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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

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Beauvoir’s Deposition at the Bobigny Trial

Beauvoir’s Deposition at the Bobigny Trial

(p.219) Beauvoir’s Deposition at the Bobigny Trial
Feminist Writings
Marybeth Timmermann
University of Illinois Press

Abstract and Keywords

(The witness is sworn in.)

MS. HALIMI:Ms. de Beauvoir is a character witness. She knows Ms. Chevalier.SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR:Ms. Chevalier is a member of the Choisir [To Choose] Association, of which I am president.MS. H.:I would like to ask Ms. de Beauvoir why this law is above all a law that oppresses women?...

(The witness is sworn in.)


  • Ms. de Beauvoir is a character witness. She knows Ms. Chevalier.

  • Ms. Chevalier is a member of the Choisir [To Choose] Association, of which I am president.
  • MS. H.:

  • I would like to ask Ms. de Beauvoir why this law is above all a law that oppresses women?
  • S. DE B.:

  • The law is set up to oppress women. Women’s oppression is, indeed, one of the trump cards available to society. This situation is extremely advantageous for men for more than one reason: psychologically, it is always nice to have inferiors and to feel superior to someone, economically as well. One point that is not emphasized enough and that I find very important is that each year women in France provide an enormous quantity of work that can be called invisible, clandestine, unpaid. It is household work. A recent statistic said that there are 45 billion hours of household work provided by women compared to 43 billion hours of paid work.
  • So the volume of household work far surpasses paid work. If society had to pay for this work, its expenses would obviously be enormously (p.220) multiplied. It is quite advantageous for society to have women who do this enormous work for nothing.
  • How to get women to do this work? They must be conditioned. As it is difficult to persuade women that they have a vocation for washing dishes, something much better has been found.
  • Maternity is exalted because maternity is the way to keep women at home and to make them do housework. Instead of telling a little two-, three-, or four-year-old girl, “You will be destined to wash dishes,” she is told, “You will be destined to be a mommy.” She is given dolls, and maternity is exalted so that when she becomes a young woman, she thinks of only one thing: to get married and have children. She has been convinced that she will not be a complete woman if she does not have children. When a woman does not have children, people say, “She is not a true woman,” but when a man does not have children, people do not say, “He is not a true man.”
  • Therefore women must be enslaved to maternity. If they at least had the freedom to be mothers when they wanted to, how they wanted to, planning the births of children, it would leave them a lot of freedom on all levels. Women could present themselves as professional rivals to men. They would not be constantly chained to the house, and that would bring up the question of why it is not the men who do the dishes.
  • In order to prevent this from happening, maternity must be imposed upon women, and imposed against their will. This is the reason that for as long as contraception has existed, its use has never been facilitated, to the point that currently in France there are 7% of French women using contraceptive methods; that’s all. It is also for this reason that the government, at this time, is in the process of removing all subsidies from Family Planning, the only movement concerned with informing women. However, the government recognizes that it has no alternative solution. And this is a very grave matter. Not only is Family Planning being done away with and its possibilities of action are being removed, but nothing is planned to replace it. Women are thus prevented from protecting themselves against unwanted pregnancies and therefore become pregnant against their wishes.
  • So they end up having an abortion, and this is what a million French women do each year in spite of the law that prevents nothing at all, and therefore makes no sense. From time to time, to give the law a semblance of existence, charges are brought against a few women always chosen from among the most underprivileged because you would never see the wife of a judge, a government official, or a great industrialist sitting in the place where the accused are sitting today. (p.221)
  • Yet one can be sure that there are as many abortions in those milieus as in the others. The law oppresses all women, even those who are privileged.
  • In my life, I have seen not only blue-collar women and office workers, but also middle-class women with money arriving at my house, in tears. Once I even helped the wife of a very important bank director. In spite of everything, women are isolated. Even with money, they do not always have the necessary addresses; they do not know whom to contact.
  • As I was saying at the beginning, such a feeling of guilt has been put into the hearts of women that abortion becomes something traumatizing for them, as would not be the case at all if it took place under legal conditions.
  • There was an article in the New York Times and in the Herald Tribune that quoted the director of health services of the State of New York who observed that ever since the legalization of abortion, women can have abortions without feeling any sort of distress about it. “We hope,” he said, “that the example will be followed by all the other states in America.”
  • It is not at all a question of a procedure that automatically traumatizes women. It is a procedure that is traumatizing only insofar as they have been conditioned to make maternity into a veritable calling.
  • I will not go into details, but the fact is that the current law is unfair because, in particular, it always falls upon women who belong to the least favored strata of society and never upon the others.
  • MS. H.:

  • In your opinion, does society have the right to intervene in women’s freedom to give life or to abort?
  • S. DE B.:

  • In my opinion, women have bodily freedom. They can choose to have or to not have a child and no one can intervene. For me there is no doubt about it.
  • MS. H.:

  • Have you had an abortion?
  • S. DE B.:

  • Yes, a long time ago; but what I have also been doing frequently and for a long time, is helping women who come and ask me how to get an abortion. I give them money or I lend it to them, and I give them addresses, and sometimes I even lend them my residence so that the procedure takes place in good conditions.

  • Since you begin with the principle of everyone’s bodily freedom, do you think, by applying the same principle, that the public powers should give complete freedom to people who take drugs?
  • S. DE B.:

  • That is not related to the question.

  • So you admit having certain reservations about it. (p.222)
  • S. DE B.:

  • I would be of the opinion that people should be free to take drugs if they wanted to, while giving them sufficient information about the drugs. People must be informed and must be equally advised, and in these conditions, then, well, yes, they should be allowed that freedom.

  • The Court thanks you.
  • Notes

    “Déposition de Simone de Beauvoir au procès de Bobigny,” was first published by the Association Choisir (To Choose Association) in Avortement: Une loi en procès. L’affaire de Bobigny: Sténotypie intégrale des débats du tribunal de Bobigny, 8 novembre 1972 (Paris: Gallimard, 1973), translated by Beryl Henderson as Abortion: The Bobigny Affair: A Law on Trial: A Complete Record of the Pleadings at the Court of Bobigny, 8 November, 1972 (Sydney: Wild and Woolley, 1975), and reprinted in Les écrits de Simone de Beauvoir, ed. Claude Francis and Fernande Gontier (Paris: Gallimard, 1979), 510–13; © Éditions Gallimard, 1979.