Saturday, June 14, 2008

No, woman is not our brother

There may be much to criticize in the life of Simone de Beauvoir. That does not nullify her writings. Here is the Conclusion to her book The Second Sex. I have excerpted the beginning and end of this chapter,

      ‘NO, WOMAN is not our brother; through indolence and deceit we have made of her a being apart, unknown, having no weapon other than her sex, which not only means constant warfare but unfair warfare – adoring or hating, but never a straight friend, a being in a legion with esprit de corps and freemasonry – the defiant gestures of the eternal little slave.’

    Many men would still subscribe to these words of Laforgue; many think that there will always be ‘strife and dispute’, as Montaigne put it, and that fraternity will never be possible. The fact is that today neither men nor women are satisfied with each other. But the question is to know whether there is an original curse that condemns them to rend each other or whether the conflicts in which they are opposed merely mark a transitional moment in human history.

    -------

    To begin with, there will always be certain differences between man and woman; her eroticism, and therefore her sexual world, have a special form of their own and therefore cannot fail to engender a sensuality, a sensitivity, of a special nature. This means that her relations to her own body, to that of the male, to the child, will never be identical with those the male bears to his own body, to that of the female, and to the child; those who make much of ‘equality in difference’ could not with good grace refuse to grant me the possible existence of differences in equality.

    Then again, it is institutions that create uniformity. Young and pretty, the slaves of the harem are always the same in the sultan’s embrace; Christianity gave eroticism its savour of sin and legend when it endowed the human female with a soul; if society restores her sovereign individuality to woman, it will not thereby destroy the power of love’s embrace to move the heart.

    Then again, it is institutions that create uniformity. Young and pretty, the slaves of the harem are always the same in the sultan’s embrace; Christianity gave eroticism its savour of sin and legend when it endowed the human female with a soul; if society restores her sovereign individuality to woman, it will not thereby destroy the power of love’s embrace to move the heart.

    It is nonsense to assert that revelry, vice, ecstasy, passion, would become impossible if man and woman were equal in concrete matters; the contradictions that put the flesh in opposition to the spirit, the instant to time, the swoon of immanence to the challenge of transcendence, the absolute of pleasure to the nothingness of forgetting, will never be resolved; in sexuality will always be materialised the tension, the anguish, the joy, the frustration, and the triumph of existence.

    To emancipate woman is to refuse to confine her to the relations she bears to man, not to deny them to her; let her have her independent existence and she will continue none the less to exist for him also: mutually recognising each other as subject, each will yet remain for the other an other.

    The reciprocity of their relations will not do away with the miracles – desire, possession, love, dream, adventure – worked by the division of human beings into two separate categories; and the words that move us – giving, conquering, uniting – will not lose their meaning.

    On the contrary, when we abolish the slavery of half of humanity, together with the whole system of hypocrisy that it implies, then the ‘division’ of humanity will reveal its genuine significance and the human couple will find its true form. ‘The direct, natural, necessary relation of human creatures is the relation of man to woman,’ Marx has said. ‘The nature of this relation determines to what point man himself is to be considered as a generic being, as mankind; the relation of man to woman is the most natural relation of human being to human being. By it is shown, therefore, to what point the natural behaviour of man has become human or to what point the human being has become his natural being, to what point his human nature has become his nature.’

    The case could not be better stated. It is for man to establish the reign of liberty in the midst of the world of the given. To gain the supreme victory, it is necessary, for one thing, that by and through their natural differentiation men and women unequivocally affirm their brotherhood.

There is nothing in even this feminism of de Beauvoir about men and women being the same. Rather we see that men and women are equal in their relations to each other and that woman have the full rights of all humans. That women not exist within a caste system. If woman were welcomed as brother, then woman would be treated as an equal.

To call a woman a "brother" and to exclude her from the rights of being a "brother" by which I mean an "equal" is to nullify her existence, to make her contigent in every way on the male. Such is the condition of women in some churches.

Just as Christianity has been the friend of slavery and oppression, so has feminism been the friend of communism and many other constructs we now disapprove of. I hope people can read this and learn a little bit about the impact of words. This book is part of our intellectual history and illuminates the meaning of the word "brother" as an equal. Too bad some Christians have squandered their linguistic heritage and emptied the word of the meaning of equality.

2 comments:

Greg Anderson said...

Hi Suzanne,

If I understand Beauvoir correctly she argues for a recognition of the differences between men and women, but minus the male dominated hierarchy which religious traditions have imposed on them.

Author Charles Baxter celebrates this in his short story "Gryphon", with the static character Miss Ferenczi:

..."She talked for forty minutes straight. There seemed to be less connection between her ideas, but the ideas themselves were, as the dictionary would say, fabulous. She said she had heard of a huge jewel, in what she called the antipodes, that was so brilliant that when light shone into it at a certain angle it would blind whoever was looking at its center. She said the biggest diamond in the world was cursed and had killed everyone who owned it, and by a trick of fate it was called the Hope Diamond. Diamonds are magic, she said, and this is why women wear them on their fingers, as a sign of the magic of womanhood. Men have strength, Miss Ferenczi said, but no true magic. That is why men fall in love with women but women do not fall in love with men: they just love being loved..."

Baxter's short story is a celebration of differences. He takes great pains however, to show that they form no valid basis for an either/or ideology.

Heidi Renee said...

Well said, thank you.

Your reference to "caste" system put me in mind of a new (to me) theologian I have just encountered - Pandita Ramabai - I was not familiar with her, but she was an incredible pioneer:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pandita_Ramabai