It arrived this week. Reading it so far I’ve felt nostalgia and had a sense of revelation.
The new translation does seem so different to the one I read in my late teens tho I can’t be sure without going back to the original translation if it was because I approached it differently as a younger woman or if it was the nature of the translation that made Simone de Beauvoir seem so different to me now.
Whatever the reason I find her writing much more approachable, more appealing to engage with rather than be lectured by and her long winding sentences seem personal and thoughtful rather than impenetrable.

Focusing on the question of ‘what is a woman’ in the introduction, Beauvoir identifies what an elusive term it is, that really only makes sense in contrast to the term ‘man’.. Yet there is something more absolute about man that doesn’t require definition in the same way.

..if we accept, even temporarily, that there are women on the earth, we then have to ask: what is a woman?

If I want to define myself, I first have to say, ‘I am a woman’; all other assertions will arise from this basic truth. A man never begins by positing himself as an individual of a certain sex: that he is a man is obvious.’

Woman…determines and differentiates herself in relation to man, and he does not in relation to her; she is the inessential in front of the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute. She is the Other.

I have always been very aware of this sense of being the ‘Other’ that ‘man’ is somehow the fixed standard against which woman is compared, contrasted and defined. Even when it comes to films I want to watch being dismissed as ludicrous for men to be expected to watch while the films they choose are considered generic and therefore I am expected to join in.

How is it then that between the sexes [this] reciprocity has not been put forward, that one of the terms has been asserted as the only essential one, denying any relativity in regard to its correlative, defining the latter as pure alterity? Why do women not contest male sovereignty?…in order for the Other not to turn into the One, the Other has to submit to this foreign point of view. Where does this submission in women come from?

There have not always been proletarians; there have always been women; they are women by their physiological structure; as far back as history can be traced they have always been subordinate to men; their dependence is not the consequence of an event or a becoming, it did not happen. Alterity here appears to be an absolute, partly because it falls outside the accidental nature of historical fact… If woman discovers herself as the inessential, and never turns into the essential, it is because she does not bring about this transformation herself. Proletarians says ‘we’…Posting themselves as subjects, they thus transform the bourgeois [or whites] into ‘others’. Women – except in certain abstract gatherings such as conferences – do not use ‘we’; men say ‘women’ and women adopt this word to refer to themselves; but they do not posit themselves authentically as Subjects.

They live dispersed among men, tied by homes, work, economic interests and social conditions to certain men – fathers or husbands – more closely than to other women. As bourgeois women, they are in solidarity with bourgeois men and not with women proletarians; as white women, they are in solidarity with white men and not with black women…

The division of the sexes is a biological given, not a moment in human history. Their opposition took shape within an original Mittsein and she has not broken it.

The concept of Subject and Other and Mittsein I know play a big part in Beauvoir’s writing and I do think there is something in how she portrays woman that is useful to work with.
It’s easy to dismiss some of the things she says about women’s position in society because things have changed. But I am interested in to what extent women’s position in relation to themselves and to men has changed… can women say that they have taken the difficult path towards freedom? Are they (am I?) still in some ways accepting the position of the Other because of the benefits it brings?


At the moment that women are beginning to share in the making of the world, this world still belongs to men: men have no doubt about this, and women barely doubt it. Refusing to be the Other, refusing complicity with man, would mean renouncing all the advantages an alliance with the superior caste confers on them. Lord-man will materially protect liege-woman and will be in charge of justifying her existence; along with economic risk, she eludes the metaphysical risk of a freedom that must invent its goals without help. Indeed, beside every individual’s claim to assert himself as subject – an ethical claim – lies the temptation to flee freedom and to make himself into a thing: it is a pernicious path because the individual, passive, alienated and lost, is prey to a foreign will, cut off from his transcendence, robbed of all worth. But it is an easy path: the anguish and stress of authentically assumed existence are thus avoided.

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Reading Non-fiction book # 3 I was aware that I was being selective about what chapters I really paid attention to: My interest lies in what Karen Vintges says in one of the essays is Simone de Beauvoir‘s concept of art de vivre or art of living, which aligns her to the tradition of “philosophy as a way of life” as outlined by Pierre Hadot in his book of that title.
I’m drawn to how she makes use of Hegel‘s master-slave dialectic and how she seems to demand something quite rigorous from women.
The previous post sets out a vague framework for what I’m going to read and write about: I am interested in what Simone de Beauvoir has to say about being a woman and have a sense of wanting to wrestle with some of her thinking about how it applies to my life.
Please let me know what you think about Simone de Beauvoir and her thinking today.

New blog post about women in the new government here. I’ll also be posting the final round up of the leaders’ wives contest soon.

At the start of the year I set myself a target of reading 12 non-fiction books and 12 novels. It’s only now that I’ve decided to keep track of what I’m reading on this blog so I’m going to give a brief run-through of what I’ve read so far.
Novel # 1 First I read Love in Winter, written by Storm Jameson and published in 1935.
Just one of her 45 novels and part of a trilogy, Love in Winter is one of just a handful still in print. It was a gem of a Christmas present: discovering a writer is a real treat and being introduced to one who writes so sparingly on such a large scale, touching on the political and individual – and has written so many books – feels like a ticket to explore.

Non-fiction book #1
One Dimensional Woman, Nina Power, Zero Books
With a title taken from One Dimensional Man by Herbert Marcuse the book explores how contemporary woman is defined by consumerism and feminist language hijacked to present liberation and fulfillment in terms of shopping, pampering and indulgence.
I will write some of the key points I picked up in this book in a later post, but reading this book, which posed the question ‘where have all the interesting women gone?’ reinforced the idea I’d had writing posts here and here that the interest in French women may represent a search for something more deep-rooted and perhaps philosophical about what it is to be a woman.
This lead me to Non-fiction book # 2 which I have recently finished.
Simone de Beauvoir, Philosophy and Feminism by Nancy Bauer
I read the Second Sex as a 20-year-old but reading this book opened up Simone de Beauvoir’s writing to me in a new way. It examines how Beauvoir engaged with big name philosophers such as Hegel and his .
My plan now is to be lead by Beauvoir who grappled with his idea of the Master/Slave dialectic in her attempt to answer the question “what is a woman?”
It feels like a big project and I’m not sure where it is going to end up. But on this blog I plan to keep track of the books I read and the theories/ideas I come across. It will be like setting out a map of sorts of the route I’m taking.

My round up of the week on the campaign trail for the leaders’ wives is here.

I just shouted at the builder working next door that he is a “bastard”. He’s more than likely not but he (or they) have been drilling at the site next door from 8 am every week day and it’s getting on my nerves. Now I didn’t say it to his face and probably wouldn’t. After all, in the clear light of day he’s probably a perfectly decent bloke who is perfectly entitled to do his job and part of me might be “mortified” if he heard some of the things I say about him.
I have been listening to the radio with a sense of unease today as journalists position themselves as champions of the (good, honest) working people like Gillian Duffy who are perfectly entitled to raise reasonable questions about race and immigration.
Of course Gillian Duffy is entitled to her opinion and she is probably a good, decent woman who certainly didn’t deserve the humiliation of being told by a breathless producer that the PM had said she was bigoted. (Bit too reminiscent of the playground?)
But I’ve climbed out of a cab wondering why oh why I started a conversation with a cab driver who then went on to give me his particular version of the “I’m not racist but..” line.
Sometimes I”ve been bolder but there are times when I’ve only offered a mild “yes but..” – as Gordon Brown did yesterday – and longed to get away.
I can lay claim to a working class background but admit to a complex range of feelings when I hear those familiar lines about immigration. Because even if they have a right to say them they fly in the face of principles I hold dear.
One thing that seems to have been established after yesterday’s incident is that the (good honest) working class have a right to talk about immigration because it’s a legitimate area of concern.
Although I may have a wry smile at the thought of the media championing a woman from Rochadale’s right to speak out, I am just making a marker that those views don’t make for easy discussions. Brown, like Cameron the day before, probably would have preferred to keep away from the uncomfortable territory of immigration. Now could you imagine if he said “I’m sorry Madam, I find your views very bigoted?”

No one could deny that my idea for what I hope will be a series of blog posts over the coming year is that I have just watched Julie and Julia and am inspired by the idea of a daily blogging project.
But I have started a reading project which is now in its second month and a blog seems like the next step.
Last month I set myself the task of reading 12 philosophy books. I wasn’t sure which ones at first and quite randomly lighted Simone de Beauvoir, philosophy and feminism by Nancy Bauer.
That book has set the course for the next year and now I can see a theme developing.
So on this blog I am going to keep track of my trail through the philosophy of Simone de Beauvoir and its pinnacle will be reading The Second Sex – the new translation.

Photo credit: Frasmotic via a Creative Commons licence