I was nervous, but excited too, to read The Second Sex for A Year of Feminist Classics. When the book arrived in my mailbox, I admit I had to do a double take: that many pages?! But still: nerves and excitement about finally reading this.
Here is the thing though: it is not just a tome of a book, but it is slow reading too. Now, having read the first 300 pages, which means I have finished Part I, I am not all that excited anymore. Reading as few as 20 pages feels like a true accomplishment with this book, and yet, when you sit down to report your progress on GoodReads, you notice that you’re still only 10% done after five of such 20-page-sessions.
Simone de Beauvoir is smart, alright. Often, she makes me feel stupid. I have an okay-ish background in philosophy, but she appeals to so many different concepts all the time that I find it hard to follow. Also, the pace of the book, the style, it feels I am only reading as a passive observer, never really engaging with the text.
I did enjoy the Introduction. I made notes. Lots of them. I could have copied the whole introduction as one long note. So interesting, so sharp, so smart.
Something else I liked? How she rejects Freud. Ah, I have a feeling I simply like reading how Freud was wrong.
But then the problematic analysis started. Perhaps I simply misunderstood, perhaps I am stuck in my academic mindset of my specific “brand” of historical research, but generalisations about history get on my nerves. Especially the part about prehistory, which such bold assertions about a society we know so little about..
I know that books about grand developments deserve a place in the canon of history books too. Often, they make for much more interesting reading than the detailed analysis of one group, at one period, through one theoretical framework.. But De Beauvoir goes beyond that. I am not saying I discard her conclusion that women have always been cast in the role of The Other, or that they have been oppressed for most, if not all, of history. It is the manner in which she sets about proving this, that I couldn’t go along with. It got on my nerves. What do we know about the developments back then? Sometimes, her theories read like Hegel’s ideas on the development from Subjective to Objective mind, pointing with such seeming effortlessness to ‘grand changing points’ in the history of the world. I don’t know.. I just don’t know..
And the part about literature? I can see how it shows how in any system that reduces women to “nature”, “fertility”, etc. How any reductionist thinking, in the many forms it took, fashioned women into something not-completely-human-like-men. At least, I think that was what De Beauvoir was trying to tell me, because I admit her thorough analysis of authors and their work were so detailed as to bore me a little, which led to skimming at times. I wish I did not have to admit this. I often had to remind myself that I am reading this to “finally read this classic” and that skimming is not exactly to that purpose. But.. but.. I have no excuses really, I just skimmed, I felt it was alright to skip over some lines hoping I still got the general gist.
I will persevere with this book, and I do plan to finish Part II eventually. But it may take me until December (since this part is another 500 pages). I have heard that it becomes more interesting from here on out. Perhaps that is true?
I feel so ignorant and dumb and as if I am missing out on something important about this book. Oh, I know about its importance, I had just hoped against hope that it would be easier to read.