Volume II: Situation. Part Two. Chapter 9. From Maturity to Old Age. (633-52)
[This is part of a chapter by chapter re-reading of Simone de Beauvoir’s “The Second Sex”. You can find all the posts here.]
This chapter should be interesting, I thought, as I cracked open the book. As regular readers (ha ha) will know, I’m a bit fascinated by Beauvoir’s attitude toward ageing, and actually read and wrote about this chapter earlier, so it wasn’t wildly new material to me. She opens by noting that the history of woman depends much more than man’s on her “physiological destiny”, and the stages of her life are “dangerously abrupt”: puberty, sexual initiation, menopause. (And then there are the socially contingent stages: marriage (or not), motherhood, middle age, grand-motherhood, says me.)
“While the male growers older continuously, the woman is brusquely stripped of her femininity; still young, she loses sexual attraction and fertility from which, in society’s and her own eyes, she derives the justification of her existence and her chances of happiness: bereft of all future, she has approximately half of her adult life still to live.” (633)
So there you go. We’re fucked!
‘The Definitive Mutilation’
But, oh, SdB has some truly awful ways of describing ‘old age’. Like “the definitive mutilation”:
“Well before the definitive mutilation, woman is haunted by the horror of ageing.” (633)
And elsewhere as being “deformed” and “ugly” (640). Which certainly sounds like how SdB felt about ageing in her own life, going by what she wrote in her autobiographies.
She writes, and it seems to me this is (still!) indisputably true: for man, “the alteration of his face and body do not spoil his possibilities of seduction.”
“Man is engaged in more important enterprises than those of love”, meanwhile she “has to please” and “has not been allowed a hold on the world except through man’s mediation”. (634)