Signs, Vol. 5, No. 2 (Winter, 1979), pp. 224-236
Alice Jardine We have begun to hear echoes of certain “new French feminisms” on this side of the Atlantic:1 Translations and studies of the works of such theorists as Helene Cixous, Luce Irigaray, and Julia Kristeva are appearing with increasing frequency. In the midst of these new, diverse, and complex voices, Simone de Beauvoir continues to speak out for an activist, Marxian feminism that opposes various “theories of the feminine” developed by French women in the wake of Lacanian and Derridian epistemologies.2 For the American feminist, The Second Sex (1949) remains one of the single most important studies on women. In spite of caveats concerning Beauvoir’s affiliation with Sartre and her adherence to existentialism, for example, American feminists are in basic agreement with her analysis of the female condition, her emphasis on language as social communication, and her belief in the possibilities of a revolution in the existing order. In France, however, linguistic, psychoanalytic, and philosophical interrogations during the last two decades have placed the emphasis elsewhere: on the decentered subject, the unconscious, and on language as the essential force which orders our perceptions of “history” and “reality.” “Woman” is no longer that biological being opposed to “man,” but something else-“she is elsewhere.” In a sense, “woman” has become a metaphor for everything that escapes and defies Western monological thought. These new emphases might well seem incompatible with
1.See Elaine Marks and Isabelle de Courtivron, eds., New French Feminisms(Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1979).
2. Simone de Beauvoir and other feminists (including Christine Delphy and Monique Wittig) have started a journal, Questions féministes, designed to speak directly to these issues. An English language edition, Feminist Issues, will appear soon in the United States.
feminism as defined by Beauvoir and other feminists in both France and the United States. As an American feminist working in contemporary French theory -a problematic position further complicated by my personal admiration for Beauvoir – I felt it increasingly important to elicit her reactions to some of the issues which mark the new feminisms in France. From our first conversation in 1973, it became clear that Beauvoir had not essentially changed her position since The Second Sex. Although I sensed a certain hesitation or ambivalence in her conception of women’s relationship to language and literature, her attitude to those who posit woman as “elsewhere” remains strong and unflinching. The interview which follows took place at Simone de Beauvoir’s apartment on June 2, 1977.
A.J.: To begin with, what is your present relationship to the women’s movement in France? Are there any groups which you consider particularly important? How effective is the Mouvement de libération des femmes [MLF] today?4
S.B.: That’s a very difficult question, because there are major rifts, great debates within the MLF. There is a group called Psychanalyse et politique, which is involved at present in a libel suit against the women whom they published, women who weren’t happy with the conditions of publication.5 I am absolutely on the side of those women, the ones who have been called revolutionary or radical, and most decidedly opposed to Psych et po, which has turned out to be a very capitalist group. The group uses its own money to do something which is useful-to publish women’s books and to try to have a women’s newspaper. Nonetheless, because it is rich, it is also exploitative. Unfortunately, the other side is divided. But I would say that right now the most important groups are those working on the issues of rape and battered wives. You know, despite the enormous effort that was made for abortion, very little was gained. So, given the everyday concrete resistance which always exists, the attempt to get to women who have been raped, to help them not to feel humiliated, to help them see that it’s necessary to talk about it, and
3.This interview is part of a larger project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Ellen Evans translated from the French.
4. For two overviews of the women’s movement(s) in France, see Elaine Marks, “Women and Literature in France,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 4, no. 2 (Summer 1978): 832-42; Carolyn Burke, “Report from Paris: Women’s Writing and the Women’s Movement,” ibid., pp. 843-55.
5. See Burke for a discussion of the group, Psychoanalysis and Politics.
interview with Beauvoir then to attack the rapists, and so forth … this is all extremely important. Perhaps the battered wives are even more important. We are trying to provide a shelter for them, but it’s been very difficult because we still haven’t found appropriate space. I work a great deal with these groups; I’m the director of the League for Women’s Rights, which is essentially concerned with battered wives. There are a lot of committed militants who are working on this problem. I haven’t done most of the work; my work is either at the level of testimony, a declaration, an article, or something like that, but I’m not associated with any particular group.
A.J.: And Choisir?6
S.B.: I left Choisir a long time ago, for a number of reasons. I think Choisir is in trouble. It may be breaking up, because of problems of authoritarianism. In any event, the last news I had was that there was major dissent at the heart of the group.
A.J.: And politically? Are you actively involved in protests against the government, for example?
S.B.: Not much, because not much is possible-of course, there are always petitions, signatures, conversations with people, with the opposition. Things like that. But, at the moment, there essentially is no left-I mean the extreme left, not the socialists or the communists. In any case, there’s nothing very organized. I am in contact with them, but I don’t have responsibilities there either, or any particular duties.
A.J.: To come back to the feminist movement…. As we said, there are great divisions. Proper strategy, marginality, Marxism-there’s a whole gamut of controversies. And there is always a certain feminism which is quite easily co-opted, as your interview with Betty Friedan has shown.7
S.B.: Yes, that “we want to be just like men,” that is, men as they are today, when in truth we need to change the society itself, men as well as women, to change everything. It is very striking in Betty Friedan: What she wants is for women to have as much power as men do. Obviously, if you are truly on the left, if you reject ideas of power and hierarchy, what you want is equality. Otherwise, it won’t work at all.
A.J.: On the other hand, there are women who work on the margins of the society – as Marxists or not – who work toward a subversion, an explosion of the dominant ideology. How do you see the function of marginality in the movement?
S.B.: That again is a difficult point. But I wouldn’t call it that…. I reject the word marginality. I would rather say revolutionary, radical, whatever.
A.J.: All right, then, do you believe that one must remain “radical” or that one must work with women who are, if you like, in the system?
6. The group Choisir grew out of the effort for an abortion law in France. 7. Betty Friedan, “A Dialogue with Simone de Beauvoir,” It Changed My Life: Writings on the Women’s Movement (New York: Random House, 1976), pp. 304-16.
S.B.: I wouldn’t put the question exactly that way, but it’s true that this is one of the problems which often arises among my radical, revolutionary feminist friends: Do you have to join the system or not? On the one hand, if you don’t, you risk being ineffectual. But if you do, from that moment on, you place your feminism at the service of a system which you want to take apart; because for me and my friends at least, feminism is one way of attacking society as it now exists. Therefore, it’s a revolutionary movement . . . which is different from the class struggle movement, the proletarian movement, but which is a movement which must be leftist. By that I mean at the extreme left, a movement working to overthrow the whole society. Besides, if women really did have complete equality with men, society would be completely overturned. For instance, there is the problem of unpaid labor, such as housework, which represents millions and millions of unsalaried work hours and on which masculine society is firmly based. To put an end to this would be to send the present-day capitalist system flying in a single blow. Only we can’t do it by ourselves; there have to be other kinds of attacks on the system. So a certain alliance with revolutionary systems is necessary, even masculine ones. But this is very hard, because most feminists in France came to feminism after ’68 as a result of the hypocrisy they experienced in leftist movements. In these movements, where everyone believed there was going to be true equality, fraternity between men and women, and that together they were going to struggle against this rotten society, even there they noticed that the leftists, the militants, kept them “in their place.” Women made the coffee while the others did the talking; they were the ones who typed the letters. So this is certainly a very tricky point: How to ally yourself to other leftist forces without losing your feminist specificity. For example, there are women who work for leftist newspapers, like Liberation, a newspaper for which I have a certain sympathy, despite some reservations. Anyway, these women felt crushed, as women, whatever other good work they were doing, so about two years ago they were successful in shifting the newspaper to a much more feminist perspective. And about accepting positions? Well, if you accept certain situations, you become a token. “Ah, you see there is a Miss So-and-so who was first in her class at the Ecole polytechnique; Madam X has such and such a position; therefore, women are the equals of men.” This is obviously completely false, because there are always some exceptions, some women who make it for one reason or another. That doesn’t mean that, on the whole, women’s position is equal to that of men. So it all depends on the particular case. Sometimes you can accept an important post, on condition that it really puts you in a position to help women. Unfortunately, women who have important posts very often adopt masculine standards-power, ambition, personal success- and cut themselves off from other women. On the other hand, to refuse everything, to say, even when there is something which really should be interview with Beauvoir done, “Ah, that’s no longer feminist,” is a pessimistic, even masochistic tendency in women, the result of having been habituated to inertia, to pessimism. To be feminist doesn’t mean simply to do nothing, to reduce yourself to total impotence under the pretext of refusing masculine values. There is a problematic, a very difficult dialectic between accepting power and refusing it, accepting certain masculine values, and wanting to transform them. I think it’s worth a try.
A.J.: Does the same problem exist with systems of thought? For example, women who reject Marx or Freud because they were men?
S.B.: I think that Freud understood absolutely nothing about women-as he himself said. I admire Freud a great deal as a person and thinker. Despite everything, I find his work very, very rich, but I think that for women he has been absolutely disastrous. And even more so, everyone who came after him.
A.J.: Including Lacan?8
S.B.: Yes, Lacan. All of that stuff still minimizes women. I would certainly like to see some young women take up psychoanalysis seriously and reconstruct it from an absolutely new viewpoint. There is a woman in France named …
A.J.: Luce Irigaray?9
S.B.: That’s it, Irigaray … she is trying to do something. She hasn’t gone quite far enough, in my opinion. But she is trying to construct a psychoanalysis which would be feminist.
A.J.: What do you think of her book, Speculum de l’autre femme?
S.B.: I found it laborious to read because of the Lacanian style, which persists in spite of everything … but I read her second book with far greater pleasure, Ce sexe qui n’en est pas un. It’s written in a much simpler style, much more direct, without a “scholastic” vocabulary- psychoanalysts have fallen into a kind of horrifying, almost Aristotelian, scholasticism. On the whole, however, I am interested in the kind of work she is doing and I found her book very interesting. Still, she seems to lack audacity, which is necessary to demolish the ideas of Freud on feminine psychoanalysis.
A.J.: Along the same line, what do you think of the people involved in the antipsychiatry movement? Deleuze, Guattari, R. D. Laing?10
S.B.: At bottom, antipsychiatry is still psychiatry. And it doesn’t really address itself to women’s problems. But then, there have been
8. Jacques Lacan-French psychoanalyst, interrogator of Freud, and founder of the Freudian School in Paris-is now a somewhat legendary figure whose work is fundamental to debates among French feminists. For a recent discussion of Lacanian theory and women see Jane Gallop, “Psychoanalysis in France,” Women and Literature 7, no. 1 (Winter 1979): 57-63. For a survey of the contemporary French psychoanalytic movement, see Sherry Turkel, Psychoanalytic Politics (New York: Basic Books, 1976).
9. See Marks; Burke. Irigaray’s two principal books on women have not yet been translated: Luce Irigaray, Speculum de l’autrefemme (Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1974), and Ce Sexe qui n’en est pas un (Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1977).
10. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus (New York: Viking Press, 1976).
some interesting books on women and madness, in America as well. Given masculine norms, it is clear that women are more likely to be considered crazy-I’m not saying to be crazy. As soon as a woman re- fuses to be perfectly happy doing housework eight hours a day, society has a tendency to want to do a lobotomy on her. I have seen such things, perfectly horrible things. The renewed use of lobotomy today is particularly applicable to women: Because they do routine things, it is possible to take away their spirit of revolt, of debate, of criticism, and still leave them perfectly capable of making stews or washing dishes. It’s terrible, this tendency to consider women something dangerous to society .. . but, truthfully speaking, they are dangerous, even those who aren’t feminists, because there has always been a women’s revolt. Only it has usually translated itself into solitary, individualist, disagreeable manifestations-the whole history of the taming of the shrew, the woman-shrew. They weren’t shrews without cause. But I think that feminism permits women to speak among themselves, instead of simply being resentful, having personal complaints, which get them nowhere and which make them sick and ill-tempered, depressive … and poison the lives of their husbands and children. It’s much better to arrive at a collective consciousness of this problem, which is both a kind of therapy and the basis for a struggle.
A.J.: So, you have to work first of all in the world as it is, before dreaming up a scenario a la Deleuze or Guattari where there would no longer be a division between the sexes.
S.B.: Absolutely. In fact, that’s utopian and useless. You have to start from where you are today and from what can be done.
A.J.: Do you know the work of Laing with Mary Barnes? What do you think of it?
S.B.: I find it an interesting revolt against classical psychiatry. And yet, the denouement has been bizarre, for Laing went to India and fell into Zen … but on the whole I agree with his position. I also like Cooper a great deal-I liked Family Life-I like everyone who tries to show that madness is, in large part, conditioned by society and particularly by the family, and therefore, strongly affects women.
A.J.: We’ve spoken a little of Irigaray, the antipsychiatrists, and so forth. Do you know the work of Helene Cixous?”
S.B.: Yes, but I’m of an older generation; I can’t read her, under- stand her. And I think it’s wrong to write in a totally esoteric language when you want to talk about things which interest a multitude of women. You can’t address yourself to women by speaking a language which no average woman will understand. In my opinion, it’s wrong. There is something false in this search for a purely feminine writing style. Language, such as it is, is inherited from a masculine society, and it contains
11. See Marks; Burke; and Helene Cixous, “The Laugh of the Medusa,” Signs:Journal of Women in Culture and Society 1, no. 4 (Summer 1976): 875-94.
many male prejudices. We must rid language of all that. Still, a language is not something created artificially; the proletariat can’t use a different language from the bourgeoisie, even if they use it differently, even if from time to time they invent something, technical words or even a kind of worker’s slang, which can be very beautiful and very rich. Women can do that as well, enrich their language, clean it up. But to create a language all of a piece which would be a women’s language, that I find quite insane. There does not exist a mathematics which is only a women’s mathematics, or a feminine science. .. . We can reorient science-for example, a kind of medicine much more directed toward the enormous number of women’s health problems which are neglected now. But the original givens of this science are the same for men and for women. Women simply have to steal the instrument;12 they don’t have to break it, or try, a priori, to make of it something totally different. Steal it and use it for their own good.
A.J.: Yes, but in La Jeune nee, for example, the text that Helene Cixous and Catherine Clement have written together, they insist on the notion of the “voice”‘3. Do you see language only as a social practice, as communication, or is there possibly something else? For instance, how do you see the role of the unconscious in the production of language?
S.B.: Well, the writer can’t stop her unconscious from showing up, that’s certain. But it’s not something you do … you do not deliberately try to rummage in your unconscious. It doesn’t even make sense, since it is precisely unconscious. I believe that we must use language. If it is used in a feminist perspective, with a feminist sensibility, language will find itself changed in a feminist manner. It will nonetheless be the language. You can’t not use this universal instrument; you can’t create an artificial language, in my opinion. But naturally, each writer must use it in his/her own way. If the writer is a woman, feminist or not, it will give the language something that it would not have if it had been used by a man.
A.J.: Yes, but I wonder if women don’t have a different relation to language than men do at the level of enunciation; is it simply a function of their social situation, or is it more complicated than that?
S.B.: For me, it comes from the social situation. I consider it almost antifeminist to say that there is a feminine nature which expresses itself differently, that a woman speaks her body more than a man, because after all, men also speak their bodies when they write. Everything is implicated in the work of a writer.
A.J.: Then, if we changed the social situation would everyone have an unconscious which would work in the same way?
S.B.: No, I don’t believe that, because each person has his or her own very particular history . . . and after all, the unconscious is the most
12. In French, “to steal” is the verb voler, which also means “to fly.” Ironically, this verb is used extensively in its double meaning by H6elne Cixous to designate the gesture of the woman writer.
13. Catherine Clement and Hélèe Cixous, La Jeune née (Paris: 10/18, 1975).
secret part of ourselves. In any case, if the unconscious must express itself it will do so through the work that you do consciously … or subconsciously, with words, with what you have to say.
A.J.: So at our present historical moment there should be a difference between feminine and masculine discourse?
S.B.: That depends on what it’s about. Because there are topics which are common to men and women. I think that if a woman speaks of oppression, of misery, she will speak of it in exactly the same way as a man. But if she speaks of her own personal problems as a woman, she will obviously speak in another way. It depends a great deal on what is being treated, because I think that a woman is at the same time universal and a woman, just as a man is universal and a male. There is a kind of universality in the human condition, masculine or feminine. That’s one thing I continue to believe. I am not at all for a feminism which is entirely separatist, which would say, “this domain is purely for women.” I don’t believe that at all.
A.J.: Do you think that literature consists only of what has been defined as literature by the dominant ideology? Is this one of the reasons for the repression of women’s writing?
S.B.: Obviously, everything has always been defined by the dominant ideology. But the dominant ideology has been able to accept women’s literature as well as men’s literature. I would say that women have been hindered from creating for a variety of reasons, as Virginia Woolf so admirably explained in A Room of One’s Own. When they have created, on the whole they have been recognized. In literature it hasn’t been nearly as oppressive as in, say, painting, where even the existence of so many women painters has always been denied. Of course, literature is always what the dominant ideology recognizes as literature. But as for what there is outside of that. .. what is very troubling is that people who have tried to write literature, even, for example, proletarian writers, seem to write within the norms of the dominant class. So, can one say that there is a way of crying out, of speaking, which is properly feminine? Personally, I don’t think so. In the end, I find this is another way of putting women in a kind of… singularity, a ghetto, which is not what I want. I want them to be singular and universal at the same time. A.J.: So that means that you don’t agree with Cixous when she says…
S.B.: No, not at all.
A.J.: What is your position on the avant-garde? For example, the avant-garde has been defined as a way of speaking to the future.
S.B.: It’s so easy to be mistaken about the future. Sometimes there are avant-gardes which believe themselves to be the avant-garde and which later find themselves to be absolutely dated … a bit Alexandrian, in fact. … you can’t define the future. And in my opinion, you can’t define the avant-garde.
A.J.: Twenty years ago, more than a few people would have placed you among the avant-garde.
S.B.: I never thought of myself as being in the avant-garde. I said what I had to say, as I was able to say it. A.J.: But, isn’t the idea of the avant-garde worth something in itself? Can’t it signify the unexpected, the striking … whatever overthrows accepted ideas?
S.B.: Yes, but that’s not necessarily avant-garde. That’s being original, personal, having something to say. If you try consciously to be avant-garde, it’s a little dangerous, like the present state of modern painting, where dealers try to be avant-garde, and under this pretext, painters take some old scraps and call it avant-garde. Picasso never thought of himself as avant-garde. I just find it a bad way to think of yourself. It’s important that you think of your relationship with the world and the way you can express that world and that you not be stopped if it scandalizes or embarrasses; but you must not look for scan- dal or for the avant-garde as a thing in itself.
A.J.: What do you think of Tel Quel’s work on the avant-garde, particularly, of Julia Kristeva, who focuses on women as she works on the avant-garde?’4
S.B.: I don’t approve of their notion of the avant-garde. Besides, the avant-garde is what led them to Tel Quel, from being Stalinist and then Maoist, and it finally pushed them, or let them fall, to the right. That’s not authentic, that’s no way to act. … But I should also say that I don’t know Kristeva’s work very well.
A.J.: Do you think that the work of women like Kristeva and Irigaray on the unconscious undermines the notion of existential choice?
S.B.: It doesn’t inevitably eliminate the notion of choice, because choice springs from the totality of the person. Thus, to study, to analyze what a person is, does not eliminate the idea of freedom.
A.J.: Fascism has been defined as the institutionalization of the un- conscious. Do you think that women are more easily swayed by fascism than men, because of this institutionalization?
S.B.: No. But in any case, I don’t believe in a notion which leaves out historical and social circumstances, and these are so important in defining fascism. Women aren’t more easily swayed than men, but I believe that their situation makes them in effect more slavish than men, as I said in the discussion of masculine ideology in The Second Sex. Men create their own gods and thus have some slight understanding that they are self-fabricated. Women are much more susceptible, because they are
14. The Tel Quel collective was founded in 1960 with the aim of constituting a general theory of writing. Its political, cultural, and theoretical history is integral to the Parisian intellectual environment in which the French feminisms were born. For an excellent in- troduction to Kristeva’s own work, see Philip Lewis, “Revolutionary Semiotics,” Diacritics 4, no. 3 (Fall 1974): 28-32. See also Julia Kristeva, “On the Women of China,” Signs:Journal of Women in Culture and Society 1, no. 1 (Autumn 1975): 57-81, a translation of a chapter of Des Chinoises; Marks; Burke.
completely oppressed by men; they take men at their word and believe in the gods that men have made up. The situation of women, their culture, makes them kneel more often before the gods that have been created by men than men themselves do, who know what they’ve done. To this extent, women will be more fanatical, whether it is for fascism or for totalitarianism.
A.J.: To return for a moment to the question of women and writing: Virginia Woolf has said that it is fatal for anyone who writes to think of their sex.
S.B.: Nonetheless, Virginia Woolf thought a lot about her own sex when she wrote. In the best sense of the word, her writing is very feminine, and by that I mean that women are supposed to be very sensitive to … I don’t know … to all the sensations of nature, much more so than men, much more contemplative …. It’s this quality that marks her best works. Colette is another case in point. Even if they had not wanted to make their writing feminine, it is nonetheless very feminine. I think that you have to think of a whole being, in its entirety. It also depends somewhat on the subject being treated. There are moments when you have to write certain things and you don’t have to think of your sex. If you are writing about the population of the thirteenth district in Paris, even if you are writing on the women in the thirteenth district, there’s no need to consider your sex. I mean that there are jobs that can be done equally well by men or by women and that finally you can’t see a difference. But from the moment that you involve yourself fully in writing a novel, for example, or an essay, then you are involved as a woman, in the same way that you can’t deny your nationality-you are French, you are a man, you are a woman … all this passes into the writing. If you are writing something in which you are really involved, you don’t even need to think about it any longer. The situation itself demands your total commitment as an individual, just as in your political commitments. A man of the right doesn’t write in the same way as a man of the left … you can see that right away … or a woman of the right or a woman of the left.
A.J.: Do you think that your books could have been written by a man?
S.B.: No, certainly not.
A.J.: How are they marked?
S.B.: I’m not sure. Perhaps by the fact that the hero is a woman in whom I put a great deal of myself, as in She Came to Stay or in The Mandarins. A man couldn’t invent that feminine sensibility, that feminine situation in the world. I have never read a really good novel written by a man where women are portrayed as they truly are. They can be portrayed externally very well-Stendhal’s Madame de Renal, for example-but only as seen from the outside. But from within … only a woman can write what it is to feel as a woman, to be a woman.
A.J.: Do you think autobiography is especially important for women?
S.B.: Yes, I think there is a great tendency toward autobiography among women today. It is perhaps facile-and I say that even though I have written one myself. I receive a large number of manuscripts which are only autobiographies. Of course, they can be remarkable. At the moment of their emancipation, women have a need to write their own histories. This certainly occurred in China around 1936; there were a number of incredible Chinese biographies. And today I find Kate Millett’s work, for example, very beautiful. Some autobiographies are as well written as novels. In fact, people seem to be tired of fiction now. There are so many other ways of exploring humanity-by ethnology, psychoanalysis, and so on…. It’s a little boring to make up stories. So many people think that it’s better to be very close to reality and to recount one’s life as it is rather than … to fictionalize, as they say, that is to transpose, and therefore to cheat.
A.J.: Do you see a difference in autobiographies between “expression” and “content”? Between style and what is narrated?
S.B.: No, for me they are really the same thing.
A.J.: So the life must be interesting if the autobiography is to be good.
S.B.: There has to be a certain relationship between the life and the writing style, and that is really … a problem. For example, take the biography of Emma Goldman, the American anarchist. You can’t say that she wrote in a striking manner, but it’s so passionate; her life, the conferences, the meetings in the USSR and then with Lenin, the whole problem of anarchism at that particular moment-you read it very passionately even if it doesn’t have a remarkable stylistic or literary value.
A.J.: Do you like the autobiography of Anais Nin?15
S.B.: No, I don’t like it at all … naturally I recognize that she has some talent, and that from time to time she evokes some powerful things. She shows an occasional grace in writing, but her work is quite foreign to me, precisely because she wants so much to be feminine and not feminist. And then she is so gaga before so many men. She talks about men I know in France, men who were less than nothing, and she considers them kings, extraordinary people. A.J.: Henry Miller? S.B.: Henry Miller, well, at least he was someone; but I knew others whom she talks about with enormous respect and admiration, and who were really less than nothing. An absence of judgment, a terrible narcissism, on top of which I find her novels extremely bad.
A.J.: Do you think that there are certain themes-defined by the
15. Anais Nin, The Diary of Anais Nin, 6 vols. (1931-66) (New York: Swallow Press, 1966-74).
situation of the writer, of course-but which are particular to women? I’ve noticed, for example, that women writers seem to have a different relationship to property. S.B.: Maybe, because this reflects the thematics of their situation. Obviously, there was a time, in the nineteenth century, for example, when women spoke mostly about the house, children, birth, and so forth, because it was their domain. That’s changing a little, now. A.J.: Are there any young women writers who interest you? S.B.: Not too many, but there aren’t too many men either. Literature in France seems to be undergoing a crisis now, and nothing comes immediately to mind. AJ.: Do you find that there have been essential shifts in your thinking since 1949?
S.B.: Well, I already explained it in All Said and Done, and I don’t have much to add. I discovered feminism around 1970-72-precisely the time when feminism began to exist in France. Before that, there was no feminism. In 1949, I believed that social progress, the triumph of the proletariat … socialism would lead to the emancipation of women. But I saw that nothing came of it: first of all, that socialism was not achieved anywhere, and that in certain countries which called themselves socialist, the situation of women was no better than it was in so-called capitalist countries. Thus, I finally understood that the emancipation of women must be the work of women themselves, independent of the class struggle. That is the major change in my position between 1949 and today.
A.J.: Do you think that women’s emancipation must precede the social revolution?
S.B.: I don’t know. But they should occur simultaneously.
A.J.: What goal should women work for today?
S.B.: Essentially, for the women’s revolution. Because if it were accomplished, it would, at the same time, shake society. That said, women should continue to be involved in other questions, and sometimes, in collaboration with men. There are so many problems. Women can go to work on these as well without giving up their feminism. But I think that feminism can be very important, as we can see right now in Italy, where the movement is strong and revolutionary.16 A.J.: For example, should we strive to destroy the mythology of the family? S.B.: Yes, certainly. But, of course, socialism has its own mythology of the family.
A.J.: Two last questions. Are you writing anything, right now?
16. At the time of this interview, the Italian women’s movement was mobilizing large numbers of women to fight for an abortion law. Since the passage of that law in March 1978, there has been a lull in activity. See Domna C. Stanton, “Activism and the Academy: A Report from Europe,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 5, no. 1 (Autumn 1979): 179-86.
S.B.: No. I’ve been keeping pretty busy with the film and television adaptions of my works: They’ve just finished shooting La Femme rompue. 17 A.J.: How do you envision the effect of your work on future genera- tions? S.B.: I don’t envision it at all. It’s something you can’t see. A.J.: Well, what do you hope for? S.B.: I think that The Second Sex will seem an old, dated book, after a while. But nonetheless … a book which will have made its contribution. At least, I hope so.