You are the only one that can say: "I am. "
But so can all the other people.
I’ve been reading the book “The second sex” by Simone de Beauvoir, it was written between 1946 and 49 and is seen by many as one of the great feminist books. It reads like it was written yesterday, but maybe that’s because much of what she says is still said today. I read a couple of other, more modern feminist books before, and they repeat in some sense what Beauvoir writes about in this book. I won’t go into detail about what she all point’s out, I just want to write a little about my experiences, being a man and reading these kinds of books, what it does to me.
I was raised by a mother who got divorced at the end of the seventies ending up with three kids to take care of. This happened just in time to get swept up by the tail end of the second feminist wave. I was just 6 or 7 years old, but being raised by a young mother who was finding herself as a woman for the first time and no father for me in sight to represent the so-called other side, it is clear that that experience has left some tracks in me.
Having only sporadically a father figure in my early life has not prevented me from developing a lot of typical male trades. A feminist mother might have raised me, but I was also living in a society that was still divided into clear roles for men and women. I also inherited some trades from my father (and mother) that work great if you take on the male role in life, like a temperament and an eagerness to get places.
The simplest example I can think of, of a typical male reaction is the one I have when I see a good-looking woman. Simone de Beauvoir writes about the pressures women feel by society to behave and look a certain way and what this does to a person. It is hard to imagine what that does to you, but as a man, I also get subjected to expectations. I often have to pretend not to feel pain or feel sick just because that’s how a man is supposed to behave. As a sensitive person, I not only feel that expectation from people around me, I react to it by conforming to it, but another part in me also chastises myself for being a…conformist.
The problem is that everyone can feel something when they see another human who they find attractive but is that feeling still there when they see that same person sitting on a toilet, squeezing it out? Or is the beautiful woman just attractive because she squeezed herself into a role, to look attractive to the man living around her? In other words: did she lose her essence, her self, to fulfill the role society expects of her?
My guilt comes from not knowing if she is attractive because of who she is or what she presents to the world. Often it is clear, they look like the stereotypical bombshell or all made up, but looking like that does not always mean that they want others to judge them on their looks, maybe it is just a look. It also goes the other way, most people, yes, even women, react with slight disgust if they see a woman with hair under their arms. It seems not to matter when men have hair over there, but if you as a person are occupying a female body, you have to shave that part suddenly. Society demands a lot from all of us, and men have their own (unconscious) expectations of women.
I say “occupying your body” because Simone de Beauvoir is an Existentialist, and as such, she sees people as not being male or female but as a person performing one of those roles or any in between. What body we are born with plays a role, but in essence, are we all the same thinking “thing” we recognize in ourselves as us. What do you see when you look in the mirror?
There is much more to say, and reading back what I just wrote makes me want to rewrite the whole thing, but as a writing exercise, it is good enough for now.
When I was young, we had a poster on the wall, or maybe I saw it somewhere else, anyway, the poster didn’t depict much it just had the words: “what if no one went to the war” on it. It was something like that, but that thought never left me and is still thought-provoking.
What if Putin or some American president declares war and all the soldiers stay home, including the law enforcers. It will not work, of course, but it reminds me of the communist and their call to the world’s proletariat to unite. The people with power and the systems they serve can only function if a large part of “powerless” people follow their orders, like sending them to war or suppressing in their name the people that are unwilling.
I know from my own experience that standing up, literally, in a meeting at work can feel good, but when you tell what has to change and you look around to your colleagues for a sign of support, that is not coming. In private, most of your colleagues complained about how work is organized, but they don’t dare to speak up when confronted with authority. For most, it is just too much hassle, and they don’t want to be seen as a troublemaker, others are just too cowardly.
I remember a lieutenant in the Marines, he was a little too sure of himself and proud of his rank. I don’t think it is bad to be proud of something you achieved, but you have to make sure you earned it or at least, are worth it. He often got us “killed” in exercises, and you understand that bugged me, what if it was real… I let him know what I thought of him, not the lieutenant but the guy who was only 2 years older than me and was obviously in it way over his head. Well, that was detention for me and probably some bad remarks in my dossier. The Sargeant that told me this told me also in private that he agreed with me but that you couldn’t say these things against a superior. And I always thought the point was to stay alive and weed out the weakest link.
You might think: “why did he go into the military when he first wrote about not going to war.” There was still a draft in the Netherlands in the early nineteen nineties, and because I quit school, I got called in. My mother wasn’t happy, the pacifist she is, but she also taught me to think for myself and not take her lessons for granted. So I went to the Marines because that would mean adventure and not just 12 months of boredom or playing the role of a conscientious objector with an inherited opinion, it would be unhealthy to have an opinion and stick to it when your 18. It was an adventure, and I learned a lot during those three years. One of the lessons is that not going to war is an option, but once you are confronted with an “enemy” in person, you will defend yourself and the people you are with.
I feel for the soldiers on both sides in the war that is going on In Ukraine, the world of a soldier gets really small, and it is hard to imagine if you have never been there. It is just mindboggling that one man can decide to put half the world in crisis and send thousands of people to their deaths. And Putin might be seen as an autocratic madman but don’t forget that the so-called American democracy did the same thing when it invaded the sovereign state of Iraq, killing an estimated 150 000 civilians.
That we still live in a world where a small group of people can lure us all in the wrong direction tells me that we all still don’t know what the hell we are supposed to do on this earth. We still follow the biggest monkey because we have no better idea.
I have lived secluded for many years now. Not that I have no contact with the world, but I keep my distance. I look at it and analyze what I see through a filter of philosophy and poetry. I also get older, and the advantage of youth is slipping away, wherein you see all the grownups as living in a different world. Authority impresses when you’re young, but now that I am 50, I have little illusion left that someone knows what they are doing. Sure, most people think they know what they are doing, but self-reflection is a sparsely dealt out gift.
I see all these world leaders and bosses being confident and proclaiming what has to happen. Some rally the sheep, and others threaten nuclear destruction out of a delusional belief in themselves. Thousands of leaders have a direction formed in their minds that they follow, and none of these thousands of direction point in the same direction. For me, an outsider, this seems strange. Don’t they see that you can’t defend your direction in the light of all those other ones? They can not all be true, and why would yours be?
I understand that living with some kind of “truth” in yourself makes life easier. Doubting is nerve-wracking and keeps you on your toes, but one of my adopted truths is that the period between birth and death is not to be used to feel calm and at ease or pick a side. I don’t have the obsession to find and keep some kind of peace in myself and a side… sides are for people who need company. For me, living still means growing or shrinking but, in any way, moving.
The door is still closed to keep the fresh air in Nochrisis
Simone de Beauvoir
The second sex
When she does not find love, she may find poetry. Because she does not act, she observes, she feels, she records; a color, a smile awakens profound echoes within her; her destiny is outside her, scattered in cities already built, on the faces of men already marked by life, she makes contact, she relishes with passion and yet in a manner more detached, more free, than that of a young man. Being poorly integrated in the universe of humanity and hardly able to adapt herself therein, she, like the child, is able to see it objectively; instead of being interested solely in her grasp on things, she looks for their significance; she catches their special outlines, their unexpected metamorphoses. She rarely feels a bold creativeness, and usually she lacks the technique of self-expression; but in her conversation, her letters, her literary essays, her sketches, she manifests an original sensitivity. The young girl throws herself into things with ardor, because she is not yet deprived of her transcendence; and the fact that she accomplishes nothing, that she is nothing, will make her impulses only the more passionate. Empty and unlimited, she seeks from within her nothingness to attain All.
There is a big red alarm bell hanging outside my house In an emergency I can sound it but I have no neighbors and live alone at least I can hear it myself and turn it on myself when I need it myself
Have you ever stared at an empty wall and wondered standing still while walking in the city why it is there the function of the wall is clear but still why is it there
It sometimes helps to know how a door looks when meeting someone bland
Did you know that your future
has always some kind of scaffolding
or at least
bolted to one of its walls
be careful if you work on it
wear a hard head
to protect your brain
for when something fails
IV. Poetry in general seems to have sprung from two causes, each of them lying deep in our nature. First, the instinct of imitation is implanted in man from childhood, one difference between him and other animals being that he is the most imitative of living creatures, and through imitation learns his earliest lessons; and no less universal is the pleasure felt in things imitated. We have evidence of this in the facts of experience. Objects which in themselves we view with pain, we delight to contemplate when reproduced with minute fidelity: such as the forms of the most ignoble animals and of dead bodies. The cause of this again is, that to learn gives the liveliest pleasure, not only to philosophers but to men in general; whose capacity, however, of learning is more limited. Thus the reason why men enjoy seeing a likeness is, that in contemplating it they find themselves learning or inferring, and saying perhaps, ‘Ah, that is he.’ For if you happen not to have seen the original, the pleasure will be due not to the imitation as such, but to the execution, the coloring, or some such other cause.
We live in different houses but we stand next to each other when we look outside our windows
The shadows we make and see are often more interesting and darker than what it supposed to represent I guess that it also depends on where you stand
Did you know that in these potato bags
the potatoes are sorted by size
not by design
but by the fact that the first person in the sorting row
picks the easiest potatoes and that is often the biggest
Everything you say sounds constructed the parts collected disjointed forced in line trial and error it all looks impressive but is there a part that is you or is this you
It all looked so simple today till I came home to open the door and I didn't know how something has changed and though I assume it wasn't the door I secretly hoped it was
I turned fifty today
and though it's just a number
but the bars of the cell I stept in
when the twenties left
are getting thinner
and the world outside more colorful
being in my thirties and forties
but it was not the morning light
or the early evening with it's anticipation
of a beautiful sunset
I am glad it's over
and I miss it