I absolutely loved this study of one of the twentieth century’s most brilliant and famous women writers and activists. It is the single most trenchant and insightful of the intellectual biographical studies of de Beauvoir.
Nothing of value in de Beauvoir’s life is overlooked. Context and circumstances are fully considered and the widest range of resources and key relationships are thought through: the influence of her parents, sister, lovers, friends and, of course, Sartre. Besides which you’re made aware of her serious reading of intellectual writers and philosophers such as Levis-Strauss, Hegel, Heidegger, Aquinas, Marx, Husserl, Leibniz, Kant, and the existential phenomenologists. A lengthier work would of course have had the space to consider the reading she did for The Second Sex alone, that included hundreds of historians, anthropologists, biologists and sociologists, but this is meant to be a brief study and its success as such is not diminished by this.
Tidd also sheds light on some of the influences on her growing sense of intersectional feminism and the lesser known yet critical influences for her magnum opus on women, The Second Sex, by reference, for example, to her strong interest in Gunnar Myrdal’s classic 1944 study American Dilemma, on race in America.
She doesn’t shy away from the complex and often troubling relationship Beauvoir had with Sartre: namely the ways in which it was supportive of each other, while often exploiting the affection of other lovers and writing about them and betraying their lovers’ confidences to each other.
Importantly, she quotes well from all Beauvoir’s work, so you get to appreciate her strengths as a memoirist, diarist, philosopher, essayist and polemicist, novelist, travel and letter writer, feminist and political activist.
I’ve read the full-length biographies by Deirdre Blair and Toril Moi, and this short study says everything of value while missing nothing of significance.
The highest praise I can think of for a biography of a writer is to say that it excites and compels you to want to go and read or reread the writer’s work. This brilliant study merits that accolade.
So the gist of this article in Slate is that white privileged, successful middle class women don’t like the word ‘feminism’, and they’re successful and those not informed or educated about the history of feminism think it’s unnecessary or negative and man-hating.
And if successful women like Mayer at Yahoo dislikes feminism and being called a feminist, and Sandberg thinks mentoring younger women is “therapy” and excludes, ignores and rejects the value of feminism because of these flimsy excuses, should we accept it just because they’re female CEOs? (What’s the difference between an ignorant/sexist statement coming from a woman instead of a guy? Answer: no difference at all.) To accept their arguably anti-feminist and frankly sexist and stereotypical characterisation of feminism and feminists would not only be blindly ignorant but self-loathing of women as a whole class of people.
It is precisely only thanks to the countless women over hundreds of years who have fought for women’s rights that Sandberg and Mayer are able to be in the privileged, elite position they are at now. Without feminism they wouldn’t have had access to education (and their white, privileged, middle class backgrounds must surely have enabled an easier route to elite education) and no path to such power as they have now.
The other irritating thing about the article is that its author as well as Mayer and Sandberg seem to think equality of the sexes is a given. There’s also no mention of impact of those in poverty, on impact of the double bind of racism coupled with gender, of challenges to access quality education, of violence against women everywhere (irrespective of class, sexuality, race or views; and of all types: physical and sexual and racist assault, psychological, and killing), of the everyday sexism women and girls face everywhere: home, at work, school, travelling, on public transport. There’s no reflection in the article or by Mayer or Sandberg of women having to deal with and fight against the pressures of right wing, conservative sexist politics that deny all women full health care choices and the many challenges that involves and – well, the list goes on.
Ignorance is bliss, clearly, for those too privileged to care about the majority of women not having equality compared to men with regard to freedom of choice, politics, class, gender, race, sexuality, environment, geography or economic circumstances — or a conflation of these dynamics.
This is a delightfully shameless plug — nay, rave! — for a fantastic critique of Hakim’s approach to feminism, her book, Honey Money, combined with an analysis of a talk the academic gave the other day at The Watershed venue in Bristol. The article is by @MadamJMo and I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did. @MadamJMo is a Bristol-based feminist, magazine editor and activist — and clearly she’s impressive on all those bases.
Not only is her article thorough in its research, but also her clinical, scrupulous attention to detail of the event, the way Hakim engaged her audience (or, rather, didn’t); the author’s comments about her book and the questions made and answers given, make it well worth the read. @MadamJMo understands, unlike Hakim, that to deconstruct an opponent’s argument properly, you have to pay both close attention and have great analytical appreciation of the event. The insight into subtext and counterpoint of views are impressive and we are shown what hides behind the Wizard of Oz’s curtain: a deeply ingrained antifeminist, contradictory with a frankly bizarre, incomprehensible and spurious perspective. Sadly, this review confirms what I suspected: that Hakim herself seems to delight in disparagement of the female, while excusing the male (for his high sex drive, poor thing). Yes, she subjects the object woman — for that, it seems, is what ‘woman’ is to Hakim — a bauble, a man’s plaything to enjoy at his behest; the proverbial spare rib from Adam’s cage — to her patriarchal-forgiving-excusing gaze. Insufferable. Do, please, take five minutes out this weekend to read it and enjoy, enjoy, enjoy. Ah, what the heck: I mean, it’s bloody marvellous!
PS – BTW – Hakim’s advocacy of a certain type of behaviour by the woman towards the man essentially strike me as boiling down to doing what the wonderfully delightful Amy Sedaris did on Jimmy Fallon’s Late Night Talk Show on 30th August 2011. (The article is worth reading, too, but I bring readers’ attention to the nbc.com embedded video and around 2 minutes in you soon begin to get the picture of what erotic capital is all about.) I suspect not even Hakim’s prepared to go that far with her male professorial colleagues — is she? No, presumably, so why on earth should other women flirt themselves like doped up barbie dolls to satisfy certain men’s sexist gaze? http://lat.ms/amyinaction. It’s a fantastic video. Have a gander and a lovely weekend.
Ah, the joys of women pandering to men’s needs; now there’s no “sex discrimination”, according to writer and journalist Cristina Odone. (Or is she paraphrasing Catherine Hakim, academic sociologist at the prestigious, world-renowned London School of Economics and who is, it seems, known for “criticising feminist assumptions about employment” it says in her Wikipedia profile: No doubt Hakim’s proud of that fact, as any right-wing thinking woman should be. One also wonders whether Hakim wrote the copy for it, or just had one of her devoted disciplines write it, with her permission?)
My review here is a type of Russian nesting doll-in-a-doll set, in that I’m critiquing both Odone’s own women-denigrating review of the book in The Daily Telegraph; a book which in itself comes across as equally women-denigrating, sexist-supporting, anti-women, by Hakim in Honey Money.
A few years ago I saw Cristina Odone a couple of times on the serious talk-panel programme, Question Time on the BBC, and I thought then: well, clearly she’s a hardcore conservative; unsurprisingly —not a good thing, in my view. In fact, she reminds me a lot of David Starkey, the historian whose expertise is the Tudor period, is a bestselling author and popular presenter of his own TV series based on his own bestsellers and — unfortunately — is often invited to spout right-wing nonsense on TV about issues in modern society.
Odone comes across as an intelligent person, but she seems to have zero emotional IQ and certainly no empathy for those she judges: take the recent furore she just caused over her criticism of NHS nurses on Question Time on 14th April 2011, and in her follow-up blog comments the next day in The Daily Telegraph. As if NHS nurses are in charge and to blame for the way the NHS operates. I’d love to see Odone, no doubt on a great salary and living happily in a beautiful home, try being a nurse just for a day. I suspect she may be prepared to revamp her comments radically in favour of the difficulties and challenges and stresses all of them face. But then, maybe NHS nurses, along with any other woman who happens to be hardworking in a poorly paid job, need only take heed of the counsel dished out to women in Honey Money by Hakim: just use your ‘erotic capital’ and voilà, you may find a rich man, but certainly life will become easier because men will treat you better. The whole Waldorf Salad-enchilada-Nine-Yards fandango. So that’s how to be successful modern woman of the Noughties. Wow! Who’d have it could be so utterly straightforward as that? All you need to do is smile, maybe wear high heels, dress in body-shape-enhancing clothes, flutter your eyelids and definitely use a certain appealing you-know-nudge-nudge tone of voice and — oh! — please don’t worry if you or others think you’re not pretty; no, says Hakim, erotic capital is really all about your attitude.
Radical thinking? Does this sort of tripe even merit publication (and by the respectable Allen Lane publishers in the UK, no less!). Hell no: this book in most ways reflects a pre-90s-typically 1950s/60s/70s attitude towards and about women all over again. It perfectly echoes Ira Levin’s 1972 bestselling satirical fiction, The Stepford Wives, and the films it inspired. (The first, in 1975, was great — script by William Goldman, directed by Bryan Forbes, and performances by Katharine Ross and Paula Prentiss; the second simply over the top silly, directed by Frank Oz (never very subtle anyway; he should have stuck with movies for kids), and with Nicole Kidman — ghastly in it — and Bette Midler, who is entertaining in it and milks the role for all the camp it’s worth and she could muster, both of which are a lot, bless her.)
In Levin’s novel, the men’s sexist attitudes have led to their desire for and then creation of ‘the perfect woman’ in an equally perfect, secluded gated community. The robotic-type women are always smiling, the perfect hostess, submissive, forever wanting to please her man and doing so, at his bidding, and most of the time before it. I think this all sounds remarkably similar to what Hakim is advocating in her book and Odone endorses, though both may argue otherwise, namely: A woman should always please the men in their lives, whether co-worker, boss or husband, potential partner or just a guy serving you in a shop or wherever else. Give him a smile, be demure, flutter your eyelids. Paint your face. Massage his tense shoulders from being stressed at being a man in the modern age. Just glow with your erotic capital, m’dear, then all will be well in your world. I mean, jes*sus H frickin unbelievable that this sort of vomit-inducing nonsense is being spouted by a senior academic at one of the leading British universities and is further endorsed by Odone and her absurd statements. Take one such example of Odone, where she says Hakim is:
at her best when she provides a refreshing antidote to the boiler-suited, shaved-head thinking that keeps masculinists from reflecting ordinary women’s ambitions
Who on earth can she possibly be thinking of who is in real life at all like this “masculinist”, as she defines it; who, to take her metaphor seriously, even metaphorically dresses/acts/speaks like this — and with a shaved head, too! My goodness, but they must be female monsters, foaming at the mouth, head-butting charming men (for there is no other kind), with their extraordinary women’s ambitions! (And even if some women did really dress like that, and really have a shaved head, that Odone wasn’t writing metaphorically well — who frickin cares — aren’t they still women, with rights and voices to be heard?!)
I suppose this is Odone’s pathetic attempt at being witty – but at the expense of whom? Women who speak up and challenge the sexist status quo, that’s who. God forbid that a woman, to cite Rebecca West, differentiates herself from a doormat; suddenly you’ll be thought of as being shaven-headed and boiler-suited in your attitudes (of course, West really said ‘feminist’, not shaven-headed etc!). Ah, but her metaphor also is a criticism of any woman who doesn’t use her femininity to her advantage, be at work, home or elsewhere; if you aren’t, the metaphor seems to imply that you must be a pastiche for a guy; a fake female; even a fake sort of guy. Perhaps not so oddly, I’m suddenly reminded of Lady Gaga’s exhaustively relentless efforts at being radical/leading, when in fact she copies her idols and tiresomely takes on an easy target, i.e., the traditional, Catholic religion (Madonna), or attempts sad nonsense in the form of Joe Calderone, her alter-ego (that alter-ego link will take you to a fantastic critique by “Robin”, an assistant professor in the Philosophy Department at UNC Charlotte, USA; there’s also an entertaining critique/review of Calderone’s performance in an LA Times blog. BTW, don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying I think Gaga is without talent; far from it; some of her early songs were great in The Fame Monster and showed she merited her fame and success; especially via Poker Face and Bad Romance, her videos of those songs and her amazing costumes).
The assumptions made by Odone are sexist in themselves, derogatory, and a stereotypical portrayal of women and their rights. As an academic, Hakim really has no excuses; I’m sure of that. In the book review, Odone talks about the gratitude felt towards feminists for “getting rid of sex discrimination“, but clearly she’s clueless that one such fundamental part of sex discrimination that remains rife and is a global issue, is gender pay disparity. On this alone, there is a mass of research and reports readily available for anyone who has access to the web.
On the subject of pay disparity alone, since it is important and that discrimination continues to be faced by the majority of women in the workplace across the globe, despite the backing of their rights in most if not all Western countries through legislation for equal pay, such as with the UK’s 1970 Equal Pay Act, here are a few research reports to illustrate how rife such discrimination is. First, a Google search alone brings up a wealth (sorry for the bad pun) of pay disparity reports/material, here. There’s also the World Economic Forum’s Global Corporate Gender Gap Report 2010 and, as one example into a specific, global major industry, financial services, there’s a 2009 report published by the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission, called Sex Discrimination and Gender Pay Gap Report (that link is just for the press summary of the report; but you can also find the full report on the site, too; and there’s also a fascinating 2011 report from the same organisation, this one on women being passed over for top jobs – just click here).
As anyone who is even half-awake about the realities of the world knows, sex discrimination is far from over and Hakim’sHo*ney Money and Odone — far from celebrating women and helping to challenge sex discrimination, objectification of women and trivialisation of them by the appalling notion of “ero*tic capital” — reinforce such objectification, discrimination etc. (And you can just see the consequences of Ho*ney Money-type thinking in the City/Wall Street/the financial services industry, or frankly any other male-dominated workplace. Such trivialisation will go down a treat with the guys in power/control, over women who work with or for them, as the women will be at the mercy of their being charged with using such capital, when in fact the women are being sexually harassed by the men. You can just imagine a future law court scene in which the male defendent uses the defence of ‘ero*tic capital like this:
“I’m not guilty, m’Lud – she was using erotic capital on me, so I couldn’t help but rub my gen*itals against her bu*m in the office. She made me do it – she wanted it, when she smiled at me in that way, massaged my shoulders and gave me a metaphorical BJ.”)
Most people, I reckon, unfortunately, have enough to contend with: either being in crap jobs, if you’re fortunate enough to have a job in the first place and, with women, they have the double-edged sword facing them unlike the majority of men, even now in the Noughties, given most still do all or most of the shopping/cleaning/cooking as well as be a co-wage-earner. Hakim and Odone point to such hardships and question whether or not it was worth it for women to win the fight for the right to work as equals to men, rather than be forced into only one option, that of being a stay-at-home-mum (obviously for those women who choose this, all well and good, but for those who want other choices as well, to be deprived of other options is far from good). Surely one of the key points of feminism was and is to make sure women have equal access to all industries and all jobs available, just as it is to make sure such access exists for education and equal pay, based on talent, qualifications, experience, etc. Hakim, however, seems to be saying that adopting a Ho*ney Money attitude towards the men in your life – and Odone clearly endorses this view in her book review — will likely give you a far better chance at a better quality of life than the misery of modern work. Why golly gee — you could may be lifted off your feet by a rich, dashing, non-gay Rock Hudson, and escape from the drudgery of common working life. But I think we can count such women on one hand, or perhaps one digit, unless you watch the rich women in Orange County and/or already happen to be rich.
As for Odone and Hakim – well, they need not worry – one’s a successful journalist and the other an established academic who seems to sneer at women’s rights at least as far as employment is concerned. All while they have their own delicious cake and also get to eat. “Do as I say, not as I do”, in other words.
Ultimately, Ho*ney Money’s credo, its advocacy of erotic capital, will be seen for what it is: a sexist revisionism of genuine women’s rights and self-empowerment— the Empress’s New Clothes, to paraphrase the cliché. It is intellectually dishonest, morally bankrupt thinking that wholeheartedly pejorative towards women; it is, therefore, explicitly anti-feminist,anti-women’s rights in the workplace (to be treated as an equal to men, not to be slathered over because of flirting with them), and echoes back to a denigrating time, culture and thinking that is, at most, pre-1980s, and frankly smacks, as indicated earlier, of the 1950s and before. I’m reminded of an age-old sexist chant by men, typically drunk when they sing it, that would agree wholeheartedly with the essence of Hakim’s and Odone’s arguments. Namely, it seems to me,whether you use your body, tone of voice, eye contact or some such other, you are effectively doing what supposedly funny but only pathetic, sexist drunken men want you to do, when all they chant together at women: “Get your t*its out for the lads.” Awful, right? (Unless you’re a drunken man with a snout, but then you wouldn’t be reading this, would you?!)
So Hakim and Odone not only seem to disapprove of modern feminism, but worse, think there’s no need for feminism or feminists anymore; after all there’s no more “sex discrimination” ! Well, I for one don’t approve of their characterisation of women as sexual Stepford Wives of this decade or any other. Talk about backwards, sexist thinking. Even shallow pop culture trivialisations of feminism for young women’s consumption — by characterising women’s rights as “Riot Grrrl” and, before that, “Girl Power”, are genuinely more meaningful, in-depth and useful to women, young and old, than the nonsense of the reviewer and this sociologist; both of whom, via their views, bring shame to the history of women’s struggle, and the women who have fought in every sense for their rights. There is nothing to celebrate in two bright women celebrating as a way to get ahead an encouragement for women to focus on their appeal to men via their own looks/consideration of them/flirting with them/body language/tone of voice/femininity. In short, god, let’s say that awful phrase one more time: ero*tic capital. It’s as if I’ve just swallowed a cup of cold sick thinking and writing about this. Let’s hope you don’t feel the same way from reading about it.