Top critical review
not really worth your time, to be honest.
on 4 February 2017
I first bought a copy of The Second Sex back in 1997 and its been on my To Read list for 20 years, so it was a pleasure to finally get around to reading it. Sadly it wasn't such a pleasure in the actual reading. I gave up by page 200, unwilling to devote any more of my precious reading time to trying to dredge anything worthwhile out of this. It's not that the subject matter is bad - I'm a committed radical feminist- but the execution. As a historical document its interesting enough, a snapshot of European gender studies shortly after the second world war reveals some interesting snippets, but as a serious study into the history and critique of gender studies its a load of bobbins. In the chapter on biology, she is quite right to attack the Edwardian scientific misogynists and their use of invented science to justify their oppression of women. But her scientific facts are often outdated and thus her statements and conclusions can appear as absurd as those she critiques. Similarly, she is right to attack Freud and Freudians, but her critique of psychoanalysis is based only on a critique of Freud, as if that was the beginning and end of psychiatry! Her critique of Historical Materialism is a a broad-brush dismissal of Engels' categorisation of gender as a class, that (in my opinion) misunderstands the subject. Later on, during the section on History, she affirms and critiques historical conditions using exactly that categorisation. I am unable to understand whether this is deliberate or not. During Part II, History, her essays on prehistorical humanity and bronze age humanity are absolute nonsense. She has simply made it up out of whole cloth. She makes broad claims without citing anyone at all. She makes claims that I know are false. She doesn't present this as speculation, or as extrapolation from known facts. At this point I was reading out chunks to my partner so that we could laugh at her claims. The chapters on later history are more interesting, probably because a lot of the French history was new to me, but I was unable to trust any of the information, knowing that she was making up her earlier history! In Part II chapter 1 "Dreams, Fears, Idols" I struggled through, trying to sift the good stuff from the bad - the bad in this case being a tendency towards verbosity that taxed my poor brain and my ability to give a monkeys. Bits of it were great - her critique is often sharp and incisive - but the whole was boring. Finally I gave up, happy that I gave it a good try, but content to stick to more concise and relevant modern writers.
It's worth pointing out that I don't think that translation was very good. I suspect that it would have made a lot more sense in the original French.