognized between the sexes, that one of the contrasting terms is set up as the sole essential, denying any rela- tivity in regard to its correlative and defining the latter as pure otherness? readily volunteer to become the obiect, the inessential; it is not the Other who, in defining himself as the Other, establishes the One. The Other is posed as such by the One in defining himself as the One. But if the Other is not to regain the status of being the One, he must be submissive enough to accept this alien point of view. \Vhence comes this submissiOn in the case of woman? There are, to be sure, other cases in which a certain category has been able to dominate another completely for a time. Very often this privi- lege depends upon inequality of numbers—the majority imposes its rule 5 See C. LeviStrauss: Les structures élémentrrires de la parenté. My thanks are due to C. LéviAStrauss for his kindness in furnishing me with the proofs of his work, which, among others, I have used liberally in Part ll. 46 Beginnings upon the minority or persecutes it. But women are not a minority, like the American Negroes or the jews; there are as many women as men on earth. Again, the two groups concerned have often been originally independent; they may have been formerly unaware of each other's ex— istence, or perhaps they recognized each other’s autonomy. But a his— torical event has resulted in the subjugation of the weaker by the stronger. The scattering of the Iews, the introduction of slavery into America, the conquests of imperialism are examples in point. In these Cases the oppressed retained at least the memory of former days; they possessed in common a past, a tradition, sometimes a religion or a culture. The parallel drawn by Bebel between women and the proletariat is valid in that neither ever formed a minority or a separate collective unit of mankind. And instead of a single historical event it is in both cases a historical development that explains their status as a class and ac- counts for the membership of particular individuals in that class. But proletarians have not always existed, whereas there have always been women. They are women in virtue of their anatomy and physiology. Throughout history they have always been subordinated to men,II and hence their dependency is not the result of a historical event or a social change—it was not something that occurred. The reason why otherness in this case seems to be an absolute is in part that it lacks the contingent or incidental nature of historical facts. A condition brought about at a certain time can be abolished at some other time, as the Negroes of Haiti and others have proved; but it might seem that a natural condition is beyond the possibility of change. In truth, however, the nature of things is no more immutably given, once for all, than is historical reality. If woman seems to be the inessential which never becomes the essential, it is because she herself fails to bring about this change. Proletarians say "We"; Negroes also. Regarding themselves as subjects, they trans- form the bourgeois, the whites, into “others.” But women do not say "We," except at some congress of feminists or similar formal demon— stration; men say "women," and women use the same word in referring to themselves. They do not authentically assume a subjective attitude. The proletarians have accomplished the revolution in Russia, the Ne— groes in Haiti, the lndo-Chinese are battling for it in lndo-China; but the women's effort has never been anything more than a symbolic agi- tation. They have gained only what men have been willing to grant; they have taken nothing, they have only received. 'With rare exceptions, perhaps, like certain matriarchal rulers, queens, and the like—Tr. 47 Simone de Beauvoir The reason for this is that women lack concrete means for organizing themselves into a unit which can stand face to face with the conelative unit. They have no past, no history, no religion of their own; and they have no such solidarity of work and interest as that of the proletariat. They are not even promiscuously herded together in the way that crtes community feeling among the American Negroes, the ghetto laws, the workers of Saint-Denis, or the factory hands of Renault. They live dis- persed among the males, attached through residence, housework, eco nomic condition, and social standing to certain men—fathers or bus- bands—more firmly than they are to other women. If they belong to the bourgeoisie, they feel solidarity with men of that class, not with proletarian women; if they are white, their allegiance is to white men, not to Negro women. The proletariat can propose to massacre the ruling class, and a sufficiently fanatical jew or Negro might dream of getting sole possession of the atomic bomb and making humanity wholly Iew- ish or black; but woman cannot even dream of exterminating the males. The bond that unites her to her oppressors is not comparable to any other. The division of the sexes is a biological fact, not an event in human history. Male and female stand opposed within a primordial Mitsein, and woman has not broken it. The couple is a fundamental unity with its two halves riveted together, and the cleavage of society along the line of sex is impossible. Here is to be found the basic trait of woman: she is the Other in a totality of which the two components are necessary to one another. One could suppose that this reciprocity might have facilitated the liberation of woman. When Hercules sat at the feet of Omphale and helped with her spinning, his desire for her held him captive; but why did she fail to gain a lasting power? To revenge herself on Iason, Medea killed their children; and this grim legend would seem to suggest that she might have obtained a fonnidable influence over him through his love for his offspring. In Lysistrata Aristophanes gaily depicts a band of women who joined forces to gain social ends through the sexual needs of their men; but this is only a play. In the legend of the Sabine women, the latter soon abandoned their plan of remaining sterile to punish their ravishers. In truth woman has not been socially emancipated through man's need—sexual desire and the desire for offspring—which makes the ma...
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