Saturday, January 19, 2008

The woman who wrote about women

Over the last few weeks, the French media have been reminiscing a lot about Simone de Beauvoir, because she was born in Paris exactly a century ago.

Countless female admirers throughout the world have described how Simone de Beauvoir's ground-breaking study entitled Le Deuxième Sexe, published in 1949, helped them become aware of their profound nature and feminine specificity. Indeed, it's so common to hear women extolling the merits of this female intellectual that observers might be lulled into believing that her celebrated book about women was intended exclusively for female readers. Well, as a male, I insist upon the fact that a mediocre American translation of Le Deuxième Sexe happened to be my unique personal guide book back in the days when I was an awkward youth in Sydney, striving constantly and somewhat vainly to gain insight into those exotic creatures known as "girls". Consequently, in the beginning, I naturally imagined naively that all females surely thought and behaved in much the same style as Simone de Beauvoir. By chance, at the age of 21, I left Australia and settled down in Paris. Not surprisingly, from my Australian viewpoint, many of the splendid young women I encountered in France were indeed not all that different to the mysterious creatures who had seemed to emerge, back in my Sydney days, from the pages of Simone de Beauvoir's guide book. So, all in all, I had the privilege of receiving a relatively coherent introduction to individuals of the First Sex.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

This is the amusing juxtaposition referred to by cm in her comment [see below]:

On the left, there's the actual front page of the French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur. Simone de Beauvoir is adjusting her hair in front of a mirror and a washbasin, while offering the photographer a charming view of her backside. The document on the right is a publicity poster of the kind displayed by French news agencies, designed to persuade people to purchase a copy of the weekly. The message of the ad is clear: If you want to read about two outstanding women (Simone de Beauvoir and Benazir Bhutto), then you should purchase the latest issue of Le Nouvel Observateur. In the poster, insofar as the graphic stuff concerning Bhutto is now hiding most of de Beauvoir's buttocks, the ad designer seems to be saying, too: The only way you'll get the full picture of Simone's arse is to buy the weekly. My own guess is that the publisher of Le Nouvel Observateur may have been a little upset to discover that so many observers expressed their surprise that such a serious (?) weekly would resort to the marketing strategy of putting the photo of a naked celebrity on the first page. In that case, the poster might be thought of as a last-minute attempt to attenuate the shock of Simone's bare bottom.


  1. And what do you think about the "scandal" concerning the photo published by the Nouvel Observateur?

    I don't know if I should cry or laugh. shows the picture of the cover of the Nouvel Obs (entire photo) and also the poster one could see in the kiosks in the streets: the first half of the poster represents the photo of Simone de Beauvoir with the title "Simone de Beauvoir, la scandaleuse", the second half is a portrait of Benazir Bhutto with the title "Pakistan, le pays de tous les dangers".

    Of course, the second one is supposed to cover the "shameful" nudity of the first.

    They were both great women, but I think the nature of the scandal they seem to be (involuntarily) involved in after their death is very different. I wonder what the person who decided to present the poster in this way had in mind...

  2. I've inserted an addendum on this amusing subject. For me, the photo is interesting in that it evokes a cheap hotel room [such as those I lived in for many months, when I first arrived in Paris], with the washbasin located in a corner of the room, alongside the bed. For a young man in Paris, those were unforgettable initiatory visions.

  3. Like you, I arrived in Paris when I was 20 and spent several months in this kind of hotels. I had a very strange feeling when I saw this picture: although I don't have the impression that it is THAT long since I'm not 20 any more, this "washbasin-bedroom-atmosphere" brings me back to the 19th century!