Simone de Beauvoir, Why I am a Feminist, 4

Simone de Beauvoir feminist, history

A 1975 French television interview, transcript by Gabrielle Dubois #4

Can you give us an example of the child’s age and the kind of treatment you’re talking about?

Simone de Beauvoir:
Elena Belotti is a paediatrician and she knows a lot about this issue. Her book shows that even when breastfeeding, mothers treat girls differently. A certain aggressiveness in the way a little boy suckles is encouraged much more than a little girl. When the little boy gets older and start making attempts, for example, to be independent or insolent, or to play tricks, he’ll be encouraged, found amusing. On the contrary, a girl will be put back in her place. In the same way, the little boy’s penis, we know that many nannies and mothers throughout history and even today, play with it, turn it into a little character, so that at 2 or 3 years old, a little boy is almost used to showing it off. A little girls, on the contrary, is taught to conceal, not to show anything. It’s clear even among infants in day care centres, little boys are already quite exhibitionist while little girls show what is called “modesty” which is actually a type of constructed behaviour.

In other words, it’s women, mothers, who create this discrimination?

Simone de Beauvoir:
Much of it, yes, because as the daughters of women, they maintain the tradition. Because, as I was saying, that feminine model is so deeply ingrained in them, that they think that a woman who isn’t like them is a monster. Their concern is that their daughters be feminine. So yes, it is the women. But under pressure, of course, from men. It’s because men as a whole have taught women as a whole to act in this way: dependent, passive, submissive, self-effacing, etc.

Isn’t it really an economic situation, since until very recently, the best thing for a girl was to be pretty, desirable to men in order to ensure financial support through marriage or some other way?

Simone de Beauvoir:
Certainly, it’s economic, but it comes from what I said earlier: why is she financially dependent? Because men have taken over the professions, especially the most interesting ones. On the contrary, on the lower end, of course, difficult work such as farm work is done by both women and men. But in the upper echelons, men have sought to persuade women not to be financially independent, but to rely on a husband, and confine themselves to doing what is very important for civilisation as it is: housework. One of the keys to the situation imposed on women is this forced labour which is unpaid, unsalaried, which barely allows them to be maintained more or less in luxury or more or less poorly by their husbands. But this labour doesn’t produce any economic gains: the contribution made by this work is not recognised. This is very important. I don’t know the exact figures, but I think statistics showed in 1955 that over the year, in France, for 45 billion hours of salaried work, there was something like 46 billion hours of housework, thus of unpaid work. If women were to stand up and revolt, if they refused to do the housework or made men do it with them, if it were no longer undeclared work, which I’d say they’re sentenced to because leading that life year in and year out all your life, without being productive is really a life sentence. If things changed on that level, it would revolutionise our entire society.

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Towards n° 5# Simone de Beauvoir


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