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!)

24 thoughts on “Simone de Beauvoir’s bottom

  1. I should add that as always, the views expressed are merely those of the individual writer, and not representative of all bloggers on this site.

    (I am now starting to worry in case this post causes an avalanche of bum pictures to arrive in my inbox, in which case, I may retract the call for more naked philosophical male posterior.)

  2. maybe someone should write a sir mix-a-lot parody talking about philosophers’ butts. and post it on youtube.

  3. This post (especially, but not exclusively, some of the language used in it) is highly offensive. The post purports to be liberating and inclusive; however, because it appeals to corporeal and social norms, it is in fact regulatory, serving to uphold conventional ideals about human bodies. Insofar as the author of the post distinguishes between the “normal” bodies of “ordinary folk” and the bodies of the “hideously deformed,” the post is normalizing and actually promotes a hegemonic sociocultural matrix which attempts to eliminate differences between bodies: disabled bodies, queer bodies, black bodies, and so on. Who is “hideously deformed”? : the postmastectomy woman? the intersexed child? the girl with one hand? the teenager with scars and a curved spine? the transgendered feminist?

  4. The reference to the bodies of ‘ordinary folk’ is intended to refer to the bodies of non-models and non-celebrities. (I take it that these are the bodies one sees on nudist beaches and Dodson’s Genital Gallery.)

    The intended distinction is thus between (i) celebrity/model bodies, and (ii) the bodies of everyone else. I was *not* intending to distinguish between (i) a normal body type, and (ii) a hideously deformed body type.

    I take it that viewing ordinary naked bodies (i.e., those of non-models and non-celebrities) reveals (a) most ordinary bodies are different from model/celebrity bodies, and (b) they differ in a great number of different ways, i.e., there is a vast, vast array of different body shapes, sizes, and configurations amongst ordinary folk.

    Having learnt that (a) most people’s bodies are different from model-bodies, and that (b) they vary widely, one might then come to think that variation is the norm. So in that sense, no matter how much one’s own body differs from a model/celebrity body, one may think of one’s own body as normal.

    None of this requires defining any sort of body as ‘hideously deformed’. The suggestion was that this is a judgement one might make about one’s own body on the grounds that it differs from a model/celebrity body, before discovering the great bodily variation.

  5. very sophmoric post. perhaps we should have Noam Chomsky do a nude spread? Or better yet judge feminists by which coven they decide to join? I’m beginning to think that the internet has brought about a dark age of intellectualism.

  6. Another nice resurrection. I like to comment on these old posts, because commenters are less touchy when they have the luxury of hindsight.

    Monkey, you’re freakier than I thought (in a good way–as in delightfully kinky ;-)) Jean Paul Sartre?!? Man, those were some crazy eyes. To each her own. I can’t think of many (famous) philosophers I’d like to see in the nude in a sexual way, though. Fouceault was in decent shape in his day, but still not my type. I don’t think I would have been his type either. I believe he preferred the type of dom that didn’t require a prosthetic to do the job.

    I doubt Shelley or Andrew are still around to read this, but I don’t believe the poor girl was trying to be funny. I don’t even want to venture a guess at what kind of self-loathing would compel her to use the word “hegemonic” in reference to a group of women who call themselves the dogs (chiennes) that want to see Sartre’s bottom. Where’s the love, everybody?

    I’ll take her reaction as my cue to voice my agreement. We most definitely do need to show more non-sexualized healthy nude bodies of different shapes&sizes in our media. Too many young people pointlessly torment themselves because they think they need to conform to some absurd body standard. Then they lose it over statements that were never meant to criticize any “type” at all, let alone the “type” with which they identify, whatever “type” that is. A hint for Shelley: go read some Sartre. I find he’s a nice change when my own face aches from screaming the liturgy of the downtrodden. Some of his fiction is pretty funny, too. Laughter (with not at) makes us all more beautiful, dontcha think?

  7. Didn’t see the tie-in post about the attempt to ban Betty Dodson’s gallery before I wrote #14. It is a pretty graphic piece of work, so I had to come back here before I got a good look, because I’m in a public library. I can understand how an audience who doesn’t grasp the scientific value of what Dodson is doing would attack it, but I don’t think they’ll succeed in getting it banned, for the same reasons that pornography censors can’t ban medical textbooks featuring anatomical diagrams. It’s science, not smut.

  8. […] In contrast, the reviews haven’t started to appear yet in comparable US intellectual magazines, such as the New York Reivew of Books or the NY Times Sunday Book Review.  Or the  New Yorker.  Salon does report on the Moi review, and Slate has a bit by Katie Roiphe, which pronounces it an improved translation of a classic work by an ambiguous feminist heroine.  (Roiphe, we should point out, is an expert on ambiguous feminism, at least as a practice.)   The ambiguity is  due to features of her life, her scandalous life, which includes the presence of pictures of her bum!! […]

  9. Xena: it isn’t being banned due to its graphic nature, it’s being attacked for failure to conform with a US law (intended to prevent child pornography on the Internet) which requires website owners with certain content to maintain records of the identity of all models so they can prove they were over 18.

    As the law (link below) is limited to “actual sexually explicit content,” I’m not sure why Dodson thinks her website might be covered. It’s possible that there’s some case law or AG opinions that make it clear that close-ups of genitals count – this is not an area I have studied since the 90s – but on the face of it, the law shouldn’t apply. Here’s the link:—-000-.html

  10. @J-Bro, I knew it! The law only covers material distributed for profit! And I don’t think research grants count.

    Also, though the definition of “performer” is bloody tedious, it looks like the law requires that they be paid performers.

    And it looks like there may be some wiggle room with the interpretation of “ENGAGED in sexually explicit acts.” I didn’t look around on the site long enough to see if the gallery of genitals depicted them doing anything besides hanging around, but the genitals that I did see did not look to be ENGAGED. Wouldn’t that require penetration of some sort?

    Thanks for that. I think Dr. Dodson can fight this on the grounds that she is working with patients, not paid performers.

    Dr. Dodson only believes that she has to put the consent forms up because she’s been misinformed by a watchdog group that took her work out of context. They’re wrong.

    You are a fine lawyer. Remind me to contact you about my own class action suit, once I get the people together.

  11. Oops, I just thought about that last sentence in #18. We’re probably not allowed to use feministphilosophers to do business. Just ignore that part.

    Good news for Dr. Dodson.

  12. Re your “news female philosophers can use”. I have just read all your boring,convoluted comments on my 1950 dorsal nude picture of my pal Nelson Algren’s girl -friend, Simone de Beauvoir. I’m surprised that not one of you scholarly types questioned Adam Gopnik’s stupid suggestion in the Jan. 8-08 New Yorker that Algren hired me to take a nude picture of the woman he’d, in effect conquered, as surely as bulgy President Sarkozy expressed his power over his lovely model-wife Carla Bruni by parading her on French beaches in her bikini, a notch in his belt when he was really a notch in her belt. .Whatever francophile Gopnik’s mindreading insight into the President’s thinking, he , like most of your commentators, has helped poison the world’s reaction to a simple fortuitous snapshot that came about because Algren didn’t have a bathtub in his ten buck a month apartment, because the sexist Division Street Y wouldn’t admit females to their bathing facilities, and he had asked if I could “borrow” a bathtub for Madame. She left the door open and I was a young Life photographer who lived with a Leica around his neck. Simone laughed at the shutter’s clicks ,called me a naughty man, and went on with her toilette. I then drove her back to Algren’s pad . A few weeks ago when I heard that my gallery, Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago was going to show the dorsal nude at Paris PHOTO at the Louvre, I offered and they accepted my next frame after the dorsal nude, this one showing her profile and bosom. I often enjoy poor fading Hitchens’s ratiocinations,but not this time. The new photo is selling briskly at $2000. It is not a political statement but a journalistic one. Art Shay

  13. Art (if I may), it seems to me amazing to have the person who took that photograph comment here. Let me point out that really nothing is said against the photograph itself. Rather, the post was about a particular use of it.

    What makes the use worth questioning is that the beauty of her body is problematically connected to what we should celebrate about her as a philosopher. How many philosophers get celebrated with pictures of their butts, however beautiful they may be? Nothing in that thought says the photograph itself is not beautiful

    Now, if you have comparable shots of famous men’s butts, the dialectic would change quite a bit. But we suspect women’s butts are to most so interesting that the greatness of the philosopher (in this case) is lost.

  14. Art Shay, let me condense all our boring, convoluted comments for you, why are male philosophers celebrated for their work, and female philosophers for their beauty? This leads to a belittling of female philosophers’ work.

    As JJ has already pointed out, this is not a criticism of your photo, but the use that has recently been made of it. Now, if you’d care to dig out some old pics of Sartre’s arse…

  15. I wonder if Justin Trudeau counts as a political philosopher? If Mr. Shay could get some shots of him in the nude… *sexy sigh* *heaving bosoms*

    Better yet, film him talking while he’s undressing. Love the barely-there Quebecois accent. *Purrrr*

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