Typos p. 172: Deuxieme [= Deuxième]; p. 172: Deuxieme [= Deuxième]; p. 174: Picadilly [= Piccadilly]; p. 174: Moliere [= Molière]; p. 174: Deuxieme [= Deuxième]; p. 174: plutot [= plutôt]; p. 174: developpement [= développement]; p. 175: societe les prive [= société les privé]; p. 177: Bronte [= Brontë]; p. 177: Deuxieme [= Deuxième]
Woman as the "second sex" *
Anthony M. Ludovici
The International Journal of Sexology 6, 195253, pp. 172177
- p. 172 -
On the anti-Feminist side, on the other hand, the great vogue of Weininger's Sex and Character, Schopenhauer's essay Ueber das Weib, and Arabella Kenealy's Feminism and Sex Extinction, is comprehensible only if we appreciate the profound ignorance of sex in general which the sex-phobia of Christianity spread over Europe and especially over North and Western Europe after the Reformation.
Indeed, the whole controversy about the proper sphere, functions and rights of the sexes in society, which has raged for over two millenniums, could have arisen and endured only in a world where no final and magisterial rulings concerning sex had ever been pronounced. For to start arguing about such matters, not as if they were facts to be understood and assigned their proper place, but conditions which the will of man and woman could make this or that, is tantamount to arguing about altering the tides, or the seasons of the year, or the phases of the moon.
Thus both Feminists and anti-Feminists have romantically imagined that by taking thought they could adjust and modify a state of affairs which in reality is permanently anchored to natural and not to man-made laws.
Derived, as Llewelyn Powys rightly shows, in The Pathetic Fallacy, from the revolting sexual abuses of pre-Christian times, the sex-phobia here mentioned, like the cash yard-stick for the measurement of human worthiness, was one of the many curses which we owe to the enormous range and power of Roman influence at the dawn of our era.
If, however, at this late hour of the day, we still believe the sex-controversy is a legitimate one, and that the questions it covers may be settled by debate, without regard to the absolutes fixed by the psycho-physical differentiation of the sexes, then, whether we are Feminists or Anti-Feminists, we could not do better than secure Simone de Beauvoir's Le Deuxieme Sexe, And we should do this not because, since its publication in 1949, it has run into 81 editions, and has been issued in a German translation by one of the most enlightened publishers in Germany, but because as a treatise on the purely Feminist side it is unquestionably outstanding and puts everything of the same kind utterly in the shade.
It deals in two volumes with every aspect of the sexual question and displays an erudition and dialectical skill not only rare in female advocates of Feminism, but also in most champions of either camp. It moreover combines a felicitous and attractive literary style with the lucidity and cogency of our best European scientific treatises.
Woman's development is followed from infancy to old age, and every ima-
* With particular reference to Le Deuxieme Sexe by Simone de Beauvoir, Demy Octavo, 2 Vols., Francs 1190. Paris: Gallimard.
In the statement on the biology of Woman and the way it determines tier destiny there is little to criticize. Occasionally our authoress goes very much astray, as when she speaks of the difficulties of human, equine and bovine parturition as if they were constant, inevitable and, in fact, "normal"; or when she asserts that spermatogenesis first occurs in the male from 15 to 16 years of age; or when she implies that "normally" 85 per cent of women suffer during menstruation. Nor, when she speaks of human parturition as "dangerous" does she explain that it is so only under abnormal conditions. Even to claim that it must always be painful is a gratuitous exaggeration, as is also her claim about the painfulness of milk-secretion in the breasts.
Is it, moreover, accurate to state without qualification that, of all female mammals, woman is most tyrannically subjected to the reproductive function, and that Woman, of all female mammals, is the most refractory to that tyranny? Are not these conditions contingent on particular social customs, states of health and the kind of male partners obtainable?
The authoress also contests the view, common to Freud and Adler, that penis-envy is the source of female inferiority feelings, and, she adds, that in any case it is not universal. But neither are female inferiority feelings universal. We have not found them so. Madame de Beauvoir argues that, because many girls discover the male anatomical peculiarity only late in life, it cannot, as Freud and Adler claim, act as a cause of feminine inferiority feelings. But who said it did in such circumstances? We doubt very much whether Freud or Adler would have maintained that, when the first sight of the penis occurs after the 8th or 9th year, it would necessarily generate inferiority feelings in the female in such a way as to form a complex. For few girls after eight years of age would be likely to regard their own lack of a penis as the result of a mutilation.
Ultimately our authoress argues, it is not the absence of the penis per se that arouses inferiority feelings, but the sense of being deprived of the social advantages associated with the penis. It is only as the symbol of privilege that it provokes a feeling of inferiority. But can anyone seriously claim that at the ages postulated by Freud when complexes are formed, little girls are already aware of male privileges in our society?
Throughout her work, Madame de Beauvoir likens women to the proletariat under Capitalism and with Negroes in the U.S.A. Her reasons for this are not clear. What is clear to any objective student of humanity is what Anton Nemilov pointed out in his Biological Tragedy of Woman i.e., that the human female is the victim of a raw deal at the hands of Nature herself. Nemilov may exaggerate the details and overrate the sum of pain and inconvenience. Nature exacts from women. But generally speaking he is right. The fact that a creature has been given a raw deal by Nature herself, however, does not justify our likening her to groups, like the proletariat and the Negroes, whose raw deal, if any, has been given them by their fellow men.
The moment we class women more correctly with soldiers conscripted to undertake what are necessary but often sacrificial duties for society, we see the falsity of the other analogies. When, furthermore, we appreciate that women, unlike soldiers, are not conscripted for their duties by their fellow men but by Nature, we see that the analogies drawn by Madame de Beauvoir, as by all Feminists hitherto, are not only false but also quite unfair to Women's fellow creatures Men.
And yet this palpable error has become fastened like a permanent dye on all Feminist reasoning, except perhaps that of a writer like Charlotte Perkins Stetson.
Nor is Madame de Beauvoir more convincing when, following Engels, she identifies the period which initiated Woman's alleged "repression" as the Bronze and Iron Ages. For why should Woman's relative weakness have appear-
Nor is Madame de Beauvoir always reliable on matters of fact. It is not true that no trace of the use of contraceptives can be found in France before the 18th century. (See, for instance, Francois Baumal's Le Feminisme au temps de Moliere, p. 65). It is also perfectly evident from Madame de Sévigné's Letters to her daughter that both knew of some kind of contraceptive.
Nowhere, moreover, does our authoress ever state unequivocally that a woman's refusal to bear children is a surrender of her best psycho-physical interests. But here again, although in other respects far superior to the rest of Feminist literature, Le Deuxieme Sexe does not rise above it. Hence Madame de Beauvoir's sneer at parents who "elevent leur fille en vue du mariage plutot qu'ils ne favourisent un developpement personnel". But, in view of the importance to health arid sanity in normal women of the functions of child-bearing and its sequel, lactation, why should not dutiful parents concentrate on getting their daughters married?
A curiously subjective note which, inadvertently perhaps, escapes her and betrays the root of the Feminist attitude in general i.e., the envy of Man and the horror of being Woman is Madame de Beauvoir's remark to the effect that pregnancy provokes spontaneous repulsion. In whom pray? Surely, only in the corrupt civilization of Western Europe and America! But to make this sweeping generalization as if it were applicable to mankind in all Ages, healthy and unhealthy, is unworthy of a serious author.
It is not accurate, moreover, to maintain without qualification, that Woman is a pacificist. The passionless, male-envying woman of north-western Europe is certainly not pacificist. As two world wars have shown, she not only favours war but, when once the struggle is engaged, also ardently supports the policy of prolonging it to the bitter end. This has been noticed by Proust, Dr. Fritz Wittels and John Cowper Powys, in addition to myself. Only Fritz Wittels and Powys, however, hint at the roots of Woman's bellicosity, which is the desire to kill the male or see him killed, and only Powys makes it evident that he writes from personal observation of the English female in war time. After admitting that his own attitude to war was "somewhat of a feminine one", he adds: "though I certainly did not experience any of those ambiguous feminine emotions which seemed to delight in sending handsome young men to the battlefield." (Autobiography, Chap. II).
None who ever witnessed the revolting weekly gatherings of young and old females convened by Christabel Pankhurst in the Pavilion, Picadilly, during the latter years of the 19141918 War, can doubt Powys's words. But that they cannot apply to other European women is evident to mention only two examples from the behaviour of Spanish women at Tarifa during the Peninsular War, to those Russian women at Smolensk during World War II, described by Tanya Matthews in Chapter IX of Russian Child, Russian Wife. (See the 1950 February issue of this Journal, p. 6).
Our authoress claims that the more devoted attitude of wives, mothers and sisters in Catholic as compared with Protestant countries is due to the influence of religion in each case. But, surely, it is a question of native passion and not of religion at all. Those Smolensk women acted spontaneously in the way their instincts, not their religion, prompted them. They are not the sort who envy and therefore secretly hate men, and who can look on coldly while their brothers, husbands, cousins and boy friends are being slaughtered. So that Madame de Beauvoir's claim concerning pacificism really applies only to the best and happiest women of Europe, certainly not, therefore, to Anglo-Saxon women.
On the main question of the relative? capacity of the sexes in any sphere, she repeats, to our surprise, the threadbare legend to the effect that "Si l'on trouve
Can she have forgotten, then, the long periods in European history when, at least in painting, music and literature, women have had abundant opportunities of expressing their genius had they possessed it? Besides, as we have often pointed out, in the three departments of civilized life cooking, clothing and child welfare and child psychology where women have traditionally been in complete and often sole command, all the outstanding achievements, discoveries, inventions and techniques have been the product of male and not of female ability.
The authoress's second volume is better than the first and in places its profundity astonishes. But it also reveals much hasty and superficial thought.
It seems palpably inaccurate, for instance, to claim that women who are notoriously exhibitionists, should dislike to display their nakedness. Simone de Beauvoir's dissertations on clothes also betray inadequate study. Breeches and trousers, she should know, are essentially feminine garments. It was only the rigours of the climate in Northern Europe which led to these garments being adopted by the male who worked outside in all weathers; whilst the survival of the kilt for males in both Scotland and Greece shows that even the same rigours of climate could not everywhere lead to the abandonment of the male's traditional garb.
She also, rather rashly it would seem, regards it as incontrovertible that marriage always kills love. No one would dream of denying that all over the civilized world to-day legal separations, divorces and unhappy couples are increasing by leaps and bounds. But that is no proof of the lethal effect marriage is supposed to have on love. All it means is that the affinity Goethe quite rightly postulated as essential to a permanent attachment is becoming ever more and more rare. Thus the modern strictures on matrimony, including Simone de Beauvoir's, apply only to the particular type of human society created by our late, corrupt and anarchical civilization, in which individual differentiation, and consequently the atomization of all populations, has been carried so far that, except on the ground of mutual sexual desire, the most fragile of all for an enduring partnership, there is always complete incompatibility of all personality traits.
Nobody needs to be told that fundamentally, i.e., in their respective cycles, forms of gratification and ultimate adaptations the sexes are incompatible, so that, before the union based only on mutual sexual desire starts, conflicts and clashes may be expected. But to-day there are added to these primary and inevitable incompatibilities further differences incalculably numerous, owing to the marked disparities of type, descent, endocrine equipment, pigmentation and in fact all biological characters, (which, as we now know, involve also marked psychological correlatives) which insuperably separate modern couples and make them worse than strangers to each other. For strangers might at a pinch show affinities. But these modern couples, drawn from our populations of highly differentiated individuals, can have no affinity.
Who then can wonder at the soaring figures of matrimonial failure? But these are no proof that marriage kills love; and the authoress's conclusion that they do is the more odd seeing that she is well aware of the fact that to-day the only bond between male and female is the sexual appetite. Her conclusion, therefore, that the solution is the abolition of the permanent matrimonial relationship and the institution of "free" love, is tantamount merely to trying to repair a falling house with gum arable. For, in the present circumstances, to make sexual unions free would, in the course of less than a generation, lead to complete promiscuity.
Again, in describing married women's disaffection to the fact that domestic chores are "unproductive" (which is quite untrue by-the-bye) and are rewarded by no "honour" or "acquired dignity", she never really hits the right nail on the head. What is wrong with all this side of the matron's life is not that she derives no honour, dignity, or reward from society for her drudgery, but that in our vulgar European and
As for the horror of young wives at the experiences of their first night, this again is by no means general and occurs only when the man is a bungler or shy and inexpert lover, or when there is some physical abnormality. It is, moreover, only in our mad civilization, and particularly in Anglo-Saxon societies, that such men abound.
Simone de Beauvoir, however, happens to be right in alleging that to-day a man's sexual relations with a woman depreciate her in his eyes. As things are, this is inevitable, because, so long as most women feel inferior and humanity looks upon venery as rather shameful, not to say degrading, he who indulges in it must forfeit a good deal of female esteem. It is significant, for instance, that in Christian mythology neither the God nor his only sou is married, and even the son is supposed to be the outcome of a miraculous virginal conception. At all events, it is hardly to be expected that, in these times, women can reason about love without considering these two factors and, with regard to themselves, to say, "I who feel so inferior am adored by Jack, or Tom, or Dick. Therefore, he can't be up to much."
One grave error pervading the whole of her two volumes is the way in which the authoress repeatedly speaks of inculcating an inferiority complex upon a woman already adult. She seems in her study of the New Psychology to have overlooked the fact that inferiority complexes are not thus implanted in adult people. But her inaccuracies are always greatest when she is defending Borne cherished ideal of Feminism. For instance, quite contrary to the findings of all gynaecologists, including the Russian, who altered their policy regarding legalized abortion because of the ascertained deleterious effects of the operation even when expertly performed, she declares that, when performed by "genuine consultant gynaecologists" artificial abortion "is not as dangerous as the anti-abortion laws would have us believe."
Exception must also be taken to her claim that there is no such tiling as a maternal instinct in Woman. Like too many present day sociologists and psychologists, she is much too prone to generalize from a study of the sick and abnormal women of our corrupt and unhealthy European civilization. The same remarks apply to her statements that "the majority of women both insist on their womanhood and hate it"; that "the current belief that maternity is the zenith of woman's self-expression and realization is quite mistaken", and that "children are women's supreme destiny is merely a propagandist's slogan." There are, unfortunately, scores of similarly dubious statements in her book, most of which, though obviously inspired by a too narrow concentration upon the sick women of her Age and her civilization, are heretical and inaccurate in respect of the human female of a more healthy society.
Finally, let it be said that Madame de Beauvoir displays a taste in foreign literature which only too often betrays the contaminated source from which she derives her knowledge of it. It is, to say the least, unfortunate that foreigners, even cultivated ones, should to a very great extent depend for their opinion of the status and quality of say, an English writer, upon the kind of vogue he appears to enjoy in his native country. Feeling shy of forming an independent and self-reliant judgment on an author who does not use their own language, foreigners thus often place a confidence in the views about him expressed by his fellow-countrymen, which leads them again and again either grossly to over-estimate a mediocrity, or conversely, sadly to under-rate a genius whom his or her countrymen have failed to acclaim.
Hence the absurdly exaggerated importance Madame de Beauvoir gives to writers like D. H. Lawrence, Katherine Mansfield, Bernard Shaw, Virginia Woolf, and others. Thanks to the exaltation far in excess of their actual
Contrariwise, she often appears inadequately to appreciate a real genius of very high achievement in English literature for the self-same reason that she over-rates many English mediocrities namely, her tendency to allow her opinions to be coloured by contemporary English criticism of little worth, although probably very influential. Her inadequate respect for Emily Bronte is a case in point. Very rarely do English critics give Wuthering Heights its proper rank as probably the greatest novel in the English language. Very seldom do we find even an approximate understanding of the theme of this book and of its leading characters, among the scores of books and essays relating to the Brontes. Some are even blind enough to accept Charlotte Bronte's view of the book. This, however, hardly justifies a foreign author of Madame de Beauvoir's intelligence and erudition, in accepting English "expert" opinion and leaving it uncorrected by her own judgment.
Despite all these strictures, however, the fact remains that Le Deuxieme Sexe is a magisterial treatise on a great subject. None of its blemishes are conspicuous enough to mar the impression of care, thoroughness, learning, and generally objective reasoning which it makes upon the reader, and if she may be charged with neglecting or wholly ignoring the works of leading anti-Feminists, especially of her able fellow-countryman, Theodore Joran an omission which invites the inference that she could not perhaps answer his arguments she must, on the other hand, be given the credit of having, in the course of her work, made innumerable damaging admissions concerning Woman, none of which are ever found in the Feminist literature of Anglo-Saxon countries.
Her neglect of her opponents may, however, be less deliberate than it appears. It may be, for example, that she has not even read Joran. Evidence favouring this view occurs in her penultimate chapter where, after pointing out that men do not willingly consult a female doctor, she gives an entirely wrong reason for the fact. Now, if she had read Joran, she would have found that not only does he acknowledge the truth of the charge, but also advances the correct reason for it.
It seems to us, therefore, that, as a fair summary of the whole of the two volumes, it might be said that, although they constitute by far the best Feminist treatise ever written, they err in precisely the same way in which all such literature errs by ascribing to institutional influences and factors and to man-made laws and conventions, the disabilities and handicaps of femaleness, while turning a blind eye to the glaring and palpable truth that all the major difficulties and inconveniences of Woman's life are of Nature's own relentless contriving.