The Second Sex

I am reading The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir. I have lost my ability to finish books I start. I read the introduction and a couple of random sections. I liked the introduction because her reasoning was convincing and she cleared out one point that used to bug me.

What used to bug me was: Why are not women as powerful as men in our society? Why is it that we don’t have as many women president as men? As many judges, professors and sport women? I used to compare oppression on women to a master-slave oppression. But the author says oppression against women is not like a slave-master oppression. In the latter one, a slave can rise against her master. She doesn’t need her master to exist in order for her to exist. The two are independent enough that a slave wouldn’t lose anything by leaving her master or going against him. But in a woman-man relationship, things are complex. We don’t have a group of women being forced by a group of men to work in a field. It happens within families for example. Take a woman who is being taken advantage of by her husband. It’s hard for her to fight him when it is also in her interest that the relationship works. Maybe they have a child. Even if they didn’t, there is pressure on her to get married and stay married so as not to “expire” as Tibe explained it in the earlier post. Problems against her come in various complex forms. I quote a paragraph from her book which is freely available here.

The reason for this is that women lack concrete means for organising 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 interest 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 division of the sexes is a biological fact, not an event in human history. Male and female stand opposed within a primordial Mitsein, and woman has not broken it. The couple is a fundamental unity with its two halves riveted together, and the cleavage of society along the line of sex is impossible. Here is to be found the basic trait of woman: she is the Other in a totality of which the two components are necessary to one another.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. getere
    Dec 17, 2009 @ 17:29:39

    Valid argument. Religion has a big impact on us now. Women are seen as “asasachoch”. There are some churchs (even in Bahir Dar) that they can’t go into. That is extremely sexist. We need to be on top of our sexual desire but it seems the best we have come up with is to tell women to go away or to cover them top to bottom. It only shows men’s failure to control themselves. In the end it is women who feel bad about existing and being the source of sin.

    It’s a misinterpretation of the Bible. The fruit represents things like cheating and stealing. And the fact that Hewan convinced Adam is irrelevant. Adam could have convinced her and the message would still be the same: that they both failed to make the right decision. Same with the snake. Snakes are not bad animals.


  2. andthree
    Dec 17, 2009 @ 09:52:30

    it is the norm for my brain to shy away for complex stuff cuz normally, i would fail to understand them. let alone the complex, I do not understand, period! like Andre 3000 said, I would not understand , if I stood under it.

    but there is one thing that bugs me.

    let’s go back to the beginning.

    now it was known to Him that Eve was gonna err and eat the fruit of knowledge and you can say she was chosen to err. meanwhile, Adam could have refused to eat the fruit ( “ I have had a big breakfast. maybe tomorrow” would have been a good enough excuse) but he ate the fruit – because he could not have refused because that too was destined to happen – and lives to this day whining that he had been tricked and singing songs like “hewan endewaza”.

    and don’t get me started on the snake.

    so why did God create the ladies with a disadvantage from the get go? with a stigma that would be used by their dumb counterparts (to further their selfish goal) for millennia afterwards? why was it Eve that was tricked by the snake (and why was the snake chosen to be the carrier of evil intentions and not say, the lamb?) and not Adam? why was it His will that Eve be the apple winner and then, Adam, the bread winner?

    wezete wezete

    unlike you, I have been having success finishing books 😛 and now I am reading the life of pi. there is a place in this book where it says “why such a vast net if there is so little fish to catch?” the net is supposed to be our reasoning and the fish the answers that we get using our reasoning.

    How I wish He had a blog!


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