Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Le Monde 100: The Second Sex

            The mathematics that are involved in the sonar of the bat are incredibly complicated. The concepts of distance, triangulation, and velocity are best understood by super computers and advanced algorithms. However, the bat knows nothing about the algebraic numbers and figures that is uses to navigate the dark with instantaneous reaction time. The bat's knowledge is innate and organic. It arose in it instinctively.

            Likewise, I feel the same way about the concepts of feminism. Until I read The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir, I always felt a need to buck against any pre-conceived notions of what a woman should and shouldn't be, and to reject any assumptions of woman's role in the home.
            But, conditioning can play with one's instincts. At family dinners, there is a ritual that seems to be not unusual in regards to the power relationships with men and women. It is be quite typical in families like mine, which is half-Italian and half-British, both of which display the same behavior. The women or woman of the house is cooking dinner in the house while the men wait with drinks in another room. The men sit at the table with the eldest men at the position of power at either end of the table. Dinner is served with the women catering to the accoutrement of the men. After dinner, women will clear the table while men "talk" about "important issues."
           It is very easy to fall into this pattern as an emerging man, especially when actively promoted as correct by elders. On more than one occasion, I was urged to sit back down as I started to help clear dishes because it was women's work, and now I sometimes have to push down sub-conscious feelings of entitlement when confronted with this situation.
           Simone de Beauvoir is a mad genius of feminism. The length and breadth of her discussion of woman's role within nature and society is so deep it seems like multiple authors had a hand in this book. The Second Sex is to feminism as advanced mathematics is to the bat's sonar. Feminism is an ideal that executes the concept that woman is an individual, and as the importance of the individual increases as time goes on, the importance of feminism increases as well.
            At first, I was irritated at a lot of her examples of the female condition as I thought they were mere hyperbole used to prove a point. But, I soon realized that extreme and varied experiences demonstrate the many forms of the feminine experience, and that experience is entirely created by the individual. After reading The Second Sex, I now understand that to say that one knows what it is to be objectively feminine is extreme arrogance, especially if a man is saying it.
           If a woman wants to clear the table and serve her guests, that's fine. It's her decision. It's okay to have whatever role makes one happy. But, it is when her role is pre-defined do we find concepts that can crush her.


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