Swans Commentary » swans.com February 25, 2008  



Second Sex


by Martin Murie





(Swans - February 25, 2008)   Great remembrances and critiques of Simone de Beauvoir on the February 11, 2008, Swans edition. Swans has done itself proud. Belatedly, I send a few words from my own adventures in the male chauvinist world and efforts to climb out.

I read The Second Sex in Berkeley, while in graduate school, or working to protest against the state's loyalty oath. Doesn't matter just when. The point is, that book woke me up. However, so thoroughly taught are males, from early childhood onward to old age, by every aspect of society, we have a horrific time getting rid of our shackles.

Looking back to a small town in Wyoming, population of the county something like two thousand, we didn't learn much academic stuff in school, but the small class sizes, girls and boys together, brought the gift of companionship. One girl in particular made it a point to ridicule boys whenever she had the chance. By the time my class moved on to high school it became apparent to me that there were some powerful no-nonsense, loud-mouthed females in that school, especially from the ranches. I think that there were at least two factors that help account for that: small grade-school classes in one-room schoolhouses (the one-room school students usually beat us townies in spelling bees): and the sharing of chores as members of a family barely making a living from cattle. Working with horses and cows, bulls, hogs, and dogs is a good education in the facts of life. Some of the ranch girls stepped out of covered sleighs (school buses) dressed in rough shirts and Levi's. And then there was the weather: hard winters that we all shared.

Did that make me a feminist? Not by a long shot. There was the blind luck of meeting Alison, a woman not about to take anyone's opinions or prejudices without sifting them through her fine-screened intelligence, and her experiences as a woman. Alison and I were activists from the very beginning, and it is a little-noted fact that leftish actions in the fifties kept up a steady drumbeat about male supremacy and, of course, racism -- among us. Yes, preaching to the choir; without that, no movement grows. So okay, the Left dwindled under the onslaught, did not grow, but it's still there. I, for one, am thankful for the privilege of meeting strong women in those movements, women who didn't label themselves feminists, but did fight -- actively, personally -- male pretensions.

At Antioch College I taught a course, "Reproduction." I floundered through the first launch of that course and on the way I remembered The Second Sex, devoting part of one class time to what was known then as "Women's Lib." Little did I know how hard it would be for me and other males to fight through their primitive notions of equality. As Alison says, "Women are still second." In that reproduction class I quoted Simone de Beauvoir, about the time when equality would actually be with us. One of the key sentences of her book. The students responded well, but they too had no idea of what lay ahead of us.

I'm thinking of Phil Greenspan, his generous nature and his activist life. Phil, if this rant gets to you, I hope you will find encouragement about the prospects of this crazy old world, in the rambunctious words of Robin Morgan. It's a long tirade and I loved it. Here are a few excerpts. (For the complete statement, see:

Young political Kennedy's Kathleen, Kerry, and Bobby Jr. all endorsed Hillary. Senator Ted, age 76, endorsed Obama. If the situation were reversed, pundits would snort, See? Ted and establishment types back her, but the forward-looking generation backs him. (Personally, I'm unimpressed with Caroline's longing for the Return of the Fathers. Unlike the rest of the world, Americans have short memories. Me, I still recall Marilyn Monroe's suicide, and a dead girl named Mary Jo Kopechne in Chappaquiddick).

Goodbye to the toxic viciousness.

Carl Bernstein's disgust at Hillary's "thick ankles." Nixon-trickster Roger Stone's new Hillary-hating 527 group, Citizens United Not Timid; (check the capitol letters). John McCain answering "How do we beat the bitch?," with "Excellent question." Would he have dared reply similarly to "How do we beat the black bastard"?

Goodbye to the most intimately violent T-shirts in election history, including one with the murderous slogan "If Only Hillary Had Married O.J. Instead." Shame.

It's is so depressingly evident that women have the vote and other hard-won hand-and-foot-holds, but they don't even have the Equal Rights Amendment in our Bill of Rights. Dumb male superiority still reigns in our "democracy." We will never be a democracy until full equality reigns. I can't resist another quote from Morgan:

Surprise! Women exist in all opinions, pigmentations, ethnicities, abilities, sexual preferences, and ages -- not only American and European American, but Latina and Native American, Asian American, and Pacific Islanders, Arab American and hey, every group, because a group wouldn't exist if we hadn't given birth to it. A few non-racist countries may exist, but sexism is everywhere, No matter how many ways a woman breaks free from other discriminations, she remains a female human being in a world still so patriarchal that it's the "norm."

Remember Don Imus's remarks about the women's basketball team? He referred to them as "nappy headed" and "hos." Well, the uproar that cost him his job mainly took up the nappy headed phrase, pretty much ignored "hos." A few months later, having been spanked, Imus got his job back. I think Morgan is close to the truth: racism is condemned when found in words (though not in practice), but, as she asserts, "sexism is everywhere."

In 1889, in the all-male convention to draw up a constitution for the new state of Wyoming, there was an appeal from a group in Cheyenne to submit the equal rights amendment to a vote of the people. Among the towering speeches made in opposition, George W. Baxter, cattleman and former territorial governor, mouthed this: "I yield to no man in the homage and adoration which I feel and which upon all proper occasions I gladly pay to a pure and lovely woman." (T. A. Larson, History Of Wyoming. University of Nebraska Press, 1965. Page 249.)

Have we, one hundred and seventeen years later, moved one miserable inch beyond such brutal pomposity?



[Ed. Martin Murie has a new Web site, Packrat Nest, where readers can find his books and other works. Please, visit it!]


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About the Author

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Philip Greenspan on Swans - In Memoriam

A Word About Philip Greenspan - Jan Baughman

A Loving And Magnificent Human Being - Gilles d'Aymery

One Final Corporative Capitalist Empire - Carol Warner Christen

A Critical Assessment Of Corporations - Michael Doliner

Poor And Pickled - Jan Baughman

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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
URL for this work: http://www.swans.com/library/art14/murie45.html
Published February 25, 2008