Friday, April 14, 2006

Simone de Beauvoir and me

this is an audio post - click to play

A friend compared me to Simone de Beauvoir.

Who is Simone de Beauvoir? I knew of her vaguely as a feminist and philosopher, but not with any direct experience of her work. So when he called me his Simone de Beauvoir, my curiosity was piqued. I did some research, and as a consequence of that research, asked myself the following questions, and determined the similarities and differences between us.

I wonder, does he call me Simone because of my sexuality? My fondness for triads, my bi-sexuality, my conviction that monofidelity is unnatural? On the surface, it would seem she and I are similar in these ways, but upon a deeper examination of her life and writings, I can only conclude that our approaches to sexuality were very different.

What I know of her indicates that her licentiousness was driven by her circumstances: she was in love with a little troll of a man (Sartre) who was questionably her intellectual and philosophical equal (I think she was his superior in these areas), a man whose interest in sex was so centered on conquest that he had no interest whatsoever in his partner's pleasure. Simone de Beauvoir never had an orgasm with Jean Paul Sartre. Her first orgasm with a man occured while visiting the States, when she was nearly 40. Her love-life was driven by her complex relationship with Sartre, who was a strerotypical Frenchman--the quintessential seducer. She seduced teenaged girls, her students, young women who were disadvantaged or orphaned. They often shared these women, or took as lovers the siblings of each other's paramours, and spoke cattily to each other of these others, even while speaking words of love to their faces. Theirs was an epic half-century love affair, but it was not a positive one, and it is not one I would care to emulate.
this is an audio post - click to play

I wonder, does he call me Simone because of my focus on the sensual immediacy of living? She wrote entirely from what is called 'lived experience'. She seemed to live in the moment, but I do not find in her work a true appreciation of the sensual, rather, she seems to focus on the indisputable reality of her experience as a vehicle for advancing her personal philosophies regarding freedom and power.

And what of those philosophies? Is my own philosophical stance similar to hers? Is that why he calls me Simone? I never took a course in phenomenology or existentialism, never read nor received mentoring or instruction with regards Sartre, Husserl or Heidegger--each of whom were highly influential to her. In fact, until my friend called me his Simone de Beauvoir, I'd never read anything by her, either. A shameful thing, I suppose, seeing as some of her works are considered feminist classics and I attended a women's college. But there it is. I've had no formal education or introduction to her views or those of her contemporaries, so I cannot speak with authority on them.

I can only state my own: that, with regards to religion, I think that all true belief-systems lead to the same place and thus each are equally valid. With regards to love, I think we should be free to love whomever we wish. With regards to sex, I believe that the creation of monogamy and its regulation, first by religious bodies and later by society, has devalued the sensual and perverted the erotic. With regards to gender, I believe that men fear women, have always feared women, first because we embodied the once-mysterious generative process required for procreation, and later because we were capable of controlling them via the pleasures of sexual intercourse. I have long understood that if one controls a person's pleasure or pain, one also controls him or her. This premise (or law) is the coinage in sexual power-exchanges, and is clearly acknowledged by those who are active in BDSM . Indulging or withholding sex, one way or another, a woman controls a man -- and men feared that power over them so strongly that they considered it magical or demonic and set about disempowering and then exploiting women.

Simone was a woman who flaunted the moral rules and social roles assigned to women as a result of thousands of years of domination and violence. In fact, she refused to be complicit in her own subjugation, and perhaps, in this, we are alike. She insisted that as a woman she should be free: free to vote, free to earn a living, free of dependence upon men, free of the passive role society created for women, free to experience and explore the world. But for all her personal philosophies and insistence that she was free, she was still influenced by her own social conditioning with regards to love. She could not have the man she wanted all to herself, so she had him in her life the only way she could keep him there, and she mimicked his sexual aggressiveness as a way to either prove her sexual and emotional independence, or as a way to get back at him for his disinterest in both monogamy and pleasing her sexually.

this is an audio post - click to play

I am a woman who is very conscious of convention, who pays lip-service to it in my public life, but privately leads a very different life, and in this, she and I are very different. Some might think it is a lack of courage that prevents me from putting myself out there, flaunting my sexuality and my compelling hedonistic beliefs, from carrying forward the feminist agenda to undermine the societal strictures that continue to keep women passive and objectified. But the truth is, it is consideration. To get in society's face and demand recognition of my freedom in all areas-- intellectual, economic, religious, reproductive, and sexual-- without compassionate regard for the humanity (and sensibilities) of others is, well, unethical and objectionable.

Not all revolutions are of necessity violent ones. Mine is a silken one. I hope to live my life with integrity, to embody my values and beliefs, and in doing so, create my own sphere of change and progress. Unlike Simone de Beauvoir, I do not feel that I need to prove anything to the world, to my society, or to the love of my life; nor am I driven to say or do things that are hurtful to others--I do not need to prove my equality with men by taking advantage of young women and men ignorant of my agenda.

No matter what others think, the only one whose opinion of and evaluation of my life that truly matters--is mine. No matter who I take as a lover, I am acutely aware that when I close my eyes to sleep at night, I am the one who has to sleep with me. And at the end of my life, people will not read things about thesmelves in posthumously published works that generate feelings of dismay and usury. Unlike Simone de Beauvoir.

No. I am no Simone de Beauvior. I am me.

But after eliminating all this, the question still remains... Why does he call me Simone?

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