Simone de Beauvoir Speaks on American TV (in English) About Feminism, Abortion & More (1976)

France has long been known for the cul­tur­al promi­nence it grants to its philoso­phers. Even so, such promi­nence does­n’t sim­ply come to every French philoso­pher, and some have had to work tire­less­ly indeed to achieve it. Take Simone de Beau­voir, who most pow­er­ful­ly announced her arrival on the intel­lec­tu­al scene with Le Deux­ième Sexe and its famous dec­la­ra­tion, “On ne naît pas femme, on le devient.” Those words remain well known today, 36 years after their author’s death, and their impli­ca­tions about the nature of wom­an­hood still form the intel­lec­tu­al basis for many observers of the fem­i­nine con­di­tion, in France and else­where.

Le Deux­ième Sexe was first pub­lished in Eng­lish in 1953, as The Sec­ond Sex. By that point de Beau­voir had already trav­eled exten­sive­ly in the Unit­ed States (and even writ­ten a book, Amer­i­ca Day by Day, about the expe­ri­ence), but her read­er­ship in that coun­try had only just begun to grow. An avowed fem­i­nist, she would through the sub­se­quent decades become a more and more oft-ref­er­enced fig­ure among Amer­i­can writ­ers and read­ers who sought to apply that label to them­selves as well.

One such fem­i­nist was the psy­chol­o­gist Dorothy Ten­nov, who’s best remem­bered for coin­ing the term limer­ence. A few years before she did that, she trav­eled to France to con­duct an inter­view with de Beau­voir — and indeed “in her Paris apart­ment, pro­vid­ed the TV crew was all-female.”

Aired on pub­lic tele­vi­sion sta­tion WNED in 1976, this wide-rang­ing con­ver­sa­tion has Beau­voir lay­ing out her views on a host of sub­jects, from abor­tion to homo­sex­u­al­i­ty to fem­i­nism itself. “What do you think women feel most about fem­i­nism?” Ten­nov asks. “They are jeal­ous of the women who are not just the kind of ser­vant and the slaves and objects — they are them­selves,” de Beau­voir says. “They fear to feel an inféri­or­ité in regard with the women who work out­side, and who do as they want and who are free. And maybe they are afraid of the free­dom which is made pos­si­ble for them, because free­dom is some­thing very pre­cious, but in a way a lit­tle fear­ful, because you don’t know exact­ly what to do with it.” Here we see one rea­son de Beau­voir’s work has endured: she under­stood that man’s fear of free­dom is also wom­an’s.

Relat­ed con­tent:

An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to the Fem­i­nist Phi­los­o­phy of Simone de Beau­voir

The Mean­ing of Life Accord­ing to Simone de Beau­voir

Simone de Beauvoir’s Phi­los­o­phy on Find­ing Mean­ing in Old Age

Lovers and Philoso­phers — Jean-Paul Sartre & Simone de Beau­voir Togeth­er in 1967

Simone de Beau­voir Tells Studs Terkel How She Became an Intel­lec­tu­al and a Fem­i­nist (1960)

Simone de Beau­voir & Jean-Paul Sartre Shoot­ing a Gun in Their First Pho­to Togeth­er (1929)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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