An Auto-Ethnographic Study by Shari Read PhD
Simone de Beauvoir was a French philosopher and author of the famous feminist philosophical text The Second Sex (1949). Her contribution to feminist thinking and philosophy goes far beyond what most would recognize, and her approach to radical freedom is beyond what most are personally capable of.
What is perhaps the most famous line of Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, “On ne naît pas femme: on le devient” (1949, 13), translated in 1953 as “One is not born but becomes a woman” (1953, 267) and in 2010 as “One is not born but becomes woman”, helps us to understand that women do not grow in our society in their natural state. Rather, we are taught how to be ‘good girls’ and ‘young ladies’ and ‘respectable women’ and those of us who do not learn properly, how to ‘become a woman’, suffer the consequences of a life on the sidelines of society. Wild women, those of us who have avoided or shunned, and disrobed from the heavy cloak of social expectations, have very few places within bureaucratized society for our authentic voice to be heard. In much the same way, others who seek to be validated by ‘inclusive’ social policy continue to be restricted by the assumptions underlying their fundamental categorization as ‘other’.
It remains a debated issue as to whether or not Beauvoir understood herself to be inaugurating this distinction, however, what is not a matter of dispute is that The Second Sex gave us the vocabulary and methodology for analyzing the social constructions of femininity and the intersectionality of sex, race and gender identity. By not accepting the common sense idea that to be born with female genitalia of a certain design is to be born a woman, this most famous line of The Second Sex pursues the first rule of phenomenology: identify your assumptions, treat them as prejudices and put them aside; do not bring them back into play until and unless they have been validated by experience. This project seeks to explore the assumptions of how we experience the ‘female’ form through an auto-ethnographic lens. Through the medium of self-portrait, the ‘selfie’, Dr Shari Read reflects on her journey as a woman in modern society, her struggle with the norms and expectations of women’s roles, her explosive breakthrough, and her journey to rebuild and re-imagine her self as a ‘woman’ in the world, at this moment in time.
Taken within the context of its contemporary cultural and historical scene, this project is both an auto-ethnographic commentary and a phenomenological analysis of one woman’s journey of spiritual liberation. This project seeks to explore and uncover the lived body’s experience of learning to let go of of conditioned beliefs about the self and the process of coming into radical self-acceptance and self-love. For Shari, discovering nudism/naturism provided the means for a spiritual and phenomenological breakthrough, and self-portraits became a liberatory tool: by bringing awareness to the ways that patriarchal structures are used to maintain the sexual distinctions and deprive women of their complete bodies, vulva and labia included. Beauvoir made the case that this deprivation is oppressive, and in re-contextualizing and taking ownership of the images and their composition, Shari seeks to highlight the ongoing weight of this oppression, more than 70 years on. In an effort to continue Beauvoir’s consciousness-raising critique and validation of women’s experiences of injustice, Dr Read offers an analysis of the lived body, and an ethical and political demonstration of the ways that patriarchy has alienated women from their embodied experience. An appeal that calls on women of all walks, once again, to take up the politics of liberation and sovereignty.
Bergoffen, Debra and Megan Burke, “Simone de Beauvoir”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2021 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), forthcoming
More on Shari’s academic and professional work in identity and transformation can be found at mettaworks.com.au
Introducing Simone B’Free
In the blog ‘And she flies…’ Dr Shari Read shares story, analysis and reflection as she explores the world through the eyes of Simone B’Free, radical social activist.
In setting the scene for this journey I will be sharing, I would like to introduce you to my alter-ego, my inner self expressed outwardly through the POV (point of view) that will shape the narrative of the blog ‘And she flies…’ – Simone B’Free.
Simone B’Free is the identity, the way of showing up, that manifests in me in exploring the radical freedom and authenticity as described by existential philosopher Simone de Beauvoir. This sense of self emerged after a couple of decades of inner work, several years of devastating soul searching and having emancipated myself from my own life, both through my own selfish actions and in service of others; it was then that I stumbled upon nudism/naturism, and something new was born in me.
I’d had a similar experience about a decade earlier in an immersive Buddhist setting, my guides at the time very reassuring in helping me understand the experience as a spiritual emergence/y…so this time, as I sobbed on my knees, naked on my bedroom floor, although I was alone and wishing I had some of those old friends around me, I knew what was happening and I knew I could reach out to any of them for support.
Simone’s story is part of a bigger project that will help bring attention to the leadership crisis we are currently facing in Australia and around the world and how we need to focus on developing, not current leaders, but a new cohort that will usher in a new leadership paradigm. Leadership is identity work , if you don’t know who you are and what you stand for, if you aren’t considered representative of the collective identity of people who you think you lead, you’re not leading, you’re just pushing paper and people around.
My lenses for this perspective and my analysis through this narrative are influenced by the work of Simone de Beauvoir, but also Carl Jung, Viktor Frankl, Thich Nhat Hahn, Maya Angelou, and many others who I will identify and refer to as I go. I will share direct experience and also my reflections on the process as I integrate my thoughts and analysis with my felt experience of the explorations and undertakings. This will be live, self-narrated identity work, undertaken through the exploration of one woman’s experience of the world at this point in time.
For my fellow geeks and curious creatures, I will be using auto-ethnographic theory (as described above), and frameworks to guide the process of shaping a narrative that will help me unpack and learn from my experience of radical freedom and authenticity in the midst of a global pandemic, as we come to the peak of the climate revolution.
The application of this work will be through social activism…Simone B’Free is a radical social activist who believes in breaking free of the system in order to radically transform the way we live and reduce the suffering of people and planet.
Her message is simple, shed yourself of old norms and expectations to live a sustainable and authentic life.
Simone expresses herself through both images and words, in photos, articles, blogs, and podcasts. She works with individuals and groups, who through play and creative expression, reflection and contemplation, undertake the inner-work required to develop a maturity of both consciousness and conscience, that will enable you to lead others as we transition to a new paradigm.
In an attempt to play the part of narrator, I (Dr Shari Read) will work to develop Simone’s character for you and introduce you to more of who she is and how she became this way as the story unfolds.