Monday, July 12, 2010

Simone de Beauvoir "The Second Sex"

As group symbols and social types are generally defined by means of antonyms in pairs, ambivalence will seem to be an intrinsic quality of the Eternal Feminine. The saintly mother has for correlative the cruel stepmother, the angelic young girl has the perverse virgin: thus it will be said sometimes that Mother equals Life, sometimes that Mother equals Death, that every virgin is pure spirit or flesh dedicated to the devil.

Evidently it is not reality that dictates to society or to individuals their choice between the two opposed basic categories; in every period, in each case, society and the individual decide in accordance with their needs. Very often they project into the myth adopted the institutions and values to which they adhere. Thus the paternalism that claims woman for hearth and home defines her as sentiment, inwardness, immanence. In fact every existent is at once immanence and transcendence when one offers the existent no aim, or prevents him from attaining any, or robs him of his victory, then his transcendence falls vainly into the past - that is to say, falls back into immanence. This is the lot assigned to woman in the patriarchate; but it is in no way a vocation, any more than slavery is the vocation of the slave (p. 284).

In novels of adventure it is the boys who take a trip around the world, who travel as sailors on ships, who live in the jungle on breadfruit. All important events take place through the agency of men. Reality confirms what these novels and legends say. If the young girl reads the papers, if she listens to the conversation of grown-ups, she learns that today, as always, men run the world. The political leaders, generals, explorers, musicians, and painters whom she admires are men. Certainly it is men who arouse enthusiasm in her heart (p. 317). (I certainly don't remember being so gender-aware while reading adventure novels...)

In the adolescent there is opposition between love of herself and the erotic urge that sends her towards the object to be possessed: her narcissism, as a rule, disappears at the time of sexual maturity. Instead of woman's being a passive object for her lover as for herself, there is basic confusion of her body through the homage of the males to whom this body is destined; and it would be oversimplification to say that she wants to be beautiful in order to charm, or that she seeks to charm in order to gain assurance of her beauty: in the solitude of her boudoir, in the drawing rooms where she tries to attract attention, she does not distinguish the desire of the man from the love of her own ego (p. 362). (wow, this is sickening...)

It is one thing to kneel before one's personally constructed god who remains afar off, and quite another to yield oneself to a male of flesh and blood. Many young girls persist following this dream in the world of reality; they seek a man superior  to all others in all things, one with fortune and fame, the absolute Subject who through his love will endow them with his splendour and essentiality. It idealises their love to give it not because he is  a male but because he is that lofty being. Because of these lofty requirements, the young girl disdains mere everyday aspirants and avoids the problems of sexuality (pp. 371-2)

Violent actions against herself or against her surrounding universe always have a negative character; they are more spectacular than effective. The combative boy regards his minor injuries as insignificant  consequences of his positive activities, neither sought nor avoided for their own sakes (unless an inferiority complex puts him in a situation like the girl's). The girl watches herself suffer: she is savouring in her heart the taste of violence and revolt rather than feeling any interest in their results. Her perverseness derives from the fact that she remains anchored in the childish universe whence she cannot or will not really escape; she is struggling in her cage rather than trying to get out of it; her frame of mind is negative, reflex, symbolical (p. 378). (no wonder attempts to get out of the cage are in such a drastic opposition to tradition)

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