Simone de Beauvoir, Why I am a Feminist, 8

 Simone de Beauvoir abortion

Transcript by Gabrielle Dubois of a 1975 television interview #8

You say it would help them think. But they’ve been so conditioned by traditional images of woman and mother which are now ingrained in most adults, which have been integrated into their way of thinking, that it seems like the main problem is how to get women to see themselves with new eyes. That would be a starting point but it hasn’t happened yet.

Simone de Beauvoir:
Some of them see themselves with new eyes. But how much impact has the Women’s Liberation Movement had? It’s hard to know. To what extent, seeing the example of a few progressive women , listening to their voices, to what extent have women become conscious of being exploited, oppressed? I don’t know, but it seems to me that they’re less resigned than they were before.

There are many signs, in politics for example, greater emphasis is being placed even though it may be symbolic, on the presence of women in government. There’s a lot of debate these days about the female condition, about setting up an institution or even a ministry. Is this a sign of change that men are being compelled to accept?

Simone de Beauvoir:
Yes, but it’s a mystification. This governmental “Secretariat à la condition de la femme” is a pure mystification. It is a bone thrown to women to make them think they’re being attended to. But in reality, Françoise Giroud has no real power to do anything. She has no budget, no money, all she can do is make timid proposals to men who will have to accept them only if men themselves consent to them. So it’s a mystification.

But you say feminism can no longer be completely subsumed into the struggle for social revolution. If I may put it rather succinctly, you seem to be saying: we can’t wait for the revolution, the situation must change for women before, after, during. Does that mean that some things are not good to accept, for example: measures which might seem partial or only like a small beginning? Isn’t it better than nothing?

Simone de Beauvoir:
No, everything is not good. Sometimes the things given to women are simply “bones to gnaw on”, a mystification. In fact, it’s a way of subduing them by making them think that things are being done, although in reality, nothing is done. It’s not only a way of co-opting the women’s revolt, but of countering it, suppressing it, pretending it needn’t exist. On the contrary, we, feminists ― I say “we” because, as I said, I am one ― we refuse to be subdued, we want to continue the struggle. And we want it fought, for the moment, at least, by women and for women, and not via institutions like, I don’t know… the UNESCO, the so called “Women Year” or IWY (lien ) which is also a mystification. We can’t expect a government which is for order, the current established order, to satisfy women who are demanding a change in status, chance so profound, that it would overturn that order.

Yes, but you’ve observed that during revolutionary wars, that during decolonisation wars for example, the moment when the situation of the colonised or oppressed ones starts to become extremely tense, is when partial satisfaction is given to their demands. Giving partial satisfaction has never subdued people who were defending a cause. On the contrary, that’s what raises their consciousness. So don’t you think that now this consciousness is a force that has been set in motion? I honestly don’t think Mr Giscard d’Estaing (the President of the French Republic in 1975) could think that a few superficial measures will subdue women. He may just be trying to follow what he feels is a growing trend.

Simone de Beauvoir:
Yes, but, well, it’s still a way of subduing them. However, if some measures really are useful to women today, naturally they should be accepted, but let’s keep in mind that they’re just one intermediary step. As, in your example of decolonisation. The colonised people may accept a few little reforms. But if these reforms are made to make them pretend that they should be satisfied, they’ll refuse them. Thus, the abortion law, in my opinion, is not satisfying at all. It doesn’t get far enough. But of course, it shouldn’t be refused, it should be accepted, considerate as a first step towards fully liberalising abortion. And beyond that a liberalisation, an emancipation for women in general. About abortion, there is something, we, feminists, can be proud of: I’m not sure this law would have existed if we hadn’t collected signatures for the Manifesto of the 343 (lien ) “sluts” as we were sometimes called. A manifesto in which we said that all of us, well-known and unknown women had had an abortion. After that, the Bobigny trial mobilized public opinion. There were many, many demonstrations in the streets for the legalisation of abortion. In fact, because this was a point on which class barriers were broken down, it’s an issue that interests both working class and upper class women. I think we were able to put a huge amount of pressure on a government that is traditional, conservative and for order as this one.

Gabrielle Dubois©

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