"If you wear it with a moody look on your face like you're thinking of Bolsheviks, they'll mistake you for Simone de Beauvoir." - Lorelai, Gilmore Girls, Season 7, Episode 14 ("Farwell My Pet")
I remember walking into my first graduate sociology theory course, picking up the syllabus, and looking at the book list. Included on that list were Simone de Beauvoir's "The Second Sex" and Judith Butler's "Gender Trouble," among many other similar titles. I definitely felt a bit nervous when I saw that list.
That course was hard ... like the kind that made me temporarily question my decision to go to graduate school. A book like de Beauvoir's "The Second Sex" is a complicated read and makes the reader think in ways I had never experienced before. Both de Beauvoir and Butler question gender. Butler explores what it means to be a woman, while further exploring the notions of femininity and masculinity; de Beauvoir questions, "One wonders if women still exist, if they will always exist, whether or not it is desirable that they should, what place they occupy in this world, what their place should be," while drawing from history and biology to explore what it means to be a woman.
Both books could easily be the subject of dissertations, so you can imagine my trepidation when I saw them both listed on the Gilmore Girls challenge. I didn't know how I could possibly cover all that these books entail. So, I've decided to take a different approach this week ... this is my experience reading Butler and de Beauvoir.
While I found these books thought provoking, challenging, exciting, and, at times, slow to read simply because I needed to go back and reread sections several times ... after finishing these books and the rest of that reading list, I realized that I learned to think. I didn't agree with everything in each book, and I learned that was okay. I learned that some books will challenge my thoughts, some will change my views, and other books like these will make me think in a whole new way.
During this time in graduate school, I had to lead a discussion on "The Second Sex." The book is so jam packed that in an hour and a half we had simply gotten through the first chapter. While that might seem unsuccessful, it was far from it. We talked, we disagreed, we supported our views, possibly changed how others in the room thought, and we learned.
While the course was one that at the time I considered the most challenging, as I look back I realize it was also one of the best. I would definitely recommend both of these books. Don't be scared of the big words or the amount of info on each page. Read, take what you can from it, think, question your thoughts on gender, agree with the books, disagree with the books, just give them a try.