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GROUP READS > July NON-FICTION selection THE SECOND SEX

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message 1: by Alexa (new)

Alexa (AlexaNC) July's non-fiction read is Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex. This masterpiece is on everyone's must-read list. Here's your chance to read and discuss it with the group!


message 2: by Anita (new)

Anita (anitafajitapitareada) this is one that I need to read. I'm so happy to get to read it with this group too. I might actually buy it.


message 3: by Alexa (new)

Alexa (AlexaNC) Who else is planning, hoping, thinking of reading this with us this month?


message 4: by El (new)

El | 756 comments Mod
I have a copy of this. Unfortunately I've fallen behind in... life, so it'll be a bit before I can start this, but I am really looking forward to it. I've pulled my copy out so I can start as soon as possible.


message 5: by Alexa (new)

Alexa (AlexaNC) My copy of this just arrived at the library - but I think I'm going to need some serious hand-holding here. How's everyone else doing?


message 6: by Alexa (last edited Jul 17, 2016 11:45AM) (new)

Alexa (AlexaNC) I just learned that the original translation of this, in 1953, was also an abridged version. So it wasn't until 2009 that a faithful translation of this classic was available to English readers. The 2009 translation, by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier, is also considered much more accurate, particularly in reference to the philosophical terminology.

I'm finding some of the philosophical concepts somewhat over my head, yet at other times it's completely down to earth. I love the way she begins her introduction:
"I hesitated a long time before writing a book on woman. The subject is irritating, especially for women; and it is not new."

That made me laugh, "irritating, especially for women." You know, she's right! And I'm even more irritated that here we are, 67 years later, still having to fight over our right to discuss being treated as subjects rather than objects.


message 7: by El (new)

El | 756 comments Mod
Yes, I loved the beginning to her introduction, Alexa.

Alexa wrote: "And I'm even more irritated that here we are, 67 years later, still having to fight over our right to discuss being treated as subjects rather than objects."

Yes, especially this. Yes, yes, yes, well said.

I did start reading this on Friday night, but haven't gotten very far into Chapter 1 yet. It will definitely be slow reading for me, but I'm glad to finally be delving into it. I don't mind how long it'll take to read it. I think it's still going to be relevant to read today.


message 8: by Anita (new)

Anita (anitafajitapitareada) I'm about to take it on a 3 day camping trip, so I'll be able to ponder those philosophical elements Alexa, and hopefully not throw in a creek in a fit of intellectual duncery (lol). But, I'm in total agreement with El about being happy to get this one under the belt as it is heralded as an important, if not fundamental, feminist read. I'm also thankful, again, to have this group to discuss books (especially ones like this) with.


message 9: by Alexa (last edited Jul 17, 2016 07:04PM) (new)

Alexa (AlexaNC) Yes, I'm so proud of myself to be finally reading this! (Thanks to all of you!) Mine is 800 pages of TINY font, you may need a really strong flashlight - and perhaps some light (intellectually) relief!

I'm also going to be taking it in small chunks El (if my library lets me). I just finished the first chapter "Biological Data." After looking at differences between the egg and the sperm, "It would be rash to deduce from such an observation that woman's place is in the home: but there are rash people." That made me giggle.

Some of her science I would really like to know the current data on. For example that girls at puberty are much more susceptible to disease, or that 85% of women show signs of medical distress during their periods.

At first I wanted to argue with this bit, but the more I thought about it I wasn't sure: (talking about periods) "This is when she feels most acutely that her body is an alienated opaque thing; it is the prey of a stubborn and foreign life that makes and unmakes a crib in her every month; ... woman is her body as man is his, but her body is something other than her."

My first reaction was that that's nothing compared to pregnancy, but then I realized that doesn't at all negate her point. (And then she goes on to make the same point herself!) She talks about the physical toll a woman's reproductive life takes on her body, and I was all set to argue with her about the power of expectations, but then she pulled the rug out from under me by effectively saying that in modern society these physical limitations are effectively irrelevant, and are clearly not the cause of woman's secondary status.

I'm really enjoying the way she teases me into wanting to argue with her, and then makes the point I wanted to make much much more coherently than I could have!

I'm excited to see where psychoanalysis will take us next!


message 10: by PrincessZelda (new)

PrincessZelda | 2 comments I'll start it soon as I just joined the group and as my version was an extremely potted version (141 p. hahaha) so I have to order it to my library. I'm still hesitating if I should read it in french or rather my first language...


message 11: by Alexa (new)

Alexa (AlexaNC) I'm not quite sure what to say about language, I've only got one myself, so I can't even imagine what it would take to read it in one's second language. As a solely-English speaker, I must say it does get a bit dry in spots, and some of her terminology is over my head - but then I find that she usually brings it back down to earth fairly quickly. My biggest peeve with her is her unwillingness to break things into smaller paragraphs - but I've found I can live with that so far.


message 12: by Candace (new)

Candace | 35 comments This was my second go-around with this and I can at least say I made it farther this time. A good way to describe what I was doing is "slogging." I was trying to force this book on myself but I found myself questioning. If this has been an opinion piece I could have been more understanding but it was written as scholarly literature...maybe I missed the bibliography. I really hate to say it but she seems to rely so heavily on the pop culture of her time and place that it is almost irrelevant now (don't hate me I said almost) except for the fact that at one time it was a pivotal book for women. Then again I didn't finish it so maybe I missed something crucial.


message 13: by Alexa (new)

Alexa (AlexaNC) Nobody hates you!!! :)

That's the whole point of this group, to read and freely express our opinions!

You have some interesting points, but I'll have to do some more "slogging" before I can comment on them.


message 14: by El (new)

El | 756 comments Mod
I'm finding this fascinating, though not something I'm able to breeze through quickly. I'm onto Part III: Myths (Chapter IX, Dreams, Fears, Idols). She covers so much ground and so many different cultures and beliefs, I'm amazed that she was able to do that much research on everything. I've been joking with people that I read somewhere she was 38 when she published this book, and that's killing me since I just turned 38 last month and... well, I have nothing to show for it except a job I hate, lol. In that sense, I'm finding it inspirational.

I do agree that the reading gets a bit dry in spots (particularly early on talking about the biology - I am not very science-driven), but now that I'm onto myths, my interest is piqued again. It's incredible to me some of the classical writers she's referenced and just how horribly sexist they were even for their time.

Did anyone else notice in the discussion of birth control the mention of Egyptions in antiquity using animal dung? It really struck me because I believe we just read that in Who Cooked the Last Supper?: The Women's History of the World as well. I don't remember if Miles had The Second Sex listed in her citations or not, but I could see how she may have gotten that information from de Beauvoir. Or maybe animal dung in birth control was actually something discussed in numerous places but I just never encountered it in my reading before. Lucky me to learn of it all now in multiple sources. :)


message 15: by Anita (new)

Anita (anitafajitapitareada) I'm getting through this, slowly, but it doesn't matter! I'm having an interesting time because not only am I finally reading this and getting through this material, but I get to place everything into chronological perspective. It's really interesting to see how "current" events are influencing her writing, and even seeing how they influence her opinion on things. She's quite an intellectual and yet I'm getting hints of heavy bias not based on fact on certain points. I don't know if I'm a sensitive American, but she sure loves to toss in "racist Americans" a lot. Halfway kidding, again, I understand that this publication is centered in the civil rights fight taking off on American soil.

El wrote: "Did anyone else notice in the discussion of birth control the mention of Egyptions in antiquity using animal dung? It really struck me because I believe we just read that in Who Cooked the Last Supper?: The Women's History of the World as well. I don't remember if Miles had The Second Sex listed in her citations or not, but I could see how she may have gotten that information from de Beauvoir. Or maybe animal dung in birth control was actually something discussed in numerous places but I just never encountered it in my reading before. Lucky me to learn of it all now in multiple sources. :)"

Right? I'm thinking a book on the history of birth control is totally going to come up in this group.


message 16: by Alexa (new)

Alexa (AlexaNC) Anita wrote: "...Right? I'm thinking a book on the history of birth control is totally going to come up in this group."

Oh yes! Do the research for us and tell us what we should read!


message 17: by El (last edited Jul 28, 2016 11:44AM) (new)

El | 756 comments Mod
I think anything about Margaret Sanger would be interesting along those lines, but this one might deal more specifically with the birth control movement: Woman of Valor: Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement in America. :)

ETA: ...Annnnnd it's 672 pages. So... maybe when everyone feels they have extra time to commit to it. :)


message 18: by Jean (new)

Jean Perry (alwayslearningjean) | 16 comments Woman of Valor is a very good book to learn about MS and the 20th century birth control movement. For a history of birth control going back to Egypt I remember reading (I think it was this book, i read it 30 yrs ago) Sex in History by Tannehill. It is a serious scholarly, but easily read, book about the issue.

I read The Second Sex 40 yrs ago with a small group of feminists. I don't remember it being dufficult, but maybe that is because we could discuss it with each other and figure out what she was talking about.


message 19: by Alexa (new)

Alexa (AlexaNC) Thanks for finding that!

Lately I see things like Margaret Sanger being accused of eugenics, and (right-wing) claims that Susan B. Anthony wasn't included in a (left-wing) list of historical women because she was pro-life, and I feel as if the ground is being twisted under my feet by some very clever agenda-driven folks.


message 20: by Alexa (new)

Alexa (AlexaNC) Jean wrote: "...I read The Second Sex 40 yrs ago with a small group of feminists. I don't remember it being difficult, but maybe that is because we could discuss it with each other and figure out what she was talking about."

That sounds like such fun!


message 21: by Alexa (new)

Alexa (AlexaNC) And the blurb for Sex in History mentions Egyptian crocodile dung!


message 22: by El (new)

El | 756 comments Mod
Alexa wrote: "And the blurb for Sex in History mentions Egyptian crocodile dung!"

Yay! I think this crocodile dung thing may be one of my favorite newly acquired lessons.


message 23: by Alexa (new)

Alexa (AlexaNC) I can't help wondering, was it easy to shape, did it act like a sponge, did it have an appropriate pH balance or was it seen as a fierce guardian?


message 24: by El (new)

El | 756 comments Mod
Lol! The fierce guardian was my initial thought, but I do have the same questions as you. We definitely need to learn more about this. I just can't imagine the stench.


message 25: by Jean (new)

Jean Perry (alwayslearningjean) | 16 comments I don't remember anything about crocodile dung, which seems like an impossibility to me. What I do remember is that the Egyptians knew how to make a condom out of animal intestines. They had used it first to protect an animal stud line - of course not for human beings. (Tic).


message 26: by Alexa (last edited Aug 08, 2016 05:52PM) (new)

Alexa (AlexaNC) I let myself slow down way too much with this - I need to kick myself back in gear! Some bits that caught my eye:

From The Psychoanalytical Point of View: "Discussing psychoanalysis as such is not an easy undertaking. Like all religions - Christianity or Marxism - it displays an unsettling flexibility against a background of rigid concepts."
"for the mother, the child is anything but a 'penis substitute'; painting, writing, and engaging in politics are not only 'good sublimations': they are ends desired in themselves. To deny this is to falsify all of human history."
"psychoanalysts in particular define man as a human being and woman as a female: every time she acts like a human being, the woman is said to be imitating the male."

From The Point of View of Historical Materialism: "A truly socialist ethic - one that seeks justice without restraining liberty, one that imposes responsibilities on individuals but without abolishing individual freedom - will find itself most uncomfortable with problems posed by woman's condition. It is impossible to simply assimilate gestation to a job or service like military service."
"To demand for woman all the rights, all the possibilities of the human being in general does not mean one must be blind to her singular situation."


message 27: by Anita (new)

Anita (anitafajitapitareada) same, Alexa. I'm finding myself excusing reading other shorter books because this one is so long but I'm really passing it up too much.

I found the history section really interesting, and I actually really wish I had read this ages ago because I find that it contains so many different threads and tangents that touch on many subjects of feminism that I've already read some modern (and very well researched) books on.

I'm finding this out of date and more full of bias and opinion than I've become used to. I am still enjoying it, but I'm having to reshape my expectations, and remind myself of its age, as I go in order to not dismiss many of her claims. But, on the other hand, when I think of it in terms of its age I'm pretty amazed. It's such a compilation!

One recurring theory that rubs me the wrong way is her insistence that women never had anything to fight for -in terms of subjugation to man or patriarchy, which I think is contradictory when she also asserts how religion, technological growth, and politics are used to whittle away at woman. what's to whittle away if she insists women had no leg up in the first place? ever? I think this is tainted by our reading of Who Cooked the Last Super though, and goes back to how I wish I had read this in my earlier feminist reading days.

I'm moving into Myths, so... still a long ways to go!


message 28: by Alexa (new)

Alexa (AlexaNC) My thoughts on the history section:
I thought it was interesting how much this reminded me of Who Cooked the Last Supper?: The Women's History of the World, but seemed much less scholarly; yet back in 1949 this was a completely different undertaking. I don't remember if Rosalind Miles cited Simone de Beauvoir, but she clearly owes her at the very least a spiritual debt. In many ways though, this is a philosophical look at history, strongly influenced by a Marxist analysis, rather than a historical overview. It's a look at how men have defined and limited women, "What place has humanity allotted to this part of itself that has been defined in its core as Other? What rights have been conceded to it? How have men defined it?"

Reading about all the energy men have put into suppressing women is really depressing - all that virulent antifeminism! Yet at times I was also hit with how amazingly the situation of women has improved. (It seems so obvious, yet I spend so much of my energy focused on what is wrong with the here and now.) And then it hit me, she wrote this only four years after she herself got the right to vote!

And I loved the way she ended the history section: "Men's economic privilege, their social value, the prestige of marriage, the usefulness of masculine support - all these encourage women to ardently want to please men. They are on the whole still in a state of serfdom. It follows that woman knows and chooses herself not as she exists for herself but as man defines her. She thus has to be described first as men dream of her since her being-for-men is one of the essential factors of her concrete condition." Wow!

Next comes Myths, but unfortunately my library insisted on my giving this back, so it will be a few weeks until I can get my hands on it again. Urgh!


message 29: by El (new)

El | 756 comments Mod
Argh, I hate when libraries get in the way of my reading! :)

I found the History section pretty interesting as well, and also noted some of the connections with Who Cooked the Last Supper?. I'm really glad we read that one first, to be honest. I also couldn't remember if Miles cited de Beauvoir, but I 100% agree that she owes de Beauvoir some mad props for quite a lot of her information.

Thanks for reminding us with how she finishes the history section. I am in the chapter about "The Married Woman" and a lot of those same topics come up in this section.

That final statement ("She thus has to be described first as men dream of her since her being-for-men is one of the essential factors of her concrete condition") makes me think of the ever-popular Manic Pixie Dream Girl in literature and movies over the last 20 years or so. This is a topic I find fascinating for that exact reason - that these MPDG characters are solely for the benefit of the male characters, there for their amusement, or to help them learn something about the world, but there's a passivity of sort on the part of these MPDG characters. And, of course, they are often written by men and are evidently a sort of female of their "dreams" - this totemic female that belongs on a pedestal or in the stars, and not so much as an actual individual.

Sorry, different topic for a different time, probably. But that statement in the History section screams MPDG to me now. It appears that this concept has been going much longer than the MPDG definition has existed.

I look forward to your thoughts on Myths, Alexa, whenever you get the copy back from the library. I found that section interesting. (At least it was an easier and more enjoyable read for me than early on when the majority of the discussion was the science and biology of women - that section in particular read a bit dry for me.)


message 30: by Jean (new)

Jean Perry (alwayslearningjean) | 16 comments Both of these authors owe a debt to Mary Ritter Beard - read any of her women's history books, On Understanding Women, Women as a Force in History, etc. make sure you look for M RITTER Beard, there is a contemporary British historian who writes on the Roman Empire period whose name is also MB.

Re: that last sratement about women being defined by men is so apropos today! As many young women think they are independent and, perhaps even, feminists, they try very hard to meet the male "sexy chick" role, spandex dresses which are short and tight and very uncomfortable to sit in; 5 inch heels "because they make my legs look sexy" but are hard on the feet and difficult to walk in, let alone if you had to run in them; long hair that has to be fussed with every 2 minutes because "he doesn't want me to get it cut," etc, etc. what happened to "I will dress in what is comfortable for me"?


message 31: by Alexa (new)

Alexa (AlexaNC) She looks very interesting - perhaps this one? Making Women's History: The Essential Mary Ritter Beard


message 32: by Jean (new)

Jean Perry (alwayslearningjean) | 16 comments I haven't read that one, but know of it and it does sound good. Many are available from Amazon for .01 plus 3.99 shipping. Can't beat that!


message 33: by Alexa (new)

Alexa (AlexaNC) And congratulations to El, for actually finishing this! And now you have to come back here and share your thoughts with us!

I got my copy back from the library and will be carrying on. How about everyone else? We CAN do this, yes we CAN!


message 34: by El (new)

El | 756 comments Mod
Haha, thank you! I am so happy to have finished it (it was a rough go at it a few times), but I am so much happier that I read it, period.

Yes, it's a dense book, I fully agree with that. I am struck by how young Beauvoir was when she wrote this. I can't even imagine trying to write something on the level of this at any point in my life, though I'm probably just being too hard on myself.

Funny story - I just started a new job, and frequently someone will come my desk to introduce themselves and talk for a moment. One professor stopped over last week while I was still reading this book. I wasn't reading it at the moment, but it was off to the side of my desk as I was about to take it to lunch with me. So we were talking, and I saw her eyes kind of swerving to the book once or twice. Finally she just said "Are you reading The Second Sex??" I said I was, and I was almost done with it. I asked if she had read it and she said she had in college. She considers it one of the most influential books she's ever read.

This is funny to be me because I used to work with surgeons, and most times they would just look at the covers of whatever I was reading and roll their eyes because they didn't understand or weren't familiar with a title. Someone there thought The Second Sex was a science fiction novel, so you know, feminist literature apparently isn't high up on their list of experiences.

So it was nice that a professor recognized it for what it is, and also had read it, and also found it inspiring and life-changing.

I can't go as far as to say it changed my life (which is why I wound up giving it a 4 out of 5 stars), but I can see that if I had read it in college (and didn't throw it away in frustration) in the right setting, it could easily have been just as influential to me then.

I appreciated so much of what Beauvoir wrote. She covered so much stinking ground and I am in awe of that. Parts are dated now because it was written in the late 1940s, and it may seem irrelevant at times because a lot of what she wrote is common knowledge today. It must have made quite the impact when it was first released, and I sort of wish I had been on the ground floor of that experience.

Still, I feel accomplished for finishing it (and not giving up even though I was reading it during a really dark and low point in my life and it was probably not a helpful escape for me during that period). I want to cheer everyone on! Take your time with it, and just let Beauvoir teach you. Even if you don't always agree with her, that's what philosophy and education is all about.


message 35: by Anita (new)

Anita (anitafajitapitareada) yeah, not going to lie, I have been lazy about reading this. college started back up and excuses excuses... but I'm on my last renewal so I'm determined and re-motivated to finish it!
I'm glad you finished El (congrats!) and it's great knowing that you got so much out of it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and motivations!


message 36: by Alexa (new)

Alexa (AlexaNC) Yes thank you El, that's really inspiring!

I do hope you like your new job better than your old one? I would think that being able to interact with folks that you can talk books with would be a huge improvement!


message 37: by Alexa (new)

Alexa (AlexaNC) Anita, college? I didn't know that!


message 38: by El (new)

El | 756 comments Mod
Alexa wrote: "I do hope you like your new job better than your old one?"

Oh my goodness, yes. Practically a culture shock. The best part is that so far I have a fresh, clean mind for the first time in probably ten years (give or take), and I can return to my love of reading. Whew. Was getting worried about my lack of reading for a while there. :)


message 39: by El (new)

El | 756 comments Mod
Anita, this would be hard to read alongside college courses, for sure! It doesn't strike one naturally as something one would want to pick up for "fun" after all the homework. But I promise if you do finish you will feel such a sense of satisfaction - even if you wind up not liking the book, you will feel better for having read it. :)


message 40: by El (new)

El | 756 comments Mod
Oh, I forgot to include this in my review, but I will share it with you guys in case any of you are interested. Beauvoir references Marie Bashkirtseff pretty frequently throughout this book. I actually read I Am the Most Interesting Book of All: The Diary of Marie Bashkirtseff, Vol. 1 a few years back. It is what you would expect from a diary written by a young girl growing into womanhood (ie, self-important). It made an impression on me, and apparently it must have made an impression on Beauvoir as well. Bashkirtseff died at a young age from TB, so there's not a lot of writing from her outside of her diaries (if I am trusting my memory, anyway). She was also a pretty impressive painter as well.

I found it interesting that Beauvoir actually referenced this young person as much as she did. Yes, she did write about her life in some detail, so a lot of historical information and context can be drawn from that (this is why we should all keep diaries and journals!), but she died at the age of 25. I would have loved to see how Marie grew as a person if she had lived.

More about Marie.


message 41: by Anita (new)

Anita (anitafajitapitareada) El wrote: "Oh, I forgot to include this in my review, but I will share it with you guys in case any of you are interested. Beauvoir references Marie Bashkirtseff pretty frequently throughout this book. I actu..."
That's really interesting, and coincidentally I had just read about Marie's diary in a review of another 1900 teenaged girl's diary: I Await the Devil's Coming that compared the two as similar in the sense that they're in that voice of young woman chaffing against womanhood, or societal expectation, I don't know I haven't read either of them. As you can imagine, the reviews range from annoyed to interested to empathetic.

Alexa wrote: "Anita, college? I didn't know that!"
lol yeah, you'll notice a severe drop in number of books read, combined with an uptick in comics and audiobooks. This year should be especially dreary for recreational reading because all the maths and chemistries. it's a love/hate relationship.


message 42: by Anita (last edited Jan 24, 2017 07:15AM) (new)

Anita (anitafajitapitareada) "...in American colleges, the student's status is based on the number of dates she has." (part 2, pg. 341) - I'm very happy to report that this is totes not the case now... because chemistry doesn't allot me time for dates


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