WGS Lecture Series: Elizabeth Richardson Viti Discusses Simone de Beauvoir
By Kaley Michael, Staff Writer
Emerita French Professor Elizabeth Richardson Viti, a retiree in 2015, graced Gettysburg with a presentation on Simone de Beauvoir for this week’s Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies series. A professor for thirty-one years at Gettysburg, Viti served as the Coordinator of Women’s studies from the fall of 2005 until the spring of 2009, Director of the Johnson Center for Creative Teaching, and received the Edwin T. Johnson and Cynthia Shearer Johnson Distinguished Teaching scholarship, and as a College Marshall.
Professor Viti spoke on French feminist Simone de Beauvoir, an inspiration for the second wave of the women’s movement and author of The Second Sex (1949), which eventually led her to win a Prix Goncourt. Born in 1908, the French activist, author, memoirist and teacher who led a very different life from her conservative family until her death in 1986. With a family complacent in their Catholic faith, Simone found herself straying from the strict religion that inundated her life. She vowed at fourteen to never marry nor have a child. De Beauvoir consistently left her house to read novels by authors she was prohibited from reading and defied gender roles as a young teen.
De Beauvoir studied philosophy with Existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre, and with him began a sexual and intellectual relationship. They spoke about choosing one’s own choices in order to make one’s identity and decided that identity is defined by the choices you make in life. They had a very open relationship and would converse openly about their other romantic entanglements, sometimes investing in a third person to enhance their relationship. At one point, Sartre proposed to Simone, yet she declined, knowing that he was only asking because he felt an obligation. Eventually, Jean-Paul adopted a young woman because he wanted someone to inherit the rights to his publication. Beauvoir died almost six years to the day after Sartre.
Simone De Beauvoir published the Second Sex in 1949, three years after French women finally gained the right to vote. The book was excerpted in France in a magazine, which sold very well in Paris and other French bookstores. However, when released in 2011, the English translation that was released in the United States was reviewed very negatively.
From the title of the book, Professor Viti was able to deduce that ‘Le Deuxiéme Sexe’ uses a word that is used when there are more than two options: ‘Deuxiéme’ instead of ‘seconde’. Leaving the options open showed that the author thought gender to be a more complicated term. Simone de Beauvoir is famous from her quote in The Second Sex, “When isn’t born a woman, one becomes one.”
The conversation closed with a discussion about gender roles today and how women are consistently subjugated, despite efforts to improve gender inequality around the world.