March 14, 2022

Books and Women’s History Month

Many years ago a friend gave me a tote bag with the slogan ‘Women Who Behave Rarely Make History’. I loved this and to this day proudly carry the tote bag with the slogan side visible to all. It also led me to investigate where the slogan came from and discovered that it had been incorrectly copied from the title of an academic paper, since turned into a book called ‘Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History’. The author, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, defines how this slogan has been interpreted and her thoughts on what a ‘well-behaved’ woman is. The truth is, although not being well-behaved might bring notoriety, it’s no guarantee of marking one’s place in the world. 

I consider myself to be a well-read and well-informed feminist, so when I picked up the book ‘Daily Rituals, Women at Work’ by Mason Currey,  I expected to be familiar with most of the women featured. To my great surprise, I discovered that I had heard of less than half! What a humbling experience that was, and what great insight the book gave into how many women, who had never had–as Virgina Woolf so aptly defined in ‘A Room of One’s Own’–their own space, managed to go on and be successful and celebrated in their fields of endeavor. (And it seems that some were well behaved.)

For this month of March, officially celebrated as Women’s History Month, I decided to finally pick up a book that has been sitting on my shelf unread, I am ashamed to say, for too many years. I bought the new translation of Simone de Beauvoir’s ‘The Second Sex’ after reading the following in the New York Times:

In her splendid introduction to this new edition, Judith Thurman notes that Blanche Knopf, wife of Beauvoir’s American publisher, heard about the book on a scouting trip to France and was under the impression that it was a highbrow sex manual. Knopf asked for a reader’s report from a retired zoologist, Howard M. Parshley, who was then commissioned to do the translation. Knopf’s husband urged Parshley to condense it significantly, noting that Beauvoir seemed to suffer from “verbal diarrhea.” Parshley complied, providing the necessary Imodium by cutting 15 percent of the original 972 pages. And so it was this truncated text, translated by a scientist with a college undergraduate’s knowledge of French, that ushered two generations of women into the universe of feminist thought, inspiring pivotal later books like Betty Friedan’s “Feminine Mystique” and Kate Millett’s “Sexual Politics.”

Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier’s new translation of “The Second Sex” is the first English-language edition in almost 60 years, and the first to restore the material Parshley excised. In this passionate, awesomely erudite work, Beauvoir examines the reasons women have been forced to accept a place in society secondary to that of men, despite the fact that women constitute half the human race.’

I could not have been more surprised or pleased to learn that Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallie are active members of the Women’s Global Caucus book club and often lead the fascinating discussions that take place there. I will soon be able to proudly say that I have read ‘The Second Sex’ in the best English-language translation available. 

In conclusion, whether or not you are well-behaved, the Spain Women’s Caucus is looking for volunteers to help build community and outreach. If you are interested in getting involved in any capacity, get in touch by email at [email protected] or fill out the Volunteer Interest Form

Or if you just want to drop a line and tell me about your favorite feminst book, I’d love to hear from you. 

All the best,