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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Spring Reading Challenge

The Reading Challenge for Spring ('08!) was to read one of the 100 Most Influential Books of the 20th Century (or one of the runners-up). You can find a list here: http://www.bpl.org/research/AdultBooklists/influential.htm Let us know what you read, what you thought of it, and whether you'd be inclined to read another book from this list in the future. I chose:

**** The Second Sex by Simone De Beauvoir. Non-fiction.

This is a classic of feminist thought. And rightly so. If nothing else, The Second Sex is extremely thought-provoking. Of course, you have to realize that it was written over 50 years ago, so some things are dated, but it's heartbreaking to see how much hasn't changed in the intervening years.

The most intriguing idea I brought away from the book is how we're conditioned and/or trained to be female. I'm not sure I agree completely, but there are still quite a few ways in which it holds true. For example, we made a conscious effort when Dagny was very small to be gender-neutral, yet she resisted our efforts toward things like balls and trucks and vastly preferred more imaginary play. The same effort worked in reverse on Curran. Were there other influences that were stronger than ours even though they were rarer (neither was in day care until well after these preferences were established)?

I also bristled at the notion that marriage always equals slavery for a woman, though that probably had more validity half a century ago in France, when women didn't have a lot of choices.

Then there was the fact that she believed the male myth that gynecological problems were always psychosomatic, which is really sad for women who read The Second Sex fifty years ago looking for validation and being told they're hypochondriacs.

In fact, I got the distinct impression that De Beauvior herself had a very low opinion of women in general, and like the men she complained about, that she also considered herself apart from them.

One other thing that annoyed me was the existentialist jargon. It felt to me like a logical fallacy--proof by intimidation, perhaps. That by using a lot of jargon and complex arguments, she wasn't actually proving anything, just throwing a lot of words around. Of course, that could have been due to what's apparently a poor translation from French, so maybe that's the fault of the translator rather than the author, but it's still a complaint about the book I read.

However, I think it's an important book to read, and despite my reservations, I still got a lot out of it and I'm glad I read it.

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