When two human categories find each other, each one of them wants to impose its sovereignty to the other; when both are able to sustain the claim, between them, either in hostility or in friendship, always in tension, a reciprocal relationship is created. If one of them is privileged, it dominates the other and makes everything to keep it in oppression. We can understand, therefore, that man has had the desire to dominate woman. But which privilege did allow him to carry that out?” (Beauvoir, The Second Sex)
Beauvoir tells us that, from the agricultural period up to the days of her essay, it is possible to interpret a set of views on women. In this evolution there is a considerably stable character: the woman-property under domination by man.
1. The woman who played the countryside permanent job, leaving to men the casual works on defence, hunting and fishing.
2. The woman that reproduces, playing a protective and nourishing role, having the possibility to become independent but never rellying on that natural stagnation as a species; the woman gives life, but the man is considered superior as he risks his life in war.
3. The woman in the view of posterity: its biological role is subdued to the value of (private) property in transmission between generations; the woman who procreates to create inheritors.
4. The woman as a servant of lords, both reproductive and dutiful housekeeper, being subordinated by exhaustion and, later on, by the institutions.
5. The woman of the productive mystery (of human life and crops) and the man who overcomes her in the technical field, apparently controlling over nature.
“Thus, the triumph of patriarchy was neither an accident nor the result of a violent revolution. (…) Condemned to play the role of «the other», the woman was also sentenced to have only a precarious power: slave or idol, it’s never her who chooses the own destiny” (Beauvoir). The pacifism (with occasional exceptions) of the woman-property while dominated (owned by others) and the woman dedicated to some earthly constant property (domestic work, agriculture, child-rearing).
Let us jump in time, but I trully recommend you to read the historical and philosophical background of Beauvoir. Now stepping to the days that accompanied my growth. The days in which those born when The Second Sex was written were already adults and sometimes parents. There was already the evidence on the change of woman’s status, an emancipated woman who can live independently (despite the lower incomes if compared to man’s), divorce, vote, commit a crime and be judged as a person (reducing gender imputation in justice). All of this has been written and read. The remaining came from observing the hidden game, the legitimacies in action that pervaded the relationships of people I’ve known.
We grew up in a Judeo-Christian matrix, often not only at the level of values as also under the practical hand of the institutionalized religion. Obedience was convenient and one of the ready means to achieve it was with the fear of patriarchal authority: the father’s fear, the fear of the police, the fear of the school director, and even – could you imagine? – the fear of the bogeyman (meaning the dark, the thing we don’t see; while witches could be seen and caused far less fear). The consequence of not obeying became thus predictable: the punishment by the big hand, by the big voice, by that something we cannot see and therefore we cannot face it.
To ensure the imbalance and lack of reciprocity through the privilege of the dominant – what an immediate and effective tactic. But I never understood how so many people think that there might be a direct link between fear, obedience and respect or education. For if children learn to be a property of fear and its owners, how can they emancipate themselves without escaping from the pacifism of their domination? Legitimizing the adult life as new bogeymen? Creating a matriarchy as violent as the patriarchal example of their own direct or observed memory? Simulating emancipatory violence and continuing to legitimize, hidden in four walls, to be owned by somebody else?
I don’t believe that the man-woman domination is that far away from what has been legitimated, over the years in which I grew up, on the supposed superiority of adults over children, of priests over other religious people, of employers over employees, of teachers over students, among other dialectics in which the authority can become authoritarianism in the blink of an eye and the first ones continue to be embraced by legitimacy. I believe, moreover, that if the human part overlaps the owner part – the person who is and grows, believes, works, studies, lives – we may gain a new hypothesis of reciprocity in the shared fight for the development.
The woman that refuses to be owned by others, who may even fight not to be a property of her earthly possessions – from the material (home) to the will of her active spirit (assigned roles at work or activism, for example) -, does not develop from woman into female. She grows and abandons her more object side into the subject direction, into something that surpasses her immediate or foreseeable future. To exist far exceeds these properties – may I picture it as the activity of creating each one’s divine space (not constructed neither owned by any-all else and not aiming to go back to the 5th point)? Well, existing as a woman may far require more struggle than the average.