Once he has established his definition of the absurd, Camus seeks to provide the reader with examples—which he says, categorically, are not models—of the “absurd man.” That is, he offers up figures who, in his opinion, take on the absurd and incorporate it into their lives, particularly with the aim of seeking out “more” (as opposed to “better”) experiences. But in this chapter, as with the rest of the book, there’s a notable absence of women and female perspectives. The reliance on more traditionally masculine modes of living as responses to the absurd may be suggestive of the biases of the time, but also arguably undermines what Camus sees as valid “revolts” against the specifically universal problem of the absurd. Camus unwittingly reinforces the idea that masculine viewpoints are neutral and universal viewpoints, and in doing so demonstrates their limitations.
Though the book does not claim masculinity as an intended theme within its pages, the almost complete absence of women is problematic for Camus’ attempts to develop an appropriate response to the absurd. The reliance on masculine stereotypes seems to ignore the experience of half of the human race. Thereby Camus’ suggested response to a problem he claims is universal makes that supposed universality less logically rigorous. While it’s important to consider that Camus published the essay in 1942 when gender roles were undoubtedly different from today, the book rarely mentions women at all. In his discussions of life and humanity, Camus always refers to “man” and “mankind”; while this tendency is quite standard for the time, it is also suggestive of the gendered responses to the absurd that Camus outlines in the book. Furthermore, the definition of the Sisyphean nature of man’s everyday existence—which Camus outlines as “Rising, streetcar, four hours in the office or the factory, meal, streetcar, four hours of work, meal, sleep”—is distinctly male. A more thorough account of the question of life’s meaning, or lack of, would have to incorporate the types of unseen labor that have tended to be the lot of womankind over the previous centuries: child-rearing, domestic work and so on. Camus’ book, then, has a glaring flaw from the off—an unconscious dismissal of the experiences of roughly half of the world’s population.
Masculine stereotypes are foregrounded most strongly in the “The Absurd Man” chapter of the book. Here, having developed his notion of the absurd in the preceding chapters, Camus aims to give his reader some examples of lives that have been lived with “courage and reasoning” in the face of meaninglessness—all of which are about men. The first of these is Don Juan, a legendary libertine and seducer from the world of fiction (first mentioned in The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest around 1630). In all versions of the Don Juan story, his powers of seduction are second to none, and he takes great pride in these abilities. Camus praises the character, arguing that he expresses the idea that, in the face of the absurd, an individual should strive for “more” living rather than “better” (because the idea of value is undermined by the meaninglessness of life). In Don Juan, more living equates to more women. His way of loving is described by Camus in terms of conquest and wealth: “But it is indeed because he loves them with the same passion and each time with his whole self that he must repeat his gift and his profound quest.” In this formula, then, women are something to be satisfied and conquered in as great a quantity as possible. This apparent division between the genders suggests that men and women’s lives are lived on different planes of existence. Arguably, this undermines the thesis that absurdism is the ubiquitous reality that ties all of humankind together—this answer to absurdism is particularly male. The reader can’t know whether this strategy of living “more” is open to women or not because they are marginalized by its very set-up. The reader, then, might wonder whether Camus’ example here perhaps represents more of an unconscious bias: as he was a notorious seducer, perhaps his admiration of Don Juan is rooted more in his own womanizing than the rigorous application of the logic of the absurd.
The reader will also notice that Camus’ other examples of the absurd individual seem unquestionably weighted towards masculinity (or the clichés of what it is to be masculine). Camus sees these—as with Don Juanism—as embodying his principles of revolt, freedom, and passion in relation to everyday life. Camus praises the conqueror-figure, whom he believes lives to have an impact on history rather than deferring living for a future that never arrives. The conqueror, of course, represents stereotypically masculine traits of aggression and violence. Sisyphus, too, is linked to ideas of masculine strength. He bears the burden of his rock with muscular physicality and elicits sympathy from the gods when he insists he needs to chastise his wife. In the quiet way that he bears his burden, Sisyphus chimes with the idea that men should not talk about their predicaments as opposed to seeing the ability to acknowledge weakness as a kind of strength. Camus, then, only uses predominantly male examples throughout his book. The reader might take these figures as representative of women too, but their specific, stereotypically masculine character makes it difficult to do so. Women only appear as passive participants in the lives of men—leaving the reader to wonder how the absurd relates specifically to their lives too.
Masculinity Quotes in The Myth of Sisyphus
It happens that the stage sets collapse. Rising, street-car, four hours in the office or the factory, meal, street-car, four hours of work, meal, sleep, and Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday and Saturday according to the same rhythm—this path is easily followed most of the time. But one day the "why" arises and everything begins in that weariness tinged with amazement.
But at the same time the absurd man realizes that hitherto he was bound to that postulate of freedom on the illusion of which he was living. In a certain sense, that hampered him. To the extent to which he imagined a purpose to his life, he adapted himself to the demands of a purpose to be achieved and became the slave of his liberty. Thus I could not act otherwise than as the father (or the engineer or the leader of a nation, or the post-office sub-clerk) that I am preparing to be. I think I can choose to be that rather than something else. I think so unconsciously, to be sure. But at the same time I strengthen my postulate with the beliefs of those around me, with the presumptions of my human environment (others are so sure of being free, and that cheerful mood is so contagious!). However far one may remain from any presumption, moral or social, one is partly influenced by them and even, for the best among them (there are good and bad presumptions), one adapts one' s life to them. Thus the absurd man realizes that he was not really free.
If it were sufficient to love, things would be too easy. The more one loves, the stronger the absurd grows. It is not through lack of love that Don Juan goes from woman to woman. It is ridiculous to represent him as a mystic in quest of total love. But it is indeed because he loves them with the same passion and each time with his whole self that he must repeat his gift and his profound quest. Whence each woman hopes to give him what no one has ever given him. Each time they are utterly wrong and merely manage to make him feel the need of that repetition. “At last,” exclaims one of them, “I have given you love.” Can we be surprised that Don Juan laughs at this? “At last? No,” he says, “but once more.” Why should it be essential to love rarely in order to love much?
“There is but one luxury for them—that of human relations. How can one fail to realize that in this vulnerable universe everything that is human and solely human assumes a more vivid meaning? Taut faces, threatened fraternity, such strong and chaste friendship among men—these are the true riches because they are transitory.”
Let me repeat that these images do not propose moral codes and involve no judgments: they are sketches. They merely represent a style of life. The lover, the actor, or the adventurer plays the absurd. But equally well, if he wishes, the chaste man, the civil servant, or the president of the Republic. It is enough to know and to mask nothing.