I had been thinking for a while about the best way to incorporate some of the older books on feminist theory. I had thought about lists, which they say are super popular, but it never felt right. There aren’t a whole lot of these books that I’ve read, but they deserve their due. Some of these books changed the way we look at some issues. Then it hit me, TBT is the perfect time for it. I’ll only be doing it about once a month, but it’ll be good to showcase some historic work in this area.
I read The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir almost two years ago now for an entirely different, yet still feminist, blog. It was interesting to read feminist theory from a different era. It was both depressing and hopeful. It was depressing in that I had never realized how bad it could be and how much was still a problem and hopeful in that there were several things that we have better energy around and are less of a problem. Less, I wouldn’t really call them not a problem.
Of all the things she writes about, it was her discussion of abortion that got to me the most and has stayed with me the longest. I have never liked the idea of abortions, but it was an issue that I kept my distance from and kept me from admitting that I was a feminist for a long time. The part that got me thinking about it in a new light was this one:
Men universally forbid abortion; but accept it individually as a convenient solution; they can contradict themselves with dizzying cynicism; but woman feels the contradictions in her wounded flesh (pg 602)
Yes, this sentiment is harsh on men but not entirely wrong about people. It was easy for me to say that I would never get an abortion while never being in a position to wonder if I needed one. For as long as I’ve been sexually active, I’ve had easy access to birth control. I know I’m just one of the lucky ones.
That piece started me down a road that led to all the medical reasons why it might be necessary and by the time I got to people who just didn’t want to have kids, I had lost the inclination to question the moral or legal basis for their reasons. We can’t put restrictions on it, it’s not for laws to decide what are good enough reasons. For example, we like to say things like that it is okay in times of rape, but it’s yet another hypocrisy, another double edged sword. We say that but we know that society often doesn’t believe women who say that they have been raped. Then we (as a society and not necessarily individuals) would just say that she was only saying it to get an abortion. There are tons of reasons why people say that a rape wasn’t a rape, tons of reasons why we’d rather believe that one person is lying more than that another person (who we usually know) is capable of forcefully entering their body. It’s so much easier to lie, it’s a lie right? Well, usually not.
There was another section, this one on motherhood, that made me cringe sometimes too. I am one of those women who would have gone crazy at home and my family would have paid the price for it. As it is, my son gets to have a sane mom who can put her controlling energy into something other than forcing him to do what I want him to do. My place in the world not being judged on what his actions, aspirations, and abilities are takes a lot of pressure off of both of us. I can’t imagine living the life of a mother back then as the kind of controlling and slightly crazy person that I can be.
Anyway, it was Beavoir who helped me understand a lot about the life of women before the second wave and though her ideas about lesbians and trans people definitely reflect a time when people were less informed about them, her book was a game changer.
Okay, mainly the lives of Western, white women, but it’s not like anyone should stop here and call their knowledge complete. This had been a good starting point for me, what was yours?