‘Le Deuxième Sexe’ was a seismic event in 20th century publishing. Its release in 1949 projected author Simone de Beauvoir to centre stage amongst the Parisian Left Bank bohemian and philosopher set.
Simone de Beauvoir: a controversial success
‘The Second Sex’ was an immediate worldwide blockbuster, and sales soon eclipsed those of de Beauvoir’s soulmate, partner and lover, the existentialist philosopher, philanderer and darling of the left, Jean-Paul Sartre.
The Vatican immediately placed ‘The Second Sex’ on the Index of Forbidden Books, partly, because of its explicit portrayal of lesbian sex and descriptions of female body functions. Simone de Beauvoir also antagonised the Church by linking the role of mothers, wives, and prostitutes in one all-embracing passage.
Whereas first-wave feminism focuses on the Suffragettes, de Beauvoir’s ‘The Second Sex’ remains a cornerstone of contemporary second-wave feminism and gender politics.
Sartre and de Beauvoir had an avant-garde “transparency arrangement”: no marriage or children and multiple affairs permitted.
They were free to take other lovers and to live wherever they pleased, as long as they told one another everything. Which they did, very successfully, for over 50 years.
From de Beauvoir to the gender pay gap
Based on the dominance of men over women—who are rarely recognised by males as equals—de Beauvoir’s book highlighted the historically powerless state women had experienced due to a lack of physical, financial, and intellectual independence.
These days, the gender pay gap has become the central issue. The definition of this concept is the difference between women’s and men’s average full-time equivalent earnings—expressed as a percentage of men’s earnings.
According to the latest figures from data agency Eurostat (based on 2015 salaries), women are effectively working for free for the last 39.7 days of the year as a result of the 15 percent wage disparity.
As part of their campaign to denounce the wage disparity between the sexes, the French equal rights group, Les Glorieuses relaunched a campaign highlighting the salary gap between male and female staff in France.
On 3 November 2017, working women were encouraged to leave work at 11.44am. According to the equal rights group:
If there was equal pay in France, women would be able to stop work at that time and earn the same amount as men.
Gender equality: politics and Donald Trump
Here’s another perspective: The World Economic Forum is an annual gathering of high profile international movers and shakers. They meet in Davos, Switzerland in late January. Even Mr. Trump says he’s going this year.
So, now for a bit of background. Long, long ago in 1979, The United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. It’s been described as an international bill of rights for females. It came into force on 3 September 1981.
With that in mind, here’s a tweet we hope Mr. Trump will consider sending after he’s been to the 2018 World Economic Forum meeting in Davos:
Women of the world, as you know, discrimination is alive and well in America. Like Somalia, Sudan, and Tonga, the USA has not yet ratified the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. But my plan is to make the role of ladies great again. So, I’ll do something about it soon. Or when I have the time. Or when I get round to it. Signed, America’s Very Stable and Most Intelligent President, Without Argument, Donny Trump.
Seems unrealistic? Well, that’s because it is.
Achieving parity: 217 years to go
However, more than a decade of WEF research on pay rates has revealed little progress in realising the full potential of one half of humanity. The Global Gender Gap Report checks progress towards parity across jobs, education prospects, health, and political empowerment in 144 countries.
In 2016, the report forecast that it will take another 170 years to close the gender gap between women and men in pay and employment conditions. This year the estimate has been revised.
Surely, you may well ask, almost 70 years after publication of de Beauvoir’s ‘The Second Sex’, the gender gap must be closing?
The Forum’s latest report estimates that it will take another 217 years before parity is achieved.
Hands up anyone who can wait that long.
Where do you stand on Simone de Beauvoir? Is gender equality a serious issue in France? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments box below.
1. Le Deuxième Sexe, via Flickr
2. Simone de Beauvoir, via Wikipedia
3. Women’s rights, via Flickr
4. Donald Trump, via Flickr
5. Sartre & de Beauvoir grave, via Wikipedia