Broadcaster: BBC Radio 3
Review by: Hanna Geissler
In this Landmark special edition of Night Waves, Rana Mitter hosts a celebration of the 60th anniversary of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, an influential work of feminist philosophy. The programme would serve as an excellent introduction to de Beauvoir’s work for students studying Concepts in Criticism.
The programme begins with a brief biography of de Beauvoir’s life and a summary of the book, followed by a discussion between guests including Germaine Greer (author of The Female Eunuch) about why The Second Sex is still important today. They discuss the relevance of the book when it was published in 1949, and describe it as intelligent, shocking and innovative.
There is then a reading of a short extract from the book, and an interesting discussion of the treatment of women as ‘the Other’. The panellists discuss some of de Beauvoir’s controversial suggestions about women, including the idea that perceived feminine attributes such as the maternal instinct are not always natural and are in fact a result of women being conditioned from birth to believe in these notions of feminine behaviour.
Mitter then raises the question of whether The Second Sex should be read ‘through the lens of our new knowledge of Beauvoir’s private life’. Mitter explains that the revelation of de Beauvoir’s lesbian relationships with younger girls is problematic and it is suggested by one panellist that her lack of respect for those girls could even be seen as ‘the antithesis of modern feminism.’ Questions are also raised about the balance of power in de Beauvoir’s relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre, and whether de Beauvoir failed to recognise in herself the same self-deception about her relationship that she had written about in her book.
It is important to note that despite the somewhat scandalous nature of the questions raised about de Beauvoir’s private life, there is no unanimous judgment passed on the accuracy or significance of these accusations, with some panellists strongly defending de Beauvoir. This part of the programme prompts the most heated debate between panellists, with speakers repeatedly disagreeing with and challenging one another.
Overall, the lively debate provides an interesting and varied insight into de Beauvoir’s life and work, highlighting some fascinating ideas of feminist philosophy.
Unfortunately the very end of the programme is missing from this file.