Le Deuxieme Sexe, Vol. 2: L'Experience Vecue (French Edition)

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9780828896771: Le Deuxieme Sexe, Vol. 2: L'Experience Vecue (French Edition)
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In 1946, when Simone de Beauvoir began to write her landmark study of women, The Second Sex, legislation allowing French women to vote was little more than a year old. Birth control would be legally denied them until 1967. Next door, in Switzerland, women would not be enfranchised until 1971. Such repressive circumstances account for both the fierce, often wrathful urgency of Beauvoir s book and the vehement controversies this founding text of feminism aroused when it was first published in France in 1949 and in the United States in 1953. The Vatican placed it on the Index of Forbidden Books. Albert Camus complained that Beauvoir made Frenchmen look ridiculous. On these shores, the novelist Philip Wylie eulogized it as one of the few great books of our era, the psychiatrist Karl Menninger found it pretentious and tiresome, and a reviewer in The Atlantic Monthly faulted it for being bespattered with the repulsive lingo of existentialism.

Beauvoir examines the reasons women have been forced to accept a place in society secondary to that of men, despite the fact that women constitute half the human race. Supporting her arguments with data from biology, physiology, ethnology, anthropology, mythology, folklore, philosophy and economics, she documents the status of women throughout history, from the age of hunter-gatherers to the mid-20th century. In one of her most interesting chapters, The Married Woman, she offers numerous quotations from the novels and diaries ofVirginia Woolf, Colette, Edith Wharton, Sophia Tolstoy and others. She also scrutinizes the manner in which various male authors, from Montaigne to Stendhal to D. H. Lawrence, have represented women (and, in many cases, how they treated their wives). Urging women to persevere in their efforts at emancipation, she emphasizes that they must also do so for the sake of men: It is when the slavery of half of humanity is abolished and with it the whole hypocritical system it implies that the division of humanity will reveal its authentic meaning and the human couple will discover its true form.
Written in an era in which a minority of women were employed, its arguments for female participation in the work force seem particularly outmoded. And Beauvoir s truly paranoid hostility toward the institutions of marriage and motherhood another characteristic of early feminism is so extreme as to be occasionally hilarious. Every aspect of the female reproductive system, from puberty to menopause, is approached with the same ferocious disdain. Females of all living species are first violated . . . then alienated by the process of fertilization. Derogatory phrases like the servitude of maternity, woman s absurd fertility, the exhausting servitude of breast-feeding, abound. (How could they not, since the author sees heterosexual love in general as a mortal danger? ) According to Beauvoir, a girl s first menstruation, which many of us welcomed with excitement and pride, is met instead with disgust and fear. It inspires horror and signifies illness, suffering and death. Beauvoir doesn t appear to have spent much time with children or teenagers: a first menses, in her view, leads the girl to be disgusted by her too-carnal body, by menstrual blood, by adults sexual practices, by the male she is destined for.
If Beauvoir s ruminations on the curse are pessimistic (and pessimism runs through The Second Sex like a poisonous river) her reflections on sexual initiation and marriage make them sound like torture. She chooses the most brutal examples of deflorations mostly rapes to make her points. Wedding nights transform the erotic experience into an ordeal that often dooms the woman to frigidity forever. --New York Times Book Review

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