Friday, August 01, 2008

More Feminist Reading

After sticking to fiction and light reading for the last few weeks because I was too unwell to want to read anything serious, I have now picked up “The Second Sex” by Simone de Beauvior. I have been trying to fill gaps in my education by reading feminist writing, and after having enjoyed and admired “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” intensely, I was looking forward to this.

I have decided to put in my impressions as I read, when they are fresh in my mind. I’ve read the first chapter and liked it immensely. Some favourite bits in black font below, with my comments in blue:

‘A man would never get the notion of writing a book on the peculiar situation of the human male. But if I 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 electrical poles, for man represents both the positive and the neutral, as is indicated by the common use of man to designate hum beings in general; whereas woman represents only the negative, defined by limiting criteria, without reciprocity. In the mist 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.’

Having the male gender as the default is extremely pervasive in culture and language. We have had attempts to correct it, though it is nowhere near complete success. But I suspect the reform must come in from situations before it creeps into language. It is only when you have a woman taking the chair that you think of saying “chairperson”, so when it becomes extremely common for women to be in that position the gendered word “chairman” should die a natural death.

And, without comment – except that I believe she hit the nail right on the head – I present her reason for why women haven’t been able to gain equality.

“The reason for this is that women lack concrete means for organizing themselves into a unit which can stand face to face with the correlative unit. They have no past, no history, no religion of their own; and they have no such solidarity of work and interests as that of the proletariat. They are not even promiscuously herded together in the way that creates community feeling among the American Negroes, the ghetto Jews, the workers of Saint-Denis, or the factory hands of Renault. They live dispersed among the males, attached through residence, housework, economic condition, and social standing to certain men – fathers or husbands – 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 Jewish 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 couple is a fundamental unity with its two halves riveted together, and the cleavage of society along the line of sex is impossible.”

This post is getting too long, and I'm tired, so I'll stop here for today. This is likely to be a long series, because I'm mid-way through the Introduction. But I'm hoping this will enduce me to keep at the book.

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