The NY Times gets sort of serious about Beauvoir

Some of us were unhappy when the NY Times’ first notice of the new translation of The Second Sex focused on Beauvoir’s body and her sexuality.  Now there’s a review of the book that is supposedly an assessment of its intellectual merits.

Readers may find themselves, as I did, suspecting the particular reviewer, Francine du PLessix Gray, was not the best choice, despite her 1952 BA in philosophy from Barnard.  Thus she says:

The other pivotal notion at the heart of “The Second Sex” — a more problematic one, which Beauvoir came to on her own — is her belief that, in Parshley’s translation, “one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” This preposterous assertion, intended to bolster her argument that marriage and motherhood are institutions imposed by men to curb women’s freedom, will be denied by any mother who has seen her toddler son eagerly grab for a toy in the shape of a vehicle or a gun, while at the same time showing a total lack of interest in his sister’s cherished dolls. It has also been disputed by certain feminist scholars, who would argue that many gender differences are innate rather than acquired.

Mothers’ observations, acute though they may be, are not going to tell us what is carried by the genes and in utero hormones.  The fact that some feminists would  agree with Gray’s conclusions indicates the diversity of views within feminism, if not a uniform competence.

I don’t think the reviewer is actually hostile to Beavoir or feminism.  But as her discussion of the “preposterous assertion” above indicates, she may not be engaged  enough with the relevant  issues.  Further,  she may be sufficiently in love with her gender role that she misses too much in what Beauvoir is saying:

“What a curse to be a woman!” Beauvoir writes, quoting Kier­kegaard. “And yet the very worst curse when one is a woman is, in fact, not to understand that it is one.” No one has done more than Beauvoir to explain the conditions of that curse, and no one has more eloquently, irately challenged us to turn that curse into a blessing.

CFP: (Re)Branding Feminism

A conference hosted by the Institute of Germanic & Romance Studies (IGRS), Stewart House, 32 Russell Square, London, WC1B 5ND.

1st -2nd March 2011.

There has been a general recognition, if not acceptance, of many of feminism’s key concepts. But does this mean that it has ceased to assert itself as a unique movement? Indeed, should feminism be (re)branded in an age when all ideologies are subject to market forces? And what should this rebranding consist of?

Two years on from the stimulating ‘Where are we now? A workshop on women and heterosexuality’ hosted by the IGRS, this conference will address some of the issues raised then to question the place of feminism in the twenty-first century. While there has been ambivalent press and general apathy towards those issues that once encouraged women to put the political into the personal, it is increasingly women themselves who think there is nothing more to discuss. Why has there been a decline in the link between the personal and the ideological? Do we need a different kind of feminism to meet the cultural, political and academic needs of a younger generation?

Topics might include but are not limited to:

Are sisters doing it for themselves?

Feminism on the frontline

I can be a real bitch

Family romances

Home-makers and career women

God was/is a woman

Feminism and the sex industry

Feminist renaissance

Feminism is bollocks

Rebranding feminism

Pub talk

Abstracts between 200-300 words that explore any aspect of (re)branding feminism are sought as are poster submissions of 200 – 300 words on any topic related to rebranding feminism. Submit poster ideas and abstracts in a word document or .pdf.

Please send abstracts and poster ideas to both Jean Owen ( and Elisha Foust ( by 5pm 1 October 2010.

Fellowship Opportunity: Philosophy in Public Life

Jack Weinstein writes:

I was hoping you would post the following call for applications. We have set up our fellowships precisely so those with families and faculty who do not have the luxury of going places for six months have research opportunities. And while the institute fellows program, being new, has not been fortunate enough to attract a significant number of women applicants, our radio show Why has highlighted numerous women and feminist topics. I hope you will consider passing the following announcement to your readers. Thanks!

And indeed it looks like a great opportunity! Do consider applying:

Applications for 2010-2011 Visiting Fellowships at the Institute for Philosophy in Public Life are now being accepted.
The deadline for applications is July 1, 2010.

The Institute for Philosophy in Public Life is dedicated to two project: cultivating philosophy amongst the general public and bridging popular philosophy with academic research. This includes not only providing resources and opportunities for those interested in engaging with general audiences but also providing a venue for the presentation of their work. IPPL hopes to advance public philosophy by advocating the position that such work ought to count towards tenure and promotion.

IPPL Fellowships are both invited by the director and chosen via open competition. Any interested party is encouraged to apply, and prospective applicants are welcome to contact the director informally to ask for advice or to “test the waters” for their suitability and competitiveness.

An IPPL Visiting Fellowship is intended for philosophical professionals who seek an intensive short-term period to work on a specific project free from the intrusions of daily work and family responsibilities, and who wish to translate that same project into language easily understood by general audiences. Visiting fellows are in residence at the institute for two weeks. They receive travel, meal, housing allowances, a $1,000 stipend, access to the University of North Dakota library and all relevant university resources, a $500 grant to purchase research materials to be housed within the UND Chester Fritz Library, and an office within which to work. In exchange, visiting fellows are expected to make at least two public presentations suitable to lay audiences and write a ten to fifteen page article for publication either online or in the North Dakota Humanities Council magazine On Second Thought. Normally, IPPL grants three – four visiting fellowships per year.
Regional applicants are encouraged to apply, but are not exempt from the two-week residence requirement.

For application information, go here.

For more information, contact