March is women’s history month (in the US).
I’m talking about some of the women who have inspired me.
Today’s woman is Simone de Beauvoir. She was a French philosopher, social theorist, political activist, and writer. Although her works in social theory and philosophy are striking, important, and accessible works, she is often remembered as being the long-time lover/partner of French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, which is quite a heavy bit of irony. Because people far smarter and more educated than I have put together a Wikipedia entry on de Beauvoir, I will link that here.
I first discovered de Beauvoir at about age 12 with her novel Blood of Others, about living in Paris during the second World War. It was one of the first books I remember that was political, and which dealt rather predominantly with ethics and the idea of freedom. It wasn’t, to my 12-year-old recollection, the best *story* I’d ever encountered, but I’ve remembered that book and the ways in which it complemented what I, at 12, could not easily articulate about political philosophy.
Later I encountered de Beauvoir as a social theorist and philosopher. When I learned that feminists weren’t all a bunch of “man-hating bull dykes”. Sadly, that is a direct quotation from some of the …shall we say ‘anti-feminists’ whose company I had the pleasure of sharing. Feminism wasn’t, in fact, about “putting men in their place” or about women trying to take over the world. It wasn’t about forcing men into submission; in fact, what I learned from Simone de Beauvoir is that feminism really wasn’t about men. It was about oppression. It was about equality. It was about changing the idea that there is some kind of ethereal mystery about women that sets them apart from men. That I wasn’t the only person who didn’t like the idea that women ought to aspire to be more like men, nor that gender ought to provide an automatic enshrinement of privilege or …pedestalisation (I totally made that word up).
Of course, you can’t talk about Simone de Beauvoir without talking about sexuality. de Beauvoir’s work was the first I encountered which talked about gender fluidity and the acceptance of bisexuality as a ‘normal’ state. Once again, I found a woman whose thoughts and words ignited my own, and whose works provided me some comfort that I was not the weirdest person ever invented. NOT THAT THERE WOULD BE ANYTHING WRONG WITH THAT.
In general, I was never particularly fond of existentialist philosophy, because so much of it is …inaccessible. Thick. Heavy. I mean, spend enough time with it and it’s easy enough to grok. But Simone de Beauvoir’s flavour of existentialism was different, because it just made sense. Her works introduced me to the realm of philosophy, and the idea that thinking about things is often just as important as doing things. I think reading de Beauvoir in high school reinforced my passion for lifelong learning. It drove me to read more different thinkers and opposing opinions. It’s something I still do and a goal I still keep.