Today is December 27 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you allow someone to take charge of you entirely?” For some who navigate the chaos they understand the necessity of becoming vigilant as they travel life’s path. Following the intended, normal, or traditional course of action is, for such individuals, too painful. Charting a new path is the only possible strategy for some to navigate the chaos. One such person was Simone de Beauvoir, a French writer, writer, intellectual, existentialist philosopher, political activist, feminist, and social theorist. As de Beauvoir proclaimed: "I am too intelligent, too demanding, and too resourceful for anyone to be able to take charge of me entirely. No one knows me or loves me completely. I have only myself."
Born in Paris in 1908, de Beauvoir was sent to convent schools during her youth and was so devoutly religious that she considered becoming a nun. However, at the age of 14, the intellectually curious De Beauvoir had a crisis of faith and declared herself an atheist. She thus dedicated herself to the study of existence, shifting her focus instead to math, literature, and philosophy.
In 1926, de Beauvoir left home to attend the prestigious Sorbonne, where she studied philosophy and rose to the top of her class. She completed her exams and a thesis on German mathematician and philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz in 1929. That same year De Beauvoir met another young student, budding existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, with whom she would soon form a lasting bond that would profoundly influence both of their personal and professional lives.
In 1949, de Beauvoir published The Second Sex, a two-volume perspective consisting of more than 1,000 pages that many consider both revolutionary and incendiary. The Second Sex is one of the earliest attempts to confront human history from a feminist perspective. It won de Beauvoir many admirers and just as many detractors. Today, many regard this massive and meticulously researched masterwork as not only as pillar of feminist thought but of twentieth-century philosophy in general.
De Beauvoir’s primary thesis is that men fundamentally oppress women by characterizing them, on every level, as the Other, defined exclusively in opposition to men. Man occupies the role of the self, or subject; woman is the object, the other. He is essential, absolute, and transcendent. She is inessential, incomplete, and mutilated. He extends out into the world to impose his will on it, whereas woman is doomed to immanence, or inwardness. He creates, acts, invents; she waits for him to save her.
This distinction is the basis of all de Beauvoir’s later arguments. De Beauvoir states that while it is natural for humans to understand themselves in opposition to others, this process is flawed when applied to the genders. In defining woman exclusively as Other, man is effectively denying her humanity.
On her ability to engage in self-reflection, awareness, and purpose De Beauvoir wrote
“No one would take me just as I was, no one loved me; I shall love myself enough, I thought, to make up for this abandonment by everyone. Formerly, I had been quite satisfied with myself, but I had taken very little trouble to increase my self-knowledge; from now on, I would stand outside myself, watch over and observe myself; in my diary I had long conversations with myself. I was entering a world whose newness stunned me. I learned to distinguish between distress and melancholy, lack of emotion and serenity; I learned to recognize the hesitations of the heart, and its ecstasies, the splendor of great renunciations, and the subterranean murmurings of hope. I entered into exalted trances, as on those evenings when I used to gaze upon the sky full of moving clouds behind the distant blue of the hills; I was both the landscape and its beholder: I existed only through myself, and for myself… My path was clearly marked: I had to perfect, enrich and express myself in a work of art that would help others to live.”
De Beauvoir spent her life helping women understand how to be self-reliant, independent, and sovereign. Being othered by a man was unacceptable for de Beauvoir.
How often do you allow someone to take charge of you entirely?
How often do you measure your self-knowledge?
Do you take enough time to stand outside of yourself and watch how you interact with the world?
Can you accept that you are both the landscape and its beholder?
How often do you allow yourself to understand that you exist ‘only through yourself and for yourself?’