Transcript by Gabrielle Dubois of a 1975 television
When you say “exploitation” or “oppression”, that implies it is intentional, not simply accidental. Historically speaking, how did this come about and how was it actually manifested by men?
Simone de Beauvoir:
It is immemorial. I think we have to start with the idea that materials are scarce, there’s not enough for everyone. There was a time, in prehistoric times, when the physical force was very important, those who were the strongest had all the rights and power and thus prevailed economically as well. They made sure they never went hungry. In China, for example, people were very poor and baby girls were left to die or event killed; women were banned from productive work so that men could control everything. That’s how it has always been. I can’t tell you tonight all about women’s history, but it’s obvious that in every area, men have always tried to take power. I’ll give you one example: during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, women had a lot of power as doctors. They knew a lot of potions, herbs, remedies that may have been “only” woman's remedies, but were sometimes very effective. Then medicine was taken away from them by men: all of the witch hunts were essentially based on this willingness of men to keep women away from medicine and the power it conferred them. Then in the 18th and 19th centuries, statutes were drafted by men that prevented women, by putting them in jail, by fining them, etc, from practicing medicine unless they had attended certain schools which did not admit them anyway. That’s why women were relegated to the role of nurses, of Florence Nightingale, as aides and assistants, etc. Very interesting books have been written that show how men have intentionally kept women from practicing medicine. I think that if we looked at other fields we would find the same process. So, yes, it is intentional. It may no longer be to take power away but the intention to keep it is still very strong. Everywhere, barriers keep women from acquiring some qualifications or some powers.
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