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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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Introduction to Women Insist

Introduction to Women Insist

Chapter:
(p.250) Introduction to Women Insist
Source:
Feminist Writings
Author(s):
Marybeth Timmermann
Publisher:
University of Illinois Press
DOI:10.5406/illinois/9780252039003.003.0034

Abstract and Keywords

“Disruption, my sister …” This issue [of Les temps modernes] is presented with disruption in mind. The reader expecting to find here a methodical and complete account of women’s condition will be disappointed. We do not claim to denounce here all the injustices suffered by women, nor to draw up an exhaustive statement of their demands, and even less to propose a revolutionary tactic. We only hope to spark some unrest in people’s minds. The prevailing principle in gathering together these texts was that of freedom. We established no preconceived plan. Some women—a few of whom have even remained anonymous to us—spontaneously chose to speak about subjects that mean a lot to them, and we welcomed their writings. A radical refusal of women’s oppression was a priori a common feature among them. As a result, certain themes kept reappearing in the articles that we received, which allowed us to regroup them afterward into a small number of headings. Nevertheless there exist great differences between the articles and sometimes even contradictions. Feminist thought is far from monolithic; every woman in the struggle has her own motivations, perspectives, her singular experience, and she presents them to us in her own way....

“Disruption, my sister …” This issue [of Les temps modernes] is presented with disruption in mind. The reader expecting to find here a methodical and complete account of women’s condition will be disappointed. We do not claim to denounce here all the injustices suffered by women, nor to draw up an exhaustive statement of their demands, and even less to propose a revolutionary tactic. We only hope to spark some unrest in people’s minds. The prevailing principle in gathering together these texts was that of freedom. We established no preconceived plan. Some women—a few of whom have even remained anonymous to us—spontaneously chose to speak about subjects that mean a lot to them, and we welcomed their writings. A radical refusal of women’s oppression was a priori a common feature among them. As a result, certain themes kept reappearing in the articles that we received, which allowed us to regroup them afterward into a small number of headings. Nevertheless there exist great differences between the articles and sometimes even contradictions. Feminist thought is far from monolithic; every woman in the struggle has her own motivations, perspectives, her singular experience, and she presents them to us in her own way.

Some readers may possibly feel disconcerted in reading some of these (p.251) pages. Among the women who choose to express themselves, some believe that the language and the logic currently in use in our world are universally valid instruments, even though they have been forged by men; the issue is to steal the tool. Others, on the contrary, consider that culture itself represents one of the forms of their oppression. Because of this oppression, and by the way in which they have reacted to it, women have created a cultural universe different than that of men; they want to refer to their own values by inventing speech in which their specificity is reflected. This is a difficult invention, sometimes requiring a trial-and-error approach, but when successful, this effort enriches us with a truly new contribution.

In both cases the voices that you are going to hear want above all to disturb you. The oppression of women is a fact that society is so used to that even those among us who condemn it overall, in the name of abstract democratic principles, assume that many of its aspects have been amended.1 Even to me, because I myself have more or less played the role of the token woman, it seemed for a long time that certain inconveniences inherent in women’s condition ought to be simply ignored or overcome; that there was no need to attack them. What the new generation of women in rebellion made me understand is that my casual disregard entailed a certain complicity. In fact, to accept the least inequality between the two sexes is to consent to Inequality. Feminists are often seen as childish and petty for attacking vocabulary and grammar, such as the fact that in French the adjective modifying three feminine nouns and one masculine noun must be masculine. Of course it is not on these grounds that the struggle must be started. But to pass over it is to risk closing one’s eyes to many things. Vigilance should be part of our slogan. And indeed the new feminists look upon the world with the ingenious, demanding look of a child. The child is weak; one listens to him and smiles. Women are and want to be stronger and stronger. They make people uncomfortable, and that is why some people try to discredit their vision of things, turn it into something ridiculous, and treat them like shrews.

Readers—women or men—who approach these texts in good faith risk feeling themselves called into question by the time they finish reading. The anti-sexist struggle is not directed, like the anticapitalist struggle, only against the structures of society taken as a whole; it attacks within each of us what is most intimate to us and what seems the most sure. It questions our very desires, the very forms of our pleasure. Do not back away from this questioning, for beyond the distress that it will perhaps provoke within us, it will destroy some of our shackles and open us to new truths.

(p.252) Notes

Simone de Beauvoir’s “Présentation” (Introduction) to Les femmes s’entêtent (Women insist), special issue of Les temps modernes, April–May 1974: 1719–20; later published as the introduction to a volume with the same title (Paris: Éditions Gallimard, 1975); reprinted in Les écrits de Simone de Beauvoir, ed. Claude Francis and Fernande Gontier (Paris: Gallimard, 1979), 519–21; © Éditions Gallimard, 1979.

(1.) The last part of this sentence reads “… en prennent pour amendés beaucoup d’aspects” in the Les temps modernes special issue, but appeared as “… en prennent pour avenus beaucoup d’aspects” in the Les écrits version.

Notes:

(1.) The last part of this sentence reads “… en prennent pour amendés beaucoup d’aspects” in the Les temps modernes special issue, but appeared as “… en prennent pour avenus beaucoup d’aspects” in the Les écrits version.