Simone de Beauvoir’s bottom

Let me begin by stating that I am not a hater of the human form. If pushed, I will confess to thinking that there should be more, not less, public nudity for a variety of reasons. Nothing, for instance, beats the sensation of sun on skin. And what better way to learn that one’s thighs, upper arms, tummy, chest, breasts, labia, or penis are entirely normal and not hideously deformed than by looking at other ordinary folks with their clothes off? (See for yourself by visiting a nudist beach, or Betty Dodson’s online Genital Gallery – nsfw.) Nevertheless, I was disappointed to discover Le Nouvel Observateur celebrating the centenary of de Beauvoir’s birth by printing a nude photograph of de Beauvoir, viewed from behind. Prominent French feminist group, Les Chiennes de Gard, were likewise annoyed, and protested outside Le Nouvel Observateur’s office, wearing dog masks, brandishing placards, and demanding to see naked photographs of various male bottoms, including those of Levinas, Sartre, and Le Nouvel Observateur’s director. In a meeting with the feminists, the editors defended their decision by claiming that the picture aptly represents the scandal de Beauvoir caused in her time, with her unconventional views and non-conformist lifestyle. That’s as maybe. The problem, as Les Chiennes Gard pointed out, is that no male philosopher would be depicted in this way. Sartre, e.g., was just as unconventional and non-conformist as de Beauvoir, but it’s highly unlikely that we’ll get to see his naked arse on the front page. Ditto Bertrand Russell. Nude pictures of his unmentionables are not forthcoming, despite his suberversive opinions having rendered him jobless and declared unfit to teach the young. Moreover, the odds are somewhat stacked against women in philosophy. Whilst I do not, for one minute, wish to accuse all men working in the discipline of misogyny and sexism, it is still true that one’s femaleness can make it hard to get one’s work taken seriously. Feminist philosophy is similarly marginalised. The main academic journals are reluctant to publish it, and the specialist feminist journals, such as Hypatia, traditionally receive lowly rankings in the lists of the great and the good. Within this context, the celebration of de Beauvoir’s centenary with a picture of her backside, says less about the scandalous nature of her work, and more about the low regard in which female philosophers and feminists are held. For these reasons, I join Les Chiennes Gard in calling for more naked photos of the philosophical male’s posterior.  (Thanks for the tip, Evelyn!)

Steinem’s Response

Gloria Steinem has now responded to some of the criticisms that have been made of her op-ed (the one that suggested sexism was a stronger force than racism).  In case you’d like to read it, you can do so here. The article is confusingly structured. First there’s a criticism of the op-ed, then the op-ed, then Steinem’s response to criticisms, and finally a response to her response.