This post was inspired by an interview with Beauvoir 25 years after the publication of The Second Sex. Here is the link to the interview: The Second Sex 25 years later: Interview with Simone de Beauvoir
What Beauvoir said is classic. For women who can live independently and don’t feel many obstacles in their life, it’s easy to forget that gender inequality is real. You may be a privileged woman because you’re an intellectual, or you have more masculinity and suppressed femininity (a so-called “class collaborationist”) and benefit from the male-oriented society. You might tend to think that other women have choices too but they chose to be in a lower position because of their suppressed nature. No, most of them don’t. The inequality is real and we need to understand the struggle of femininity.
Here I say the struggle of femininity instead of women. Since women are not the sole targets being discriminated. Discrimination is not targeted mainly on biological sex. Or at least it’s less so now. Feminism has greatly promoted rights for women and gradually made inequality less visible. But what hasn’t changed much is discrimination against femininity. Most people don’t consciously discriminate against certain biological gender. But unconscious bias always exists and, without correction, creates discrimination. In some communities, why do some people shame and despise femininity in men so much as if they’re a failure?
Historical inequality in biological gender resulted in a society valuing masculinity more. Traditionally masculine personalities are often more highly regarded than feminine ones. Besides historical reasons, people tend to relate masculine traits to success. In fact, it depends on the context and the current social values. Back in the days when society focused more on literature, music and arts, “feminine traits” like sensitivity, expressiveness, empathy could represent traits of success as well. Moreover, social expectations on how gendered personalities match biological genders create gender norms. Under such gender norms, regardless of biological gender, everyone can become a victim of gender inequality.
The specific form of gender norms also varies among different communities. In some cultures, the same feminine traits in men and women often result in more serious discrimination against men. Some society accepts and welcomes masculine expression from females but discriminates against feminine expression from males.
From a more psychological point of view, as complete human beings, we have both masculine and feminine sides and integrating them is part of the individualization process. As Jung puts it in his Red book
What about masculinity? Do you know how much femininity man lacks for completeness? Do you know how much masculinity woman lacks for completeness? You seek the feminine in women and the masculine in men. And thus there are always only men and women. But where are people? You, man, should not seek the feminine in women, but seek and recognize it in yourself as you /possess it from the beginning. It pleases you, however, to play at manliness, because it travels on a well-worn track. You, woman, should not seek the masculine in men, but assume the masculine in yourself since you possess it from the beginning. But it amuses you and is easy to play at femininity; consequently manThe Red Book, P.263
despises you because he despises his femininity. But humankind is masculine and feminine, not just man or woman. You can hardly say of your soul what sex it is. But if you pay close attention, you will see that the most masculine man has a feminine soul, and the most feminine woman has a masculine soul. The more manly you are, the more remote from you is what woman really is, since the feminine in yourself is alien and contemptuous. *
* In 1921 in Psychological Types, Jung wrote: ”A very feminine woman has a masculine soul, and a very masculine man has a feminine soul. The contrast is due to the fact that for example a man is not in all things wholly masculine, but also normally has certain feminine traits. The more masculine his outer attitude is, the more his
feminine traits are obliterated: instead, they appear in the unconscious” (CW 6; §804). He designated the man’s feminine soul as the anima, and the woman’s masculine soul as the animus, and described how individuals projected their soul images onto members of the opposite sex (§805).
Lastly, here are some of my favourite excerpts from the interview with Beauvoir.
“In writing The Second Sex I became aware, for the first time, that I myself was leading a false life, or rather, that I was profiting from this male-oriented society without even knowing it. What had happened is that quite early in my life I had accepted the male values, and was living accordingly. Of course, I was quite successful, and that reinforced in me the belief that man and woman could be equal if the woman wanted such equality. In other words, I was an intellectual. I had the luck to come from a sector of society, the bourgeoisie, which could afford not only to send me to the best schools but also to allow me to play leisurely with ideas. Because of that I managed to enter the man’s world without too much difficulty. I showed that I could discuss philosophy, art, literature, etc., on “man’s level.” I kept whatever was particular to womanhood to myself. I was then reinforced by my success to continue. As I did, I saw I could earn as good a living as any male intellectual and that I was taken as seriously as any of my male peers. “
“Each stage fortified my sense of independence and equality. It became, therefore, very easy for me to forget that a secretary could in no way enjoy the same privileges. She could not sit in a café and read a book without being molested. She was rarely invited to parties for “her mind.” She could not establish credit or own property. I could. More importantly still, I tended to scorn the kind of woman who felt incapable, financially or spiritually, to show her independence from men. In effect, I was thinking, without even saying it to myself, “if I can, so can they.” In researching and writing The Second Sex I did come to realize that my privileges were the result of my having abdicated, in some crucial respects at least, my womanhood. If we put it in class economic terms, you would understand it easily: I had become a class collaborationist. Well, I was sort of the equivalent in terms of the sex struggle. Through The Second Sex I became aware of the struggle needed. I understood that the vast majority of women simply did not have the choices that I had had, that women are, in fact, defined and treated as a second sex by a male-oriented society whose structure would totally collapse if that orientation was genuinely destroyed. But like economically and politically dominated peoples anywhere, it is very hard and very slow for rebellion to develop. “Beauvoir