Les Mandarins, Simone de Beauvoirs novel about post-war France,
changed Yolanda Pattersons life when she was a student. After
that, I read everything that she had ever written that I could get my
Patterson teaches French and womens studies at California State
University, Hayward. She is president of the International Simone de Beauvoir
Society, and wrote a book called Simone de Beauvoir and the Demystification
of Motherhood. She talked about the impact the French feminist has
had on her life in a lecture at Concordias Simone de Beauvoir Institute
on October 16.
In 1965, when the feminist movement swept across North America, Patterson
designed a full course on Simone de Beauvoir at her university.
I got some raised eyebrows from my colleagues if I had proposed
to teach a class on Sartre, Camus and Beauvoir, it would have been fine.
Pattersons course on Beauvoir is still offered, and still popular.
Simone de Beauvoir was a novelist and advocate of existentialism, and
the companion of philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. With time, and her growing
popularity in North America, she would earn the title of feminist, largely
through the success of her non-fiction book The Second Sex. Her
contention that women are made, not born made her a heroine
of the feminist movement.
At the suggestion of a friend, Patterson wrote Beauvoir a letter, asking
to see her. To her surprise, Beauvoir wrote her back, and gave her home
phone number. They met at her Paris apartment, on the rue de Rennes. I
pictured her being taller, Patterson remembered. She was most
gracious . . . a fast talker. She gave me one hour of her time and thanked
me for being interested in her work.
They kept in touch. When Patterson had to get a breast biopsy done years
later, Beauvoir called to ask how it had turned out. When Beauvoir died
on April 21, 1986, Patterson went to Paris for the funeral.
Patterson explained Beauvoirs enormous continuing popularity in
North America. In France, culture belongs to men, and she was interfering
in a male domain. In North America, men were outside pioneering, and so
the women were inside, doing the writing. In France, they are still struggling.