Friday, May 28, 2010

The Second Coming

A new translation of de Beauvoir's The Second Sex. Preview in the NY Times starts with this statement:
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.
A sharp reminder gals. My mother's generation the first to vote in that country...my grandmother's the first to expect the vote in ours. The birth control pill just turned fifty. And so on.

On the matter of the preview, one wonders why lines such as "It should be noted that Beauvoir, at least in her personal life, did not hate men..." have to appear in a bit about de Beauvoir at this point in time. Why does looking at a woman's situation closely have to be about "hating men"? Virginie Despente's may be right. We have gotten nowhere if that is still where we are when we start discussing the lives of women.

Of course we have gotten somewhere--votes, pills, near wage parity, not quite, but near, at least in some cases. Despite the baffling ways the service sectors are gendered...but hey, progress is progress. And my favorite feature? More women doing stand up. Absolutely. Standing up in public and making people laugh still seems the most radical thing a woman can do. Making the body public in that way.

There aren't a lot of laughs in de Beuavoir, it's true. What I recall most from reading de Beauvoir was the awareness, the ability to conceptualize that being in a woman's body did not confine me to a particular trajectory, or a particular mode of being. Sounds obvious, but it wasn't, and it was a relief to know.  I was thinking just this morning, as I read about the gay couple (male actually), in Malawi who will surely be killed as they serve their 15 year sentence for declaring their love for each other, how difficult becoming the woman I wanted to be was. How, in a sense, I had to overcome the reactions to my physicality, the public relationship to it. My parents assumptions, my peers, the hysteria of my peers toward a certain outcome of my body. But also the assumption of the public. There is a particularly strange relationship between the public and the teenage body. There is a moment where one is not a self, but a startlingly attractive and available commodity--no matter the degree of individual appeal, there is a sense of availability that is difficult to avoid.
“What a curse to be a woman!” Beauvoir writes, quoting Kierkegaard. “And yet the very worst curse when one is a woman is, in fact, not to understand that it is one.” No one has done more than Beauvoir to explain the conditions of that curse, and no one has more eloquently, irately challenged us to turn that curse into a blessing.
Absolutely. I'm counting on the continued blessing part. The unknotting the curses part. The forward movement of the female body and as it conceptualizes itself, I'm hoping it reconfigures the world. Just a small desire I have. A wee little fantasy. Totally Romantic. Absolutely naive.

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