Friday, October 1, 2010

The Second Sex Part 1

I tried to read The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir a few years ago but couldn't make it past the first 20-some pages. Crazy stuff was going down with my dad at the time and everything that I was reading seemed to refute his arguments (why didn't I just send him a copy? Because I didn't want to participate in the destructive conversation he attempted to initiate). Now that I'm in a much better place, I'm picking up The Second Sex again and can fully concentrate on it.

In the book, British poet and novelist Steve Smith is quoted as saying of de Beauvoir “She has written an enormous book about women and it was soon clear that she does not like them, nor does she like being a woman.” Granted, I haven't made it far enough in the book to have an opinion on that but it strikes me as odd that this is considered critique. In A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf and The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, the authors clearly don't like most women. Had I been a straight nursing major rather than a queer art major, I would have loathed women too! Some women aren't aware of their option to live autonomously or they're afraid to take that risk. If anything, de Beauvoir's alleged opinion on women would have supported her cause: why would you want to help people who you think are doing just fine? And sometimes, more often than not if you don't have a good network or haven, it really sucks being a woman.

De Beauvoir states “In truth, to go for a walk with one's eyes open is enough to demonstrate that humanity is divided into two classes of individuals whose clothes, faces, bodies, smiles, gaits, interests, and occupations are manifestly different.” And when the second class uses these signifiers to entice the first class, you get heterosexism. When a member of the first class chooses a member of the second class to be his, he transfers some benefits of his class unto her. And there is intense competition within the second class (see next paragraph). Walking in certain areas will reveal a third class of individuals who combine and/or reject those binary signifiers and are just fine with autonomy.

From there is the idea that most minorities (and majorities...) refer to their class as “we” but that women don't consider themselves as such. Women say “women” rather than “we” except for a few strident feminist situations. I believe that the root of our lack of solidarity is this competition. I've been there, I feared what would happen should my future husband get stolen from me; it's very scary to think that you could lose both a loved one and your elevator out of spinsterhood if a woman better than you comes along. And second-classhood is so ingrained that many women, as stated above, aren't aware of or fear the autonomy of spinsterhood (or a marriage that involves autonomy).

In some circles, women are uncomfortable with my use of “we” in reference to womanhood*. Because I've rejected heterosexism, I'm the Other's Other. It's fully understandable why queer people – including straight couples with “reversed sex roles” - are considered a third gender. If both ends of the gender binary comprise the two classes, then those who don't fit on the binary form a third class. Socially, we queer people don't fit in to their game. We can't relate to the woman who drops out of school to marry young, before she's old enough to lose her man to someone younger, and has kids to entrap him. We can't relate to the woman who picks Danielle Steele over Stephen Hawking because she fears intimidating her man, whose credit card she uses to buy the book in the first place.

What's really sad is how little has changed since 1952 when this was originally published. More posts to come as I progress through the book!

* - my gender is fluid, there are times that I identify as a woman and times that I don't. I am usually perceived as a woman by men and as something else by women, who often end up surprised how much I can relate to them as far as womanhood goes.

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