Thursday, February 4, 2021

Simone De Beauvoir's The Second Sex - summary

“ Woman is determined and differentiates herself in relation to man and not the latter in relation to her; it is the inessential in front of the essential. He is the subject, he is the Absolute: she is the Other  ”

According to contemporary philosophers, Simone De Beauvoir's The Second Sex is a revolutionary work, because she is the first feminist who manages to justify her positions by philosophical and historical theses. the second sex has a considerable influence on the generations of women who have succeeded it. De Beauvoir defends the following thesis: male / female inequality is historically and ideologically constructed. Women must take back possession of their destiny, not as a woman, but as a man like the others. Thus, the woman should no longer be "woman", in other words the lower sex, the Other, but a man.

Published in two volumes in 1949, this work immediately found both an enthusiastic audience and very harsh critics. The Second Sex has been so controversial that the Vatican listed it as one of their banned novels.

Furthermore, Simone de Beauvoir argues that human existence is an ambiguous game between transcendence and immanence, but men have had the privilege of expressing transcendence through projects, while women have been forced to repetitive and uncreative life of immanence. De Beauvoir therefore proposes to study how this radically unequal relationship emerged and how it is expressed.

Summary of Book 1 of the Second Sex:

The book is divided into two main approaches. The first book investigates the “Myths and Realities” relating to women generated by anthropological, biological, psychoanalytic, materialist, historical and literary points of view. In each of his analyzes, De Beauvoir rejects causal monism: none of them is sufficient to explain the oppression of woman by man, each participates in the construction of woman as Other of man. Thus, biological differences (pregnancy, breastfeeding, menstruation, etc.) contribute to the male / female difference but cannot justify the male / female hierarchy. Biology or history is always interpreted from a partial point of view, that of man.

De Beauvoir then analyzes the role of myths in the construction of this ideology of male domination, in particular the myth of “the eternal feminine”. This paradigmatic myth, which integrates multiple myths of women (such as the myth of the mother, the virgin, the motherland, nature, etc.) tries to trap the woman in an impossible ideal by denying the individuality and by refusing the singularity of women and their situations. This myth of the eternal feminine has created an ideal of woman, generating an expectation always disappointed. Real women are thus always seen as burdens, incompleteness.

See second part: summary of Book 2 of the Second Sex / Simone de Beauvoir

see our List of Great Feminist Theory Books