Volume II: Situation. Part Two. Chapter 7. Social Life. (585-612)
[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.]
It is the woman who will organise the social life that is called ‘the family’, and it is through the family she is connected to the community. The man, meanwhile, is connected “as producer and citizen”. (In the 21st-century West, we would instead be connected to the world as “consumers”. Ugh!)
The opening pages of this chapter feel dated and pretty narrowly focused, though may well apply to some woman somewhere. They’re about what we’d call a stay-at-home mother, and a middle class one, who tries to express her social standing to the world by entertaining, and dressing up to go out, etc. It is his work/profession through which the man has standing; it is through the family and the family’s status/place that woman has hers. It’s not as though societies are no longer status conscious, but the roles have changed, and what woman gets to stay at home anymore?: either a poor woman trying to live of a state benefit or a wealth woman (?) So it’s not too clear how this status-giving family applies anymore.
That said, there’s some great discussion of issues that transcend the economic/social organisation of the day, like how man “does not usually consider his appearance as a reflection of his being” (586), as does a woman. Editorial and unscientific observation: It strikes me that parity may be approaching in this regard, but not through any lessening of women’s focus on appearance, but through an intensifying focus on male appearance.
SdB goes on to talk about skirts and high-heels being so much less convenient and practical than, say, trousers and flat shoes. Yup. We knew that.
There’s some curious content about the relations that “lesbians” and “homosexuals” and “dandies” and “American blacks” have to clothes. But I’m not going there and/or I don’t quite follow SdB here. Also, what she says about lesbians dressing in a “masculine way” (assume that means “not-necessarily-feminine” way) applies to me and I’m straight, so: stereotyping much. Anyway, like I said, dated. Yet even though dress codes may have been a whole lot more rigid in 1940s-50s France than they are now, it may only be that they are rigid in different ways. So I need to correct myself here. Not dated in the sense that we’re all liberated now; dated in the sense that many of the rigidities and constraints have changed. (Just watch a crowd of young women on their way, e.g., to a New Year’s Eve concert… we’re talking big-time uniformity. And let’s not start in on mandatory pink-wear for young girls. Sigh.)