May 29, 2010

The unnatural complexities of marriage and motherhood.

A new translation of Simone de Beauvoir's "Second Sex" is reviewed by Francine du Plessix Gray. Here's a paragraph about marriage and motherhood:
Wedding nights “transform the erotic experience into an ordeal” that “often dooms the woman to frigidity forever.” It isn’t surprising, she adds, “that ‘conjugal duties’ are often only a repugnant chore for the wife.” “No one,” she argues, “dreams of denying the tragedies and nastiness of married life.” Conjugal love, in Beauvoir’s view, is “a complex mixture of attachment, resentment, hatred, rules, resignation, laziness and hypocrisy.” Even marriages that “work well” suffer “a curse they rarely escape: boredom.” Already alarmed? Wait until you come to the discussion of motherhood. A woman experiences the fetus as “a parasite.” “Maternity is a strange compromise of narcissism, altruism, dream, sincerity, bad faith, devotion and cynicism.” “There is nothing like an ‘unnatural mother,’ since maternal love has nothing natural about it.” It is significant that the only stage of a woman’s life Beauvoir has good things to say about is widowhood, which, in her view, most bear quite cheerfully. Upon losing their spouses, she tells us, women, “now lucid and wary, . . . often attain a delicious cynicism.” In old age, they maintain “a stoic defiance or skeptical irony.”...
[A] pivotal notion at the heart of “The Second Sex” ... is her belief that... “one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” This preposterous assertion [is] intended to bolster her argument that marriage and motherhood are institutions imposed by men to curb women’s freedom....
De Beauvoir herself, did not marry. But her longtime companion Jean-Paul Sartre did propose to her. She told him he was being "silly."

43 comments:

Palladian said...

Is this the first Untitled post at Althouse?

"De Beauvoir herself, did not marry. But her longtime companion Jean-Paul Sartre did propose to her. She told him he was being "silly.""

Two miserable upper-class commie scumbags that deserved each other.

Ann Althouse said...

@Palladian I forgot that I left the titling until the end, walked away, came back and thought I'd finished.

So, it was a mistake that is now fixed, but as for your question, the answer would be no. Go to the archive, to January 2004, the beginning of the blog. No titles. Not sure when I began using titles but it goes a while before titles begin.

traditionalguy said...

She narrowly escaped. Just think how much Simone's grandchildren would have been such a terrible burden taking so much away from her fulfilling life of cynicism prior to her death when her spirit and soul went to Atheist Nowhere.

Palladian said...

The first Althouse blog post with an official orange title is "Best summing up of the Presidential campaign." from May of 2004.

The Crack Emcee said...

Pay her no mind.

pm317 said...

In my conversation with a friend last evening, I made the comment that marriage is a disruptive event for most young women. I am not even talking about pregnancy and child bearing. And it will continue to be unless role reversal ideas take hold and a house husband becomes an acceptable notion.
A disclaimer: never read DeBeauvoir and can truthfully claim to have not been influenced by her.

Big Mike said...

Biggest indictment of the love-making skills of Frenchmen since Napoleon wrote to Josephine telling her that he was coming home and she shouldn't bathe.

Oligonicella said...

pm317 --

"... I made the comment that marriage is a disruptive event for most young women."

Like high school graduation is? Disruptive doesn't really say anything. How so?

"And it will continue to be unless role reversal ideas take hold and a house husband becomes an acceptable notion."

This will make it less 'disruptive' how?

PS: It's already acceptable.

rhhardin said...

Vicki Hearne positively on de Beauvoir and the myth of the gentle and obedient woman.

lucid said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul Zrimsek said...

Hell is some other people.

lucid said...

If fact, of course, Beauvoir acted as a sort of procurer for Sartre, passing along women much younger than he (or Beauvoir herself) for his delectation. She seems not to have pursued parallel sexual relationships in her own life.

Her commecnts about marriage are so self-revelaing and banal.

It is often the case that someone who is incapable of mature and full human relationships nonetheless has something important to say about life and the world. I think Beavoir ideas about the "other" have been especially useful, even as the social group that is "othered" shifts (I think it is now white males).

But one has to take much of Beauvoir, as with so many others who lead lives of radical social critique, with an eye toward the critic's psychopathology and relational incapacities. It is often their estrangement from full human capacities that creates the opportunity for interesting observations.

But much of what they say will still be nonsense for most of us.

Largo said...

"Hell is some other people."

Paul, kudos to that twist!

wv: "sayin". Just, you know.

Kirby Olson said...

She might not have hated men, as it says on page 2 of the review, but she thought that women should think about massacring them, the way the proletariat dreamed of massacring the bourgeoisie (page vii of the introduction).

That's maybe not hate, just the usual genocidal approach to history often shown by leftists, and thus realistic and practical, but I think it's still icky.

Fred4Pres said...

She never had kids. It is funny, having never experienced it, De Beauvoir thought herself expert on the subject of motherhood.

EDH said...

A woman experiences the fetus as “a parasite.” “Maternity is a strange compromise of narcissism, altruism, dream, sincerity, bad faith, devotion and cynicism.” “There is nothing like an ‘unnatural mother,’ since maternal love has nothing natural about it.” It is significant that the only stage of a woman’s life Beauvoir has good things to say about is widowhood, which, in her view, most bear quite cheerfully. Upon losing their spouses, she tells us, women, “now lucid and wary, . . . often attain a delicious cynicism.” In old age, they maintain “a stoic defiance or skeptical irony.”...

Exactly who is the "parasite" here?

Fred4Pres said...

EDH. What you said. The Crack Emcee has a good link on the subject above.

William said...

It's a favorite saying among intellectuals that we can see far because we stand on the shoulders of giants. Yeah, right. My feeling is that we can see only squalor because we have tripped over midgets and are laying face down in the gutter....As lucid points out, Simone and Sartre had a relationship more notable for debasing bourgeoise norms than for transcending them. What they did was really creepy. Even creepier was the fact that their self serving lies and evasions were considered lofty ideals by the generation that followed them.

edutcher said...

Collaborateurs of a feather flocked together.

lucid said...

William wrote:

"Simone and Sartre had a relationship more notable for debasing bourgeoise norms than for transcending them. What they did was really creepy. Even creepier was the fact that their self serving lies and evasions were considered lofty ideals by the generation that followed them."

Phew! Nice writing.

rcocean said...

Great post "Crack". You should have wrote the review.

rcocean said...

Why is the New York Times so badly written. Look at the lead paragraph, ugh:

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...

Joan said...

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.
(emphasis added)

Good to know I'm not the only one who responds to all this over-heated vitriol by laughing. I've never read de Beauvoir and most likely never will -- I doubt I could get through a chapter without throwing the book across the room. She was never married, never had children, and spent very little time among those who did, and yet she considered herself enough of an expert to write 1000 pages, looking at literature and history and art... because we all know how well literature and art reflect our current reality, and we all acknowledge that history is a complete and accurate representation of past reality.

Laughter isn't just the best response, it's the only response.

Andrea said...

Florence King (who admired them in a way) said that the French were "a Friday fart in a Saturday market." I think about that every time I read about some famous French person complaining about the society that made their comfortable existence possible.

pm317 said...

Oligonicella, I am using the word in this sense:
dis·rupt (dĭs-rŭpt')
tr.v. dis·rupt·ed, dis·rupt·ing, dis·rupts
1.To throw into confusion or disorder
2.To interrupt or impede the progress, movement, or procedure of
---------------
More often than not woman is the one giving up her career opportunities to follow the man; more often than not woman is the one taking time off after childbirth (and having to deal with that gap in her career -- why do you think there are so few women CEOs and women CEOs married with children?; more often than not she is the one hobbled by in-law incursions into her privacy; more often than not she is raised to think that realizing her god given potential is not worth pursuing;...

No, a house husband is not already acceptable. How many have you met so far? Maybe in Germany because women are refusing marriage in the traditional sense to an alarming degree.

Joan said...

more often than not she is raised to think that realizing her god given potential is not worth pursuing;...

Did you just step out of a time machine, or arrive here from some third world country? Don't you know that women today outnumber men enrolled in colleges by at least 60:40, that boys are the ones constantly failing schools now since they've been re-jiggered to favor girls' strengths? Haven't you noticed that men are to blame for everything that's wrong with society, and everything that ever has been wrong?

Give me a break. There are fewer female CEOs because we're too damn smart to want the kind of life spent in board rooms getting high blood pressure. It's not about oppression all the time -- it's a self-selection process. There are many different measures of success: proportional representation isn't one of them.

Bob_R said...

I like how in the sciences we adopt a person's most useful idea and dispose of the rest of his or her work very quickly.
as lucid said, De Beauvoir had one arguably important and generally useful idea in her life. Why would anyone read her whole book. Life's too short. People have read it before and we know there is nothing there...whereas an Althouse blog post MIGHT contain searing insights. And much more fun than De Beauvoir.

Joe said...

PM317, I'm just a sexist pig...I laugh at you. Hopefully not in a demeaning way. You say a relationship is disruptive to a single womon’s life…It is. It’s also disruptive to a single man’s life!
You’re being silly…. A RELATIONSHIP, as opposed to a Non-relationship is CHANGE and by definition CHANGE IS DISRUPTIVE to old patterns. It’s like saying, moving is disruptive, it is….graduating high school is disruptive…It is. Graduating college is disruptive…it is. Getting your first full-time job is disruptive…It is. As the Black ‘Lectorid says, “So what? Beeeg deel.”

I’m in a long-term, committed monogamous relationship, my Life Partner deserves a medal for not killing me the first year we were together, full-time as a couple. I had been single for 30 years! I never had to worry about someone else’s needs or worries or colour choices for towels, or had to say “I’m going to get an ice cream cone. Would you like to come?” Blending finances and financial plans, it was OBVIOUS what I’d been doing was right? Whaddya mean I have to change or explain to someone else!?!?! EVERYTHING in my life was turned upside down! I couldn’t do anything without first taking into consideration that someone else now shared my physical/financial/emotional space and whereas before anything I did only impacted ME, not things I did impacted someone else as well…It was tough!

It was also very worth it. It’s not that change isn’t disruptive or that relationships aren’t change, or that there are negative benefits associated with relationships, but in a good one the POSITIVE benefits outweigh the negative ones. Sure you might “have” to have a baby….and that will disrupt your life. So what? You might have to stay home and rear this little human for months or years. So what?

If you can’t grasp that being with someone is better than being “on your own” or that a child is a Precious Gift from God…I pity you. Because you have decided that your life as it is, is the epitome of your existence. And well I hate to break it to you, but no it’s probably not.

So yes if you get involved with someone your life will change, sometimes drastically. And if you chose wisely, it will change drastically for the good! But it will change, you cannot acquire a Significant Other and simultaneously keep everything else the same….Relationships don’t work like that, not healthy ones. You can’t get a Boy friend/Girl Friend and continue on with your life unchanged, save in places you expect or want, otherwise you’re just exploiting the other person in the relationship. When you acquire a SO you can’t have sex, but expect them to allow you to see other people…you cannot be in a relationship, but spend the same amount of time with your friends. A relationship changes, you….it’s the definition of relationship, now there is MORE than you. And if you can’t see this, well then, you aren’t in relationships, you’re just basically using an escort service. You have a person who performs certain duties, for certain compensation.

Largo said...

Career:

1a) A chosen pursuit; a profession or occupation.
1b) The general course or progression of one's working life or one's professional achievements: an officer with a distinguished career; a teacher in the midst of a long career.
2) A path or course, as of the sun through the heavens.
3) Speed: "My hasting days fly on with full career" (John Milton).

--

See also "careen".

One's career in life--or should I say career through life--is an adventure. Some of it is planned, some of it is not. Some if it is monetarily remunerative, some of it is remunerative in other ways. Some may not be remunerative at all.

@PM317:

BTW, I am a househusband, though my (a)vocations are by no means limited to the home.

Largo said...

[Even one who focuses on (say) an academic profession goes through different careers. One's career and an undergraduate gives way to one's career as a graduate student. Which gives way to one's career as... etc, and it does not end at tenure (though tenure mitigates against what further career disruptions that might come one's way.)]

reader_iam said...

This parasite is grateful for strange compromises, since without them I wouldn't be here (and nor would anyone else).

reader_iam said...

Reading "The Second Sex" was no sweat when I was young, but--like going to school full time, working three jobs and pulling frequent all-nighters with no ill effects--I couldn't manage it now. Or maybe I'm just not that motivated anymore. ; )

Largo said...

@reader_iam,

Were getting old. And not being that motivated anymore is a symptom, not a cause. [For me anyway. Blogger doesn't give your age.] :)

Oligonicella said...

pm317 --

"No, a house husband is not already acceptable. How many have you met so far?"

Actually, yes it is, your assertion notwithstanding. You seem to have acceptable and commonplace confused. Tarantulas are perfectly acceptable pets. How many people do you know that have one?

pm317 said...

I seem to sense a bit of aggression in the responses to my comment. "Acceptable notion" means (at least to me) that most men embrace the idea of being a househusband intellectually and in reality without resistance and that there would be millions and millions of them and that it would be commonplace but it is not(and I do have sympathies for the restrictions a society/culture puts on men for them not to be that). There are those who do break the mold as in "Largo" and my congratulations to him and others like him.

If you want to quibble at the word choice and not appreciate the point I make, have at it -- I am not a native English speaker and not even a writer and I have done very well among the best and brightest of you. And you did not answer my question -- if it is such a commonplace thing, how many house husbands do you know of?

Eric said...

No, a house husband is not already acceptable. How many have you met so far?

Two that I can think of off the top of my head. Amusingly enough one of them ended up going back to work because his wife decided he wasn't pulling his share of the family load. "Why should I be the only one working? He just sits at home taking care of the kids..."

So maybe you're right. It isn't acceptable. Because it's not acceptable to women.

Ralph L said...

the restrictions a society/culture puts on men for them not to be that
How little you know about men.

De Beauvoir must have been one angry, unhappy woman. I wonder how many others she created with her work.

Kirby Olson said...

Simone de Beauvoir had an affair with a 17-year old Jewish philosophy student in 1942. The young woman was then passed to Sartre before they tired of her, and threw her into Nazi-occupied Paris. I can't remember the young woman's name. But her account of their affair is in a book titled A Disgraceful Affair.

She was kind of the couple's Monica Lewinsky.

Joe said...


De Beauvoir must have been one angry, unhappy woman. I wonder how many others she created with her work.


I’m sure Beauvoir would have said, she liberated womyn from their false consciousnesses. They may have THOGHT themselves happy, in reality they were slaves, she merely showed them the true nature of their plight….you know like Marcuse who explained that, though the college students of the West lived in the richest, freest societies that had ever been, REALLY they were living in a Crypto-Fascist Tyranny and so therefore had every right to join in the “struggle” against the Fascistic Bourgeois State.

lucid said...

@Joan

If I weren't married, I'd ask you out.

Joan said...

Lucid -- Aw! If I weren't married, I'd consider it.

Deborah said...

Intellectualism run amok. They expected everyone to shut up and do what they say because they're smarter than we are. Sound famliar?

She never had kids. It is funny, having never experienced it, De Beauvoir thought herself expert on the subject of motherhood.
This is often the case.

The Crack Emcee said...

"I seem to sense a bit of aggression in the responses to my comment."

That's the first serious belly-laugh I've had today!

"'Acceptable notion' means (at least to me) that most men embrace the idea of being a househusband intellectually and in reality without resistance and that there would be millions and millions of them and that it would be commonplace but it is not(and I do have sympathies for the restrictions a society/culture puts on men for them not to be that)."

See, your first problem is you don't get to define shit - for yourself - at least, not with the rest of us around. What do think we are, stupid?

Deborah,

I've got this one friend, with a huge family, who I spend certain holidays with. One day, he asked me for advice on how to deal with a sticky situation regarding his granddaughter. I started talking and after a while he held up his hand and said, "Forget it, you don't understand anything about family dynamics."

And, being a foster child, I agreed - and then, after thanking him for asking, went back to listening to the expert.

De Beauvoir probably would've taken offense. Or dumped him "into Nazi-occupied Paris".

Real caring types, those French. Soooo-phisticated.