When I was fifteen, I hung a poster from a pro-choice rally on the door to my room. That positioned it in our hallway. It was visible from just to the left of the front door as you stepped into the house, inescapable for anyone coming up the stairs. The image was a bold grey, black and red graphic. It involved a woman’s screaming face and a bloody hanger.
Welcome to our home!
Of course, F., you share the blame for that one with a fit of adolescent pique. And while I’m deeply relieved to be rid of that more strident version of you, I’m not breaking up.
The problem is that I feel like I get only the worst of you, day to day. I feel guilty for every minute my child spends in daycare. I also feel guilty for every dollar that I can’t find a way to earn. You’ve come a long way, baby.
I once thought that you might deliver me into a world where I could either stop wearing three-inch heels, or wear them without feeling like I was ruining my daughter. I flinch when she puts them on and clomps around and says “I’m a mama!” Not yet, darling, I tell her. Not yet. But still I wear them. Every day, like an addiction.
And yet I’m reaching out to you. A new edition of The Second Sex is coming in the mail. I admit that I find comfort just in looking at pictures of Simone de Beauvoir. Such wisdom and light in her eyes, such an unapologetic smile.
I vaguely remember judging de Beauvoir, when I read her in college, for her relationship with Sartre. I was angry with her for needing him at all. I wanted her to stand alone, utterly independent of his reflected glory. She came in second to Sartre on the agrégation, the grueling French exams in graduate level philosophy. I wanted her to have kicked his ass. As if those tests were a pure meritocracy! As if she didn’t have to be twice as good to get half as far.
Would I now begrudge her that great passion with Jean-Paul? She herself wrote about the difficult balance between our freedom and our bonds with each other.
She wasn’t even properly enrolled at the École Supérieure. She audited the courses. She fought for every ounce of respect in a society that would not allow her to both marry and live the life of the mind. And she came in second only narrowly, the youngest person ever to pass the exam. So, thank you for Simone.
My students, so young and fragile in their Ugg boots and hotpants, let admiration creep into their voices when they talk about Paris Hilton. “She’s a businesswoman,” one girl told me.
I could hand them The Second Sex, but they won’t read it, dear F. And they flinch at the mention of your name.
But I’m sure it’s them. It’s me. It’s not you.