Jean-Paul Sartre, one of the 20th century’s great thinkers, might be as famous for his love life as he is for being an existentialist philosopher and prolific author. The man who famously said “Hell is other people” had a lifelong polyamorous relationship with Simone de Beauvoir. And at age 60, in a 1965 interview with Playboy Magazine, Sartre shares his thoughts on women.
Sartre prefers the company of women to men because they are attractive and pleasing to look at. And Sartre says women plain old make better company than men, who bore him with their shop talk.
Here are some excerpts from that interview:
Playboy Magazine: You speak, obviously from experience, about emotional involvement with women; yet you seldom write about it in your books. Why?
Jean-Paul Sartre: I simply have other things to write about. That doesn’t mean I don’t have, and haven’t had, my share of emotional involvements; as a matter of fact, women play a rather large role in my life—but a small one in my books.
Playboy: Aren’t you being modest? We’re told in public you’re almost constantly surrounded by admiring and attractive women.
Jean-Paul Sartre: It’s true that I have always tried to surround myself with women who are at least agreeable to look at. Feminine ugliness is offensive to me. I admit this and I’m ashamed of it. But the reason is simple. Even at its most formal level, even when there’s complete indifference, the association of a man with a woman always has sexual implications. An ugly woman evokes, like all women, that special pleasure we get from being in a woman’s company, but she spoils it by her ugliness. Alas. When you have the man-woman relation interfered with by ugliness—provoked and denied, well, it’s a very awkward business.
But the main reason I surround myself with women is simply that I prefer their company to that of men. As a rule I find men boring. They have specialized sensibilities and they talk shop. But there are qualities in woman that derive from the female predicament, from the fact that she is both a slave and an accomplice. That’s why her sensibility ranges so much wider than a man’s. She is available. For instance, one cannot sit in a cafe and talk with a man about the people passing by. He gets bored with this and goes back to his professional worries, or else to intellectual gymnastics. But intellectual gymnastics are something I can quite adequately indulge in all by myself. In fact, it’s more rewarding to wrestle with one’s words and problems alone. Discussions with men never much entertain me; the conversation always sinks. But from a woman you get the sensibility of a different being, an intelligence perhaps superior to a man’s, and not hampered by the same preoccupations.