Saturday, June 20, 2020

The Sordid Sex

(My pregnant wife)

I have read The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir. I found it to be an arduous and mostly awful read. Not because I disagreed with her premises - those were agreeable enough. I found her to be a poor thinker and writer. She makes so many meandering and repetitive solipsistic assertions. She does a poor job at establishing her premises as being shared experiences. She assumes so much truth in what she writes, which is mostly in obfuscating rhetoric, often working against her own points. She repeats herself as if doing so makes her more convincing. She seems more certain the second time she writes the same thought, but she makes her points less lucid by doing so. She posits her personal experience as universal emotional truths. Her premises remain presumed, yet universally praised. Her target readers never notice - that is her magic. 

Maybe I miss certain components of understanding. Or, I am not her intended audience. It must be very difficult to be the lover of Sartre, and Algren.

I finished her book, out of some odd and adopted sense of moral duty, but I am past the age of lying about it now. The book is nothing at all to rally behind. Though what else is there? The very best books on the value of equality and human rights, and the essential dignity of humanity, were written by men. Feminism, as an ideal, is an offspring of male ideas of what equality should be and mean - the fraternal principles, of which we are now expected to express regret and shame.

Simone is quoted now about as often as is the Magna Carta. 

Yes, I understand that men prevented women from having these ideas first. Subjugation, patriarchy, etc. Great untold female ideas, kept from the world by brute force.

Genesis told us all of that. As horrid a myth as could be devised at the time. No woman that I have ever spoken with on this specific theological concern has ever noticed that the symbol of the legless serpent means anything other than the initial reading would suggest - temptation. The willingness to yield to it for the purpose of gaining knowledge is read as being only a byproduct of infantile male sexuality and fear of feminine mystique. 

Sin is the resounding motif - why look any further. Snakes are an embodiment of the terror of the death of flesh. This universal consternation occurs, post-birth and pre-language, in every culture. Genesis is Hemingway-esque when viewed as a moral tale. The code hero, if you care to hear the story, is one of female courage and suffering. Told by men, for men. More honest than the current credit granted. Truths have a way of becoming surreptitious when not accepted. 

I have read much better feminist works than The Second Sex, of course. A Room Of One's Own, for one. The Feminine Mystique, as another example.

The worst - and I am not even sure why this is considered a feminist work - would be: The Bell Jar

Sylvia Plath is one of my favorite memoirists. I have CS to thank for that recommendation and insight. She knew so much more than she relayed in her fictive writing. Her overarching ideals and naivety, and even her femaleness, destroyed her freshman novel. Insistence on a theme robs it of its mystery.

But her poems, and mostly her memoirs, well... those were really something. Astonishing at how much she intuited and grasped and crafted about the specific nature of suffering.

I must be "at that age" where I'm just a very bad Thanksgiving dinner guest. If I praise female intellect it is somehow an insult, even if praising any other intellect (male) is disallowed by all respectable standards. If I praise what I value of femininity, it is an outright heresy. If I challenge the prevailing winds, I am gaseous. If I speak, it is from the voice of the privileged oppressor.

If I this, then of course that

What does a thinking creature do? Live my life like Sylvia Plath? 

While all of this may be true or false enough, I notice the nuanced aspects of the woman who most wishes me to notice such things about her - R. Somehow even the letter looks like her leaning forward, looking back, with legs spread towards me. Right hand on her hip, knowingly.

It is rare that Raquel moves without my eyes in concert with her. In this, she knows that she is among the most unequal creatures to have ever lived. No woman that I have ever whispered or listened to has ever expressed the wish to be equal to another. Women may wish to be treated as equal to men, but none have ever wished to be treated as equal to another. That is not at all what they are fighting for. I love this open secret about them.  

Come to me now thus, Goddess, and release me
From distress and pain; and all my distracted
Heart would seek, do thou, once again fulfilling,
             Still be me ally!

- Sappho

"You make me feel prettier every time you walk into the room."