Film Screening: Daughters of de Beauvoir

Bristol Festival of Ideas put on a screening of a prize-winning 1989 documentary.

Imogen Sutton’s film ‘Daughters of de Beauvoir’ links Simone de Beauvoir’s life with many women who were immensely influenced by her life and work. The film shows footage of de Beauvoir with Jean-Paul Sartre, alongside interviews with her sister Helene, writers such as Kate Millett and Marge Piercy, and other women specially chosen through a Guardian open-ad.

Never the mother, ‘Daughters of de Beauvoir’ specifically depicts the indirect ‘motherly’ influence Simone had over millions of women in the world. Another thread in the film is Simone de Beauvoir’s ‘becoming’ – her predominant idea in The Second Sex – of a woman, of an independent being, of a legend.

Undoubtedly, de Beauvoir’s historical influence – in philosophy, in activism, in writing – cannot be denied; what’s interesting to note is the major influence her life had over others, that is the choices she made, the principles she had, the standards, the way she lived her life, the independence she searched for, what and how she became.

This public screening, the first in 25 years, was followed by a panel discussion with Ann Oakley and Angie Pegg, who both contributed to the documentary, and Imogen Sutton herself, chaired by Harriett Gilbert. Many topics were touched upon in the discussion – from how the film was made, what does Simone de Beauvoir’s writing mean today, the relevance, to where we are today, and who will be the pioneer of The Second Sex postmodern.

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It was striking to witness many of the panellists encouraged by audience contributions to conclude that should Simone de Beauvoir be here today, she wouldn’t be as pleased with what she sees. Much has been achieved, and yet paradoxically, much has worsened, even if those layers are deeply sheltered by a superficial web of universal equality. Stern body image projections, the pressure on work/family balance imposed on women and the harsher work realities today are just a few examples of what still requires fighting for and changing for the better.

In this light, Simone de Beauvoir’s non-negotiable choice of not being a mother and pursuing the intellectual towards the realization of an ultimately independent life of individual freedom rings bells for women today.

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Whatever de Beauvoir’s liabilities were, her contributions were strong, and as writer Marge Piercy said in the film – Simone de Beauvoir provided the vocabulary for shared female understanding. Without the possibility of naming things, one is reduced to an internal, therefore isolated experience of feeling. And for this millions of women were and are to be grateful, and ‘Daughters of de Beauvoir’ is the successful portrayal of this achievement.

Feature photo: The Guardian