Saturday, January 03, 2009

Sixty Years since The Second Sex

It is sixty years since Simone de Beauvoir's book, The Second Sex, was originally published. This book became seminal in feminism, because of the attempt to define woman as she is rather than as the Other, or counterpart, to men. It's combination of existentialism and feminism, as well as discussion of sexuality contributed to the growth of feminism and the (still continuing) search for equality in society.

It's original 'rushed' translation by Howard Parshley meant that the message did not survive completely intact. Apparently Parshley had a limited understanding of French and existentialist philosophy; his expertise was in sexual reproduction; not really a good basis for rendering something so complex as Beauvoir's book.

The Second Sex came about from Beauvoir's attempt to write about herself. After writing that she was a woman, Beauvoir realised that she needed to define 'woman.' The rest, as that awful cliche says, is history (herstory, ourstory?).

I remember reading from my mother's copy a long time ago, on the cusp of womanhood. I don't remember much though I like to think I absorbed some of it by osmosis... (obviously not enough, if I had six children - ah!). I'm very intrigued by whispers of the new translation coming from Cape (Random House), but I can't determine how soon this new translation will be forthcoming, if indeed it has been published. If you have good French, apparently reading it in the original is the most illuminating method of discovering The Second Sex. In the meantime, Happy Anniversary year, Simone & The Second Sex.


Frances said...

Can it really be sixty years? How much ahead of her time she was.

BarbaraS said...

Yes, it's incredible really how long ago, and what's more incredible is how much we are still trying to balance things out :/

apprentice said...

I heard the piece on Woman's Hour about the anniversary.

Hard to know where equality is going, especialy in a downturn.
Strange that there hasn't been a better translation.

Women Rule Writer said...

V interesting B, thanks for that post. I will keep an eye out for this new translation (not that I read the last one...)
Sad that we still live under patriarchy. Of course, it's all so much worse for our sisters in Islamic countries.

BarbaraS said...

It is strange, A, since it's such an important book. But isn't it typical of how women's concerns are treated as being quite secondary... look at the title of the book, doesn't it say it all about how Beauvoir thought it ridiculous.

WRW, we're still a long time waiting: as long as we treat children and the women as second class to the need to earn... oh don't get me started: it's much too early in the day/week/month/year to be ranting...

sexy said...