Simone de Beauvoir
Simone de Beauvoir
The Second Sex
To emancipate woman is to refuse to confine her to the relations she bears to man, not to deny them to her; let her have her independent existence and she will continue nonetheless to exist for him also: mutually recognising each other as subject, each will yet remain for the other an other. The reciprocity of their relations will not do away with the miracles – desire, possession, love, dream, adventure – worked by the division of human beings into two separate categories; and the words that move us – giving, conquering, uniting – will not lose their meaning. On the contrary, when we abolish the slavery of half of humanity, together with the whole system of hypocrisy that it implies, then the ‘division’ of humanity will reveal its genuine significance and the human couple will find its true form.”
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
Jealousy—at least as far as he understood it from his dream—was the most hopeless prison in the world. Jealousy was not a place he was forced into by someone else, but a jail in which the inmate entered voluntarily, locked the door, and threw away the key. And not another soul in the world knew he was locked inside. Of course if he wanted to escape he could do so. The prison, was after all, his own heart. But he couldn’t make that decision. His heart was as hard as a stone wall. This was the very essence of jealousy.”
The Feminine Mystique
The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the 20th century in the United States. Each suburban wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night – she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question – “Is this all?”
Over and over women heard in voices of tradition and of Freudian sophistication that they could desire no greater destiny than to glory in their own femininity. They were taught to pity the neurotic, unfeminine, unhappy women who wanted to be poets or physicists or presidents. They learned that truly feminine women do not want careers, higher education, political rights – the independence and the opportunities that the old-fashioned feminists fought for. Some women, in their 40s and 50s, still remembered painfully giving up those dreams, but most of the younger women no longer even thought about them. A thousand expert voices applauded their femininity, their adjustment, their new maturity. All they had to do was devote their lives from earliest girlhood to finding a husband and bearing children.
Fulfilment as a woman had only one definition for American women after 1949 – the housewife-mother. As swiftly as in a dream, the image of the American woman as a changing, growing individual in a changing world was shattered. Her solo flight to find her own identity was forgotten in the rush for the security of togetherness. Her world shrank to the cosy walls of home.
In the 15 years after the second world war, this mystique of feminine fulfillment became the cherished and self-perpetuating core of contemporary American culture. Words like “emancipation” and “career” sounded strange and embarrassing; no one had used them for years. When a Frenchwoman named Simone de Beauvoir wrote a book called The Second Sex, an American critic commented that she obviously “didn’t know what life was all about,” and besides, she was talking about French women. The “woman problem” in America no longer existed.
If a woman had a problem in the 1950s and 1960s, she knew that something must be wrong with her marriage, or with herself. Other women were satisfied with their lives, she thought. What kind of a woman was she if she did not feel this mysterious fulfilment waxing the kitchen floor? She was so ashamed to admit her dissatisfaction that she never knew how many other women shared it. If she tried to tell her husband, he didn’t understand what she was talking about. She did not really understand it herself.
No other road to fulfilment was offered to American women in the middle of the 20th century. Most adjusted to their role and suffered or ignored the problem that has no name. It can be less painful for a woman not to hear the strange, dissatisfied voice stirring within her.
Gradually I came to realise that the problem that has no name was shared by countless women in America. Just what was this problem that has no name? What were the words women used when they tried to express it? Sometimes a woman would say “I feel empty somehow … incomplete.” Or she would say, “I feel as if I don’t exist.” Sometimes she blotted out the feeling with a tranquilliser. Sometimes she thought the problem was with her husband or her children, or that what she really needed was to redecorate her house or move to a better neighborhood, or have an affair, or another baby.
If I am right, this problem stirring in the minds of so many American women today is not a matter of loss of femininity or too much education, or the demands of domesticity. It is far more important than anyone recognises. It may well be the key to our future as a nation and a culture. We can no longer ignore that voice within women that says: “I want something more than my husband and my children and my home.”
The problem that has no name – which is simply the fact that American women are kept from growing to their full human capacities – is taking a far greater toll on the physical and mental health of our country than any known disease. If we continue to produce millions of young mothers who stop their growth and education short of identity, without a strong core of human values to pass on to their children, we are committing, quite simply, genocide, starting with the mass burial of American women and ending with the progressive dehumanisation of their sons and daughters. These problems cannot be solved by medicine or even by psychotherapy.
A woman today who has no goal, no purpose, no ambition patterning her days into the future, making her stretch and grow beyond that small score of years in which her body can fill its biological function, is committing a kind of suicide. The feminine mystique has succeeded in burying millions of American women alive. There is no way for these women to break out of their comfortable concentration camps except by finally putting forth an effort – that human effort which reaches beyond biology, beyond the narrow walls of the home, to help shape the future. We need a drastic reshaping of the cultural image of femininity that will permit women to reach maturity, identity, completeness of self, without conflict with sexual fulfilment.
Who knows what women can be when they are finally free to become themselves?
* This is an edited excerpt from The Feminine Mystique
Drugs That Shape Men’s Minds
We love ourselves to the point of idolatry, but we also intensely dislike ourselves – we find ourselves unutterably boring. Correlated with this distaste for the idolatrously worshiped self, there is in all of us a desire, sometimes latent, sometimes conscious and passionately expressed, to escape from the prison of our individuality, an urge to self-transcendence. It is to this urge that we owe mystical theology, spiritual exercises and yoga – to this, too, that we owe alcoholism and drug addiction.
Body of a woman
Body of a woman, white hills, white thighs,
you look like a world, lying in surrender.
My rough peasant’s body digs in you
and makes the son leap from the depth of the earth.
I was lone like a tunnel. The birds fled from me,
and nigh swamped me with its crushing invasion.
To survive myself I forged you like a weapon,
like an arrow in my bow, a stone in my sling.
But the hour of vengeance falls, and I love you.
Body of skin, of moss, of eager and firm milk.
Oh the goblets of the breast! Oh the eyes of absence!
Oh the roses of the pubis! Oh your voice, slow and sad!
Body of my woman, I will persist in your grace.
My thirst, my boundless desire, my shifting road!
Dark river-beds where the eternal thirst flows
and weariness follows, and the infinite ache.”
Αφότου έφυγα μακράν απ’ τα δικά σου μέρη
και δεν σ’ είδαν τα μάτια μου, λευκό μου περιστέρι,
δεν έκλεισαν καμιά φορά στου ύπνου την αγκάλη,
αλλά παντού αναζητούν τα όμορφα σου κάλλη.
Πλην δεν τα βρίσκουν πουθενά, ψυχή μου, σωρεμένα,
σαν βρίσκουνται αρμονικά και άφτονα σ’ εσένα.
Εις την φωνή τ’ αηδονιού ευρήκα την φωνή σου
και στην ασπράδα του χιονιού εκείνην της ψυχής σου·
στην χρυσωμένη ανατολή το χρώμα των μαλλιών σου
και στον γαλάζιον ουρανόν το χρώμα των ματιών σου.
Στου φεγγαριού το ντροπαλό την είδα την ματιά σου. […]
Αλλ’ όταν η σκέψη μού λαλεί πως μ’ απατούν τα μάτια
κι εξέλαβα ως ομορφιά της ομορφιάς κομμάτια,
μου έρχεται να τρελαθώ πως είμαι μακριά σου,
αλλά θα τρέξω μια φορά να ‘ρθω στην αγκαλιά σου
και τότες μες στα στήθια σου τον νουν μου ας τον χάσω,
έχω τα μάτια, την καρδιά· μ΄ αυτά θε να περάσω.”
So a girl is damned if she does, damned if she doesn’t. If she refuses to talk like a lady, she is ridiculed and subjected to criticism as unfeminine; if she does learn, she is ridiculed as unable to think clearly, unable to take part in a serious discussion: in some sense, as less than fully human. These two choices which a woman has – to be less than a woman or less than a person – are highly painful.
It will be found that the overall effect of ‘women’s language’ – meaning both language restricted in use to women and language descriptive of women alone – is this: it submerges a woman’s personal identity, by denying her the means of expressing herself strongly, on the one hand, and encouraging expressions that suggest triviality in subject-matter and uncertainty about it; and, when a woman is being discussed, by treating her as an object – sexual or otherwise – but never a serious person with individual views. Of course, other forms of behavior in this society have the same purpose; but the phenomena seem especially clear linguistically.
The ultimate effect of these discrepancies is that women are systematically denied access to power, on the grounds that they are not capable of holding it as demonstrated by their linguistic behavior along with other aspects of their behavior; and the irony here is that women are made to feel that they deserve such treatment, because of inadequacies in their own intelligence and/or education. But in fact it is precisely because women have learned their lessons so well that they later suffer such discrimination. (This situation is of course true to some extent for all disadvantaged groups: white males of Anglo-Saxon descent set the standards and seem to expect other groups to be respectful of them but not to adopt them – they are to ‘keep in their place’.)
Language and Woman’s place