Friday Feminist – Simone de Beauvoir

Few tasks are more like the torture of Sisyphus than housework, with its endless repetition: the clean becomes soiled, the soiled is made clean, over and over, day after day. The housewife wears herself out marking time: she makes nothing, simply perpetuates the present. She never senses conquest of a positive Good, but rather indefinite struggle against negative Evil. … Eating, sleeping, cleaning – the years no longer rise up toward heaven, they lie spread out ahead, gray and identical. The battle against dust and dirt is never won.Washing, ironing, sweeping, ferreting out rolls of lint from under wardrobes – all this halting of decay is also the denial of life; for time simultaneously creates and destroys, and only its negative aspect concerns the housekeeper. Hers is the position of the Manichaeist, regarded philosophically. The essence of Manichaeism is not solely to recognize two principles, the one good, the other evil; it is also to hold that the good is attained through the abolition of evil and not by positive action. In this sense Christianity is hardly Manichaaeist in spite of the existence of the devil, for one fights the demon best by devoting oneself to God and not by endeavouring to conquer the evil one directly. Any doctrine of transcendence and liberty subordinates the defeat of evil to progress toward the good. But woman is not called upon to build a better world: her domain is fixed and she has only to keep up the never ending struggle against the evil principles that creep into it; in her war against dust, stains, mud, and dirt she is fighting sin, wrestling with Satan.

Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, 1949, trans. H. M. Parshley


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