What’s better than telling someone they need to educate themselves? It is the equivalent of people telling you to buy their book, watch their movie, follow their group. If people ask you to reach a certain conclusion, they want to influence you. Else they’d say “study physics and you’ll reach this conclusion”, because you know that’s a conclusion people will reach because it has been vetted again and again.
It’s the difference between “here’s a bunch of books to read” and “you need to learn these conclusions or do these things”. The former keeps you free to disagree and to conclude what you want, the later asks you to perform whichever work is needed to reach a certain conclusion. It doesn’t remove errors, frailties, doubts, human limitations: we can not avoid it, unless we dip into totalitarian territory.
However, reaching that conclusion leaves us completely with a void and lots of questions. I used to read blogs, forums, comment sections, here all the famous concerned people tell me the truth as it stems from their inner experience. But if a 20 years-old with an internet pseudonym can know more about life everywhere, all the time, than me, how much am I worth? Not a lot, really not a lot.
So I went for the one source that women trust: the second sex by Simone de Beauvoir, and it was eye-opening. Some paragraphs described event by event what I had live, what I had thought (it helps that I come from French-speaking Switzerland and live in a similar culture to de Beauvoir). I put it down, thinking that maybe I had some worth after all, maybe I could both trust myself and put myself into question, reach for this “transcendance” that we should forget about because it is an outdated man’s idea, according to wise internet writers.
I digress: women have consistently thought about their situation, they have consistently worked in team with other women… And they have written books, alone at their table, to put into their own personal and free words what they thought. We dismiss them today: we should listen to these “voices” instead of cold paper from outdated women, we shouldn’t play the game of weighing a paper argument against someone’s live opinion. Beside, an old book doesn’t make money, an internet persona does.
So I started reading. First I read the “must-read” book proposed by the internet, and found their quality abysmal. I moved to the unknown, left-out selection of memoirs written by feminists, and to books which had an impact when they went out. I was stunned by the quality I found, the novelty, the self-reflection. Sure there’s some voodoo, some paranoia, some mean jabs (but which book doesn’t, really. And we never complain against a male author that he put an angry rant in his book. He is allowed to do that, not women).
I now want to promote these books, these ideas. If only to make you want to read them, at least to tell you: they exist, don’t believe those who tell you otherwise ! Don’t believe conclusions that conveniently make you listen/buy/follow the person telling you, without fact-checking.
Image: Nùria (detail)