Simone de Beauvoir was born on this day in 1908. Simone de Beauvoir was a French intellectual who is largely known for writing The Second Sex, one of feminism’s seminal works. I am in the process of working my way through this heavy tome and I don’t profess more than a cursory knowledge of its contents, however one of Beauvoir’s ideas was the idea that women are made ‘other’ by men, and part of the way men other women is by making them mysterious. Seeing women as mysterious allows men to sustain a view of women as the ‘other’ and it also absolves men of the need to understand women. Or to even try.
Well guess what? Women are mysterious. Women are not mysterious.
Insofar as the true inner workings of human beings often remain hidden, even from the person in question, women are mysterious. For example, when I am eating a meal I turn ravenous and lupine, like a starving animal huddled over a steaming pile of blood and guts and bile. I consider myself a fundamentally generous person. I pride myself on sharing the fruits of my good fortune and hard work in life. And yet, when I notice someone eyeing my plate, the skin on the back of my neck starts to twitch. I verily feel the corner of my lip starting to tremble to expose the tip of my canines. I even hate it when people tell me my water is boiling. I’m like “why the hell are you watching my water? Hisssss! Find your own water”. I didn’t grow up in abject poverty. I always had enough to eat. I’ve been to various psychologists hoping to understand this undesirable and ugly facet of my personality, to no avail. My last counsellor suggest ‘self-acceptance’ might be the best I can hope for in this case. She too was stumped. So yah, women are fucking mysterious. People are mysterious.
However, women are also not mysterious. Things work very much the same way as they work for everyone else. I have long lustrous hair, that often gets stuck in my butt crack and niggles until I go to the bathroom to extract it. When I get nervous my armpits smell like vegetable soup. I want to be liked and praised and will often take the smallest perceived slight and turn it over obsessively in my mind, even as I may seem imperturbable. I get terrified, and exhausted, and gassy, and greedy. I pluck long thick hairs out of my chin and shave my upper lip with a razor because I’m too lazy to book a wax and don’t understand why what’s good for the goose isn’t good for the gander. I just read an essay by Samantha Irby in her collection We Are Never Meeting in Real Life where she talks about shitting on the side of the road during a traffic jam and using wet snow to clean the diarrhea that had splashed up into her vagina. Don’t get me wrong, bodily function is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the ways that women are human, but I god damn loved this. And even though this probably isn’t exactly what Simone de Beauvoir had in mind, I think it is an incredible homage to de-mystification and un-othering.
Happy Birthday Simone de Beauvoir and to continuing to understand and truly see one another!