Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Feminist Writings$

Simone de Beauvoir, Margaret A. Simons, and Marybeth Timmermann

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780252039003

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: April 2017

DOI: 10.5406/illinois/9780252039003.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM ILLINOIS SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.illinois.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Illinois University Press, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in ISO for personal use (for details see http://www.universitypressscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: null; date: 20 June 2018

Preface to The Great Fear of Loving

Preface to The Great Fear of Loving

Chapter:
(p.84) Preface to The Great Fear of Loving
Source:
Feminist Writings
Author(s):

Simone de Beauvoir

, Marybeth Timmermann
Publisher:
University of Illinois Press
DOI:10.5406/illinois/9780252039003.003.0011

Abstract and Keywords

“How do other women do it?” This heart-wrenching leitmotiv is repeated all throughout the collection of testimonies given to us today by the honorable Dr. Weill-Hallé. The exhausted, harassed, frightened, and hounded women who come to ask her for help believe themselves to be the victims of some singular and obscure malediction. To them their despair seems too absolute to not be abnormal. Each one imagines that surely other women know of ways to escape the traps into which they have fallen and the insidious danger that incubates in their blood. But alas, this is far from true. Dr. Weill-Hallé recounts individual cases in a deliberately terse style; each one of these stories makes us feel the throbbing of a unique life, and yet the tremendous and painful import of her book comes from the fact that it gives us a sampling of tragedies that are repeated a thousand times each day. Each year in France, there are at least five hundred thousand abortions, but how many unwanted pregnancies are endured in anguish? How many children are born unwanted, unloved, or mistreated? How many households are devastated by excessive burdens and how many couples are torn apart for fear of another pregnancy? How many women’s careers have been shattered and loves been lost? How many women are tortured by obsessive fears or pushed ...

“How do other women do it?” This heart-wrenching leitmotiv is repeated all throughout the collection of testimonies given to us today by the honorable Dr. Weill-Hallé. The exhausted, harassed, frightened, and hounded women who come to ask her for help believe themselves to be the victims of some singular and obscure malediction. To them their despair seems too absolute to not be abnormal. Each one imagines that surely other women know of ways to escape the traps into which they have fallen and the insidious danger that incubates in their blood. But alas, this is far from true. Dr. Weill-Hallé recounts individual cases in a deliberately terse style; each one of these stories makes us feel the throbbing of a unique life, and yet the tremendous and painful import of her book comes from the fact that it gives us a sampling of tragedies that are repeated a thousand times each day. Each year in France, there are at least five hundred thousand abortions, but how many unwanted pregnancies are endured in anguish? How many children are born unwanted, unloved, or mistreated? How many households are devastated by excessive burdens and how many couples are torn apart for fear of another pregnancy? How many women’s careers have been shattered and loves been lost? How many women are tortured by obsessive fears or pushed (p.85) into depressions and neuroses? What a waste! But a hypocritical conspiracy conceals it even from the women concerned; they endure their fate in a solitude that is oftentimes mixed with shame or even remorse. No one shows them that their misery is in no way accidental but instead comes inevitably from the situation created by a legislation that stubbornly persists in obscurantism. Today in France, limited salaries and insufficient lodging prevent young couples from raising more than two or three children in a healthy environment. Yet truly effective methods of contraception are forbidden to them. Both spouses suffer from this contradiction, but the woman suffers much more than the man. It is her body that experiences the exhaustion of pregnancy and birth; the man can escape from the domestic hell while she is consumed by it. Day by day, hour by hour, she struggles to complete impossible tasks; if she fails, her husband sees it as her fault, and in the majority of cases, he considers it up to her to avoid inopportune pregnancies. “How? How do other women do it?” This anxious refrain never gives her a rest; her blood runs cold, panic fills her heart, and her thoughts spin around in circles.

People readily proclaim, in this day and age, that “the woman question” is settled. The women who write advice columns assert that women find complete satisfaction in the blossoming of their femininity. Women, say men, now have the same rights and the same possibilities as us; if they don’t take advantage of them, it’s their own fault. Optimists exalt feminine nature and pessimists denounce its incurable faults, but they all agree to keep silent about the real issue that women have to confront: How, in the current economic circumstances, can you succeed in a career, build a happy home, joyfully raise children, be of service to society and achieve self-realization, if at any moment the crushing burdens of a new pregnancy can come upon you? “For women, freedom begins with the womb,” wrote one of my correspondents. The confidences received by Dr. Weill-Hallé confirm that this elementary freedom—the freedom of conception—is not only demanded by egoists who are avid to “live their own life,” but much more frequently by women who are devoted to endeavors in which they have engaged their entire raisons d’être. A young graduate thinks that her existence is a distressing failure if a third child prevents her from completing her studies and pursuing the career to which she aspired. A mother wants to assure happiness for her husband and children, but if a new baby comes along, poverty and overcrowding will rear its ugly head and her household will risk falling apart. And what about love? For millions of women it is the unique recourse against the harshness of the world. It fades away slowly or dies brutally if (p.86) the couple is haunted by the fear of a child. No one helps these women who resist and fight blindly against a destiny that they see as unacceptable. The most painful pages of the indictments brought together by Dr. Weill-Hallé are perhaps those in which she describes—without being able to find the reason for it—the indifference and even the hostility of men with regards to their partners in distress. One, who would later become a good husband, abandons his pregnant girlfriend; another young husband only says, “figure something out” to his dismayed wife. In bourgeois households, where lies are the rule, a woman doesn’t even dare to confide in other women, and if she consults her doctor his answer to her terrors will be a lesson in morality. Even if he sympathizes, what can he do for her? Nothing. By telling us the tragedies of all those desperate women who came to her office, Dr. Weill-Hallé is also quietly and very discreetly evoking her own personal drama: “I closed the door and never saw her again. … I never saw Miss X again either … I regret only being able to listen to Mrs. S.” A few well-placed words of advice here and there are all a doctor can provide without falling into illegality; his hands are tied.

But Dr. Weill-Hallé does not just accept her helplessness, and that is why she has written this book. She is not trying to write literature; she paints a picture of the harsh condition of French women today so that we may collaborate with her in order to find a remedy for it. For many years she has been trying to convince France to embrace the idea of “family planning.” In a short book, not nearly well enough known, she showed the benefits of this method for the countries that put it into practice, which include four-fifths of the world. The statistics she cites prove irrefutably that when it comes to controlling the birth rate, individual free choice can be perfectly reconciled with demographic progress. The majority of young women who spoke with Dr. Weill-Hallé wanted children; they simply asked to freely choose the date of their next pregnancies. Young couples are naturally inclined to propagate life, if they look around and find reasons to live. A healthy society should take care to furnish them with some of these reasons, and then it would have no need to rely on “forced procreation.” In reality, this system of constraint, far from benefiting the increase in population, is paid for by a decrease in its health, its intellectual level, and its possibilities. At a time when man’s conquest of nature is making more and more stunning progress, it seems aberrant that, when it comes to something as essential as the birth rate, the official motto in our country is still, “let nature run its course.” Dr. Weill-Hallé rightly asks for the abolition of this anarchy which is harmful to each one of us and to all of us in favor of a reflective freedom [liberté réfléchie]. (p.87) Those who read her book will be shocked no doubt that the painful disorder she denounces has not caused more public outrage; it is monstrous that in such a large number of cases, the arrival of a child spells catastrophe. The explanation of this passivity is the silence that shrouds this taboo subject. Only a handful of psychiatrists, a few doctors, and some social workers are aware of the extent of the damage, and almost no one speaks of it. Dr. Weill-Hallé has chosen to speak out, and I hope that a very great number of women and men hear the tragic confessions she has transcribed for us, for I am sure that they will then desire with all their heart to support her efforts. So much useless suffering must be eliminated as rapidly as possible. We must respond with more than a shrug of the shoulders to the anxious plea, “How do other women do it?”

Notes

Simone de Beauvoir, “Préface” to La grand’peur d’aimer, by Dr. Marie-Andrée Lagroua Weill-Hallé; first published by Éditions Julliard-Sequana (Paris, 1960); republished by Éditions Gonthier (Paris, 1961); reprinted in Les écrits de Simone de Beauvoir, ed. Claude Francis and Fernande Gontier (Paris: Gallimard, 1979), 397–400; © Éditions Gallimard, 1979.