Tag Archives: Sex

Simone de Beauvoir on Woman, The Second Sex, Female, Femininity & The Other

Simone de Beauvoir, Sex-Positive Feminist, d.1986

Simone de Beauvoir, d.1986
Simone de Beauvoir, d.1986

It’s a generation since the death of author, feminist, and existentialist, Simone de Beauvoir on 14 April 1986. A lover of Sartre – in both senses of the word, she was a sexually liberated bisexual whose disregard for sexual convention – including age of consent laws, caused her to lose her right to teach in France. Her 1949 defining work on the oppression of women, Le Deuxième Sexe – The Second Sex, is widely considered a groundbreaking treatise on sex and gender for 20th-century feminism.

As to her sexual liberation, her “erotic liberty“, and open relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre, she saw any sexual categorisation as restrictive:

“In itself, homosexuality is as limiting as heterosexuality: the ideal should be to be capable of loving a woman or a man; either, a human being, without feeling fear, restraint, or obligation.” – Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir Quotes

I recently quoted, knowingly totally out of context, this from de Beauvoir:

“One is not born a woman, but becomes one.”

I was quite promptly, and perhaps rightly, accused of ‘quote mining’. Contextomy or the unjustified use of an uprooted, and in this case anachronous, quote, to prove a point it was never intended to address, is a fair criticism.

My use of the quote was because it resonated with the idea that people can be born female, raised a girl, but become a woman. A woman is as much experience, as nature. I’m not jumping in and suggesting, for example, that post-operative trans women are thus women, the same as those who were born with a uterus and raised as girls. Indeed, is anyone any less of a woman after uterine cancer (affecting 8,500 women in the UK a year) and removal of the womb via hysterectomy? Similarly, women can have various difficulties in reproduction due to infertility, or any number of intersex medical differences that may cause an XX or indeed other chromosomal combination such as XXY etc to present a body that defies the defined binary female stereotype. Women should not be defined by their ability to procreate and bear children – that much I am sure de Beauvoir would agree with.

My question is, though, whether de Beauvoir would have condemned or supported the rights of some to pursue a gender trajectory that more matches their inner feelings and psyche than their binary-born bodies. In other words, transgender, non-binary and other forms of gender fluidity or transition.

Simone de Beauvoir on Woman, Femininity, the Other, and maybe a Third Sex

Simone de Beauvoir - The Second Sex, 1949
Simone de Beauvoir “The Second Sex” (1949)

So to add insult to injury, to compound my contextomy crime, here are some further Beauvoirisms that might shed light on what might have been her attitude to “The Third Sex”. A phrase which I use, advisedly, for the main purpose of echoing her “Second Sex”, rather than for the purpose of defining all trans and/or gender non-conforming people as a “Third Sex” even though that is a way which some, especially in Asian and Indian cultures, do define.

Does ‘Woman’ even exist?

Beauvoir existentially questioned whether woman would always exist, suggesting that ‘she’ is an ephemeral concept ,driven by culture and construct as much as conception:

“Are there women, really? Most assuredly the theory of the eternal feminine still has its adherents who will whisper in your ear: ‘Even in Russia women still are women’; and other erudite persons – sometimes the very same – say with a sigh: ‘Woman is losing her way, woman is lost.’ One wonders if women still exist, if they will always exist, whether or not it is desirable that they should…” – The Second Sex, introduction (1949)

One can be female but not a woman

As to femininity, she saw it as something esoteric, and that female ≠ woman ≠ femininity:

“It would appear, then, that every female human being is not necessarily a woman; to be so considered she must share in that mysterious and threatened reality known as femininity. Is this attribute something secreted by the ovaries? Or is it a Platonic essence, a product of the philosophic imagination?” – The Second Sex, introduction (1949)

If female equals the “female of the species” reproductively, and feminine a cultural construct if not oppression, then woman need not be feminine and feminism a path to throwing off that oppression. But does ‘woman’ need to be female? If one can be female but not a woman, can one be woman but not a female?

What is woman?

If much previous philosophical, and biblical-theological enquiry, stemmed around “What is man?” and the nature of man, then de Beauvoir helpfully examines, what is woman:

If her functioning as a female is not enough to define woman, if we decline also to explain her through ‘the eternal feminine’, and if nevertheless we admit, provisionally, that women do exist, then we must face the question “what is a woman”?

Yet would it not be more helpful to discuss what it means to be human, or are we still stuck seeing woman as something less than a man, and hence neither equal nor fully human since, as in the Bible, Adam stands for man and humankind as the first point of reference?

“Thus humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him” – The Second Sex, introduction (1949)

On BBC Woman’s Hour today, British Army Captain Rosie Hamilton was interviewed about how female recruits are trained, but it was then made all about how many of them made the ‘male’ standard.

Woman as the ‘Other’

Beauvoir rebelled against the patriarchal concept that man is human and woman is defined only in relation to being man’s so-called opposite pole, that she is ‘othered’ in reference to him. Not that we have achieved gender parity yet, but I wonder how she would see trans, non-binary, intersex people now, as perhaps the new (however ancient a group of people they are) ‘other’?

“No subject will readily volunteer to become the object, the inessential; it is not the Other who, in defining himself as the Other, establishes the One. The Other is posed as such by the One in defining himself as the One.” – The Second Sex, introduction (1949)

Trans, Non-Binary and Intersex people are ‘othered’ by the default biologically and socially essentialist binary. In the same way, de Beauvoir saw woman as othered by man. Thus, gender non-conforming people, whether assigned male or female at birth, should have some solidarity with the feminist struggle to assert the equality of women with men, and their common core identity as human beings absolutely, not relatively. Sadly, that is not always the case and some folk do not see a common struggle between feminism and gender identity. As de Beauvoir said:

“Enough ink has been spilled in quarrelling over feminism” – The Second Sex, introduction (1949)

Some radical feminists, such as Julie Bindel, Germaine Greer, Sheila Jeffries and others, are well known for exclusionary attitudes to trans people. Indeed, de Beauvoir others intersex people, formerly termed ‘hermaphrodite’, in her seeking to find an independent voice on ‘what is woman?’:

“What we need is an angel – neither man nor woman – but where shall we find one? Still, the angel would be poorly qualified to speak, for an angel is ignorant of all the basic facts involved in the problem. With a hermaphrodite we should be no better off, for here the situation is most peculiar; the hermaphrodite is not really the combination of a whole man and a whole woman, but consists of parts of each and thus is neither.” – The Second Sex, introduction (1949)

In a 1976 interview, when asked about excluding men from some aspects of the feminist struggle and female gatherings, she opined that sometimes it was necessary. So she may have argued against the full and unfettered access of some transwomen (e.g., pre-operative) to women-only safe spaces. She did also say, however:

“The battle of the sexes is not implicit in the anatomy of man and woman.” – The Second Sex, conclusion (1949)

Similarly, she spoke of some lesbian women, in particular, being male-exclusionary:

“There are other women who have become lesbian out of a sort of political commitment: that is, they feel that it is a political act to be lesbian, the equivalent somewhat within the sex struggle of the black power advocates within the racial struggle. And, true, these women tend to be more dogmatic about the exclusion of men from their struggle.” interview (1976)

Anyone, who is oppressed has the right to gather in safe spaces – whether other oppressed minorities should have rights of access to the safe spaces of other groups who have been ‘othered’ is another matter. That siad, shared oppression is sometimes more important than shared hormones.

“Woman is determined not by her hormones or by mysterious instincts, but by the manner in which her body and her relation to the world are modified through the action of others than herself.” – The Second Sex, conclusion (1949)

It was Audre Lorde that said, whilst “any woman is not free”, then “no woman is”. Being the one oppressed is sadly part of a common humanity, and a common responsibility:

“Each of us is responsible – to every human being.” – Simone de Beauvoir

In some matters, if not most – except the most basic biological differences, “men and women” and anyone that is defined or identified outside that binary need to” unequivocally affirm their brotherhood”, as de Beauvoir concluded in The Second Sex.

So, could every Human be a Woman?

“I wish that every human life might be pure transparent freedom.”

Beauvoir speaks of every human being, every human life, less of the categorisation that in a class-distinctive way oppresses all of us, even the men. For, in defining men and not women, as not soft or empathic, or similar stereotypes, we trap them in conventional masculinity, we oppress gay men, drag queens and transvestites who may still identify as male.

“…man, like woman, is flesh, therefore passive, the plaything of his hormones and of the species, the restless prey of his desires.” – The Second Sex, conclusion (1949)

We no longer accept feminism as the sole regard of women. True women’s liberation also liberates men from roles and rules of sex and gender.

“…the woman of today is [not] a creation of nature; it must be repeated once more that in human society nothing is natural and that woman, like much else, is a product elaborated by civilisation.” – The Second Sex, conclusion (1949)

If a feminist need not be a woman, and a female need not be a ‘woman’, and the ‘feminine’ just as possessable by males, then, perhaps too, a ‘woman’ need not be female, at least not assigned one at birth. In other words, is the very term ‘woman’ as much a social construct as gender itself, and the so-called masculine and feminine ideals?

“No single educator could fashion a female human being today who would be the exact homologue of the male human being; if she is brought up like a boy, the young girl feels she is an oddity and thereby she is given a new kind of sex specification.” – The Second Sex, conclusion (1949)

Only in an androgynous (but not uniform) utopia, where all human beings were raised without class or gender specificity, could true equality perhaps be found.

 

 

Pope Francis says lots on Joy of Love but changes little in Amoris Laetitia

Amoris Laetitia – “Joy of Love”

Amoris Laetitia Pope Francis on the Joy of Love
Amoris Laetitia – Pope Francis on the ‘Joy of Love’

After two years in the making, the Roman Catholic Church and Pope Francis‘ publishing of a “landmark papal document“, Amoris Laetitia – “Joy of Love“, actually says a lot (around 260 pages) but very little that’s new. How could it, when innovation or theological development is anathema to tradition, dogma, and infallibility? The exhortation seeks to be compassionate, merciful and pragmatic, rather than legalistic or judgmental, yet in reality is no less rigidly orthodox in terms of doctrine and offers little prospect or hope of change for LGBT inclusivity or other alternative relationship realities.

Positive vision of Sexuality

The document fails to be the “positive vision of sexuality” that it purports to be and is critical of the so-called “obscure need to
‘find oneself'” (#153). Unless churches acclimate and accelerate, in their acceptance of modern love, their message of love and finding oneself (“in Christ”) will be increasingly left behind and irrelevant.

Theology of the Body

The current Pope reaffirms John Paul II’s ‘theology of the body’ (1980) teaching that sexual differentiation leads to both reproduction and the “capacity of expressing love” (#151). By continuing to root the expression of love in both reproductive capacity and dimorphic bodies, he rules out same-sex love and families.

Cultural vs Fundamental Truths

It is a shame that the Pope, in relegating some of Paul’s teaching to the cultural matrix and context of patriarchy and female submission (#154-156), does not use the opportunity to recognise the cultural moving on of society on sexuality, despite overtures to feminism and sex equality.

“I certainly value feminism, but one that does not demand uniformity” (#173)

Traditional Masculinity

Although placed in the context of parenthood, he says, attitudes to gender roles remain traditional – men, particularly fathers, should be:

“possessed of a clear and serene masculine identity” (#175)

“the clear and well-defined presence of both figures, female and male, creates the environment best suited to the growth of the child…children need to find a father waiting for them when they return home with their problems.” (#175-177)

No room for same-sex parenthood or adoption, then. Nor of alternative masculinities – female, transmasculine or effeminate.

Genetic Predisposition

In a section on the foetal child he writes that:

“all the somatic traits of the person are written in his or her genetic code already in the embryonic stage.” (#170)

That being the case, why continue to reject people on the basis of their probably mostly genetic sexuality? Why fail to condemn reparative therapy for homosexuality (‘unwanted same-sex attraction’) or gender identity? As if the genesis of our innate coded lives can be rewritten by prayer, healing and therapy, to undo that which seems to go against doctrine, but which, in fact, to do so would be to go against nature. The nature of our selves, rather than a nature seemingly defined by ancient laws.

Respected but Discriminated

On “persons who experience same-sex attraction” Pope Francis described the situation as not easy for either the parents or the children:

“We would like before all else to reaffirm that every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, while ‘every sign of unjust discrimination’ is to be carefully avoided, particularly any form of aggression and violence…” (#250)

… but not discrimination in sex, love or marriage, then, that would be presumably be justified discrimination. Marriage and intimacy remain strictly heterosexual and for non-divorcees, since divorce remains “evil” and gay relationships “intrinsically disordered”.

“Such families should be given respectful pastoral guidance, so that those who manifest a homosexual orientation can receive the assistance they need to understand and fully carry out God’s will in their lives.” (#250)

I wonder whether “assistance” includes the psychologically deprecated reparative therapy? It’s certainly not been condemned, whereas most international psychological, psychiatric and psychotherapeutic bodies have banned it.

Same-sex Marriage or Civil Unions

“In discussing the dignity and mission of the family, the Synod Fathers observed that, “as for proposals to place unions between homosexual persons on the same level as marriage, there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.” (#251)

Furthermore, the Pope argues that international poverty aid should not be dependent upon countries introducing LGBT equality laws.

Curiously, at (#121) in the Papal document, he cites the trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as an example of conjugal loving unity – hardly the best analogy if you want to avoid references to threesomes, same-sex relationships, or children born outside of wedlock!

Furthermore, at (#122), his concept of marriage mirroring the love of Christ for the Church fails in portraying only a narrow heterosexual conjugal union rather than that put forth in St John’s Gospel:

“For God so loved the world” (John 3:16)

The world includes all people, not only married straight people who’ve never divorced.

I still find it incongruous that a celibate and single Pontiff can preach to others about marriage, love and sex.

The idea that faithful marriage for life is a “natural inclination” (#123) also seems to go against scientific and social realities. That statement, from the Pope, is followed up with a barely veiled criticism that broken marriages or relationships outside of “unto death… commitment” are, by their nature, “weak or infirm”, and “ephemeral” (#124).

Modern understandings of psychology and psychotherapy might also have an issue with the idea of complete ” surrender” of “our future entirely to the one we love”, although he is critical of past expressions of patriarchal dominance within marriage.

Sex education in schools

Safe-sex education in schools remains an oxymoron to the RC Church since the only sex that should take place is that within marriage and for the “natural procreative finality of sexuality”. Despite devoting space to the erotic dimension of love, reproduction is still seen as the end goal, not love itself – which would, of course, open up LGBT and non-marital variants.

As a result, contraception and abortion remain absolute wrongs, leaving women not in charge of their own bodies.

“No alleged right to one’s own body can justify a decision to terminate that life.” (#83)

This puts the Pope firmly in US Republican Donald Trump’s, Poland’s, and Irish/Northern Ireland Catholic camp on the illegality of abortion at all stages of foetal growth – all places that have recently featured calls to keep or extend anti-abortion laws. Despite Pope Francis saying Donald Trump is ‘not a Christian’.

In summary, however forward thinking the Pope may seem, the language compassionate and merciful, the tone accepting and gracious, the theology remains stuck, rigid, intransigent. The words may change, the attitudes may soften, but the laws remain as seemingly writ on stone as ever before. No good news for LGBT Christians. Read the full text of Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia – “Joy of Love” for yourselves.

Lemmy of Motorhead and Hawkwind draws Dead Man’s Hand Ace of Spades

Motorhead’s Lemmy, dies at 70

Lemmy Motorhead
Lemmy by MarkMarek Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

After the death of Motörhead drummer Phil ‘Philthy Animal’ Taylor last month at 61 and amidst rumours of the passing of guitarist Phil Campbell this month, frontman and founder Lemmy has lost life’s last gamble to cancer, aged 70. Over 50 years playing in bands, nearly 40 with Motörhead, he’d played alongside Jimi Hendrix and the Hollies, with the latter his “drummer succeeded in being a complete cunt and destroyed the stage under himself and fell into the hole!”

Asked just weeks ago when he was going to die, Lemmy said he was sick of the question:

“Death is an inevitability, isn’t it? You become more aware of that when you get to my age. I don’t worry about it. I’m ready for it. When I go, I want to go doing what I do best. If I died tomorrow, I couldn’t complain. It’s been good.” – Classic Rock

Motorhead logoHe lived life full throttle, at speed, at times on speed or acid. He argued for the legalising of heroin to get the dealers off the street. He was “sex, drugs and rock’n’roll” incarnate, for he never saw Motörhead as a Metal band, but a full-on Rock band.

“Very basic music – loud, fast, city, raucous, arrogant, paranoid, speed-freak rock n roll. It will be so loud that if we move in next door to you, your lawn will die“.

He played and sang in Hawkwind splitting over “pharmaceutical differences”! He then formed his own band so that “no-one can fire me again”, calling it Bastard before renaming to Motörhead – “US slang for someone who takes speed and also the title of the last song he had penned for Hawkwind.”

Motorhead, The Ace of Spades

Playing, touring and recording to the end, the band produced 21 albums including their most famous – Ace of Spades, in 1980.

Poker’s Dead Man’s Hand is reputed to have contained the Ace of Spades, Ace of Clubs and a pair of Eights, Wild Bill Hickok’s last hand as he died from gunshots. He was once described himself as “unchanging, unflinching- a gunslinger surrounded by mice“. The lyrics of the title song included the words:

Motorhead Ace of Spades
Motorhead – Ace of Spades

“If you like to gamble, I tell you I’m your man,
You win some, lose some, all the same to me,
The pleasure is to play, makes no difference what you say,
I don’t share your greed, the only card I need is
The Ace Of Spades

Playing for the high one, dancing with the devil,
Going with the flow, it’s all the game to me,…

You know I’m born to lose, and gambling’s for fools,
But that’s the way I like it baby,
I don’t wanna live for ever,…

Lemmy played hard and fast with life, after drawing the cancer diagnosis card on Boxing Day he was dead two days later.

Lemmy Quotes on Religion

Lemmy first performed in a band called The Motown Sect in Manchester then Reverend Black and The Rocking Vicars dressed as a cleric, his biological father had been an RAF Chaplain and vicar, but he had no time for religion himself, indeed:

“the way [his father] behaved put me off religion for life. He ran off and left my mother and I didn’t see him for 25 years…[he was] kicked out of the church”.

He didn’t hold back on telling people the truth as he saw it, even if it upset people.

“The only interesting thing about religion is how many people it’s slaughtered. Communism and Nazism are religions as well, make no mistake about it.” – interview with Louder Than War

“Religion is stupid anyway. I mean, a virgin gets pregnant by a ghost! You would never get away with that in a divorce court, would you?” – interview with Radio Metal

Lemmy might have agreed with Kurgan in Highlander (1986), speaking to a priest and church congregation:

“I have something to say! It’s better to burn out than to fade away!”

RIP Lemmy Kilmister, and Motorhead?

Lemmy lived loud like Motörhead’s sound, “born to lose but lived to win” according to his bandmates. He had no regrets.

“If I have to die and be on my deathbed regretting decisions I made, I’m not interested in that…I don’t do regrets. Regrets are pointless. It’s too late for regrets. You’ve already done it, haven’t you? You’ve lived your life. No point wishing you could change it.”

During a Motörhead tour of Finland in 1988, he was asked by a  journalist why he had kept going for so long, even back then: “We’re still here,” he replied, “because we should have died a long time ago but we didn’t.” He,  and more than likely Motörhead, now have.

 

World AIDS Day some Sex & Gender Myth Busting about HIV

World AIDS Day, December 1

When World AIDS Day comes around each year, we memorialise those lost to the infectious disease, but also recognise that for many it is no longer a death sentence, certainly not an imminent one. People live longer and fuller lives after diagnosis than ever before. It remains, however, the biggest cause of death for African teens and “the second biggest killer for adolescents around the world” (UNICEF). The theme of World AIDS Day 2015 is: “Getting to zero; End AIDS by 2030.”

In the UK, a Kissing Booth in Soho Square was today spreading the message that “Kissing Doesn’t Spread HIV. Ignorance Does.”

Whilst HIV and AIDS are improving in the UK, and we congratulate ourselves on survival rates, better education, and great use of celebrities, social media, schools etc to combat residual ignorance – meanwhile, it remains Africa’s biggest killer – not terrorism and conflict. Fear and denial of homosexuality or MSM (Men who have sex with men) does not help. LGBT equalities,  freedoms and awareness will help end the ignorance, but teaching safe sex and that heterosexual people, men and women, are the biggest at risk populations, is vital.

HIV Facts not Fear

  • Around 100,000 people are living with HIV in the UK
  • Only 1% of those in the UK with HIV died from AIDS
  • Only 0.3% in the UK go on to develop AIDS from HIV
  • UK people can expect a normal life expectancy with the disease
  • Some 34 million worldwide are living with HIV
  • Some 33 million worldwide since 1984 have died
  • Sub-Saharan Africa has the most serious HIV and AIDS epidemic in the world with 25m people, 5% of all adults
  • Over a million deaths annually from HIV in Africa
  • Swaziland has the highest HIV prevalence of any country worldwide (27.4%)
  • South Africa has the largest epidemic of any country with 5.9 million people living with HIV
  • More women than men in Sub-Saharan Africa have HIV and each year 10% of women without HIV become infected especially 15-24 year olds
  • 26 new HIV infections an hour for African teens aged 15-19 with girls making up 70% of those infected
  • It is the biggest killer of young people in Africa, second biggest worldwide
  • Poverty is a social determinant for HIV infection across all age groups in South Africa
  • 20% of those in the US with HIV are women (84% from heterosexual sex)
  • Over 125,000 women with HIV in the US have died since 1984
  • Effective treatment makes you non-infectious
  • HIV is mostly caught from unprotected sex with anyone (95%)
  • It can be developed from intravenous drugs needle sharing (2%)
  • It can also be caught in extremely rare unscreened circumstances from infected blood through transfusion, organ transplant, and mother to baby (0.5% chance)
World AIDS Day HIV Facts not Fear Mythbusting
World AIDS Day HIV Facts not Fear Mythbusting

More UK facts on the National AIDS Trust site, US women data from CDC. Other facts where linked.

On World Aids Day HIV we are right to remind people that AIDS is no longer a death sentence in the UK. It remains, however, Africa’s biggest killer, not terrorism or conflict. There is a global imbalance in health prospects, life expectancy, sex education, drugs funding, and attitudes to the value of people’s lives of different races and nationalities.