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Beauvoir on “Halfway between revolt and slavery”

Friday, June 17, 2011

Over at my other blog The Excerpt Mill I take a quote from Beauvoir’s book The Second Sex.  Writing on forms of logic, ethics, and actions in a male-centered and shaped society Beauvoir speaks of the existentialist position and phenomenological experience of women in that society:

It is understandable why, from this perspective, woman objects to masculine logic.  Not only does it have no bearing on her experience, but she also knows that in men’s hands reason becomes an insidious form of violence; their peremptory affirmations are intended to mystify her.  They want to confiner her in a dilemma: either you agree or you don’t; she has to agree in name of the whole system of accepted principles: in refusing to agree, she rejects the whole system; she cannot allow herself such a dramatic move; she does not have the means to create another society: yet she does not agree with this one.  Halfway between revolt and slavery, she unwillingly resigns herself to masculine authority.  He continuously uses force to make her shoulder the consequences of her reluctant submission…

The woman does not positively think that the truth is other than what men claim: rather, she holds that there is no truth.  It is not only life’s becoming that makes her suspicious of the principle of identity, nor the magic phenomenon surrounding her that ruin the notion of causality: it is at the heart of the masculine world itself, it is in her as belonging to this world, that she grasps the ambiguity of all principles, of all values, of all that exists.  She knows that when it comes to her, masculine morality is a vast mystification.  The man pompously drums his code of virtue and honor into her; but secretly he invites her to disobey it: he even counts on this disobedience; the whole lovely facade he hides behind would collapse without it.

His relations with woman thus lie in a contingent region where morality no longer applies, where conduct is inconsequential.  His relations with other men are based on certain values; he is freedom confronting other freedoms according to laws universally recognized by all; but with woman–she was invented for this reason–he ceases to assume his existence, he abandons himself to the mirage of the in-itself, he situates himself on an inauthentic plane; he is tyrannical, sadistic, violent or puerile, masochistic or querulous, he tries to satisfy his obsessions, his manias; he “relaxes,” he “lets go” in the name of rights he has acquired in his public life.

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