Simone de Beauvoir opens her book The Second Sex with the confession of her hesitations before starting writing. She believes many people and women in particular consider this issue irritating and not new. Despite many arguments on the feminism, the core of the problem if difficult to identify. Simone de Beauvoir cites Dorothy Parker who believes that both, men and women, should be treated as human beings. The issue of women’s desire to be equal with men in all spheres and accent on masculinity as the reason for respect is considered strange by Simone de Beauvoir. She concludes that American women are annoyed with their femininity which influences their behavior.
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The Second Sex
The author interrogates, what is a woman? And she explains that she readily defines herself as a woman. This fact contributes to the differences between men and women because male individuals rarely pose themselves as individuals of a certain gender. Moreover, Simone de Beauvoir believes that the relationships between men and women should not be treated as opposite electrical poles. Also, the author is irritated by the wide-spread practice to explain some actions or sayings with belonging to a certain gender.
In such cases, women are considered to be defective creatures unable to take part in the discussion or express sound ideas. Since the times of Aristotle, a woman is thought to lack some qualities necessary for human beings, and this idea results in gender discrimination. This defectiveness is supported by the Genesis story that presents Eve as if made from Adam’s bone.
Simone de Beauvoir comments on the treatment of a man as the Subject and the Absolute while a woman is called the Other presented by Monsieur Benda. She states that such duality is characteristic of ancient myths and is not always related to the gender issue. For example, such duality is found in couples such as Sun – Moon, Day – Night, Good – Evil. However, these couples do not contain any feminine or masculine elements.
Traditionally, the introduction of one issue presupposes the existence of the Other, but it does not mean that one is superior. Simone de Beauvoir gives examples of setting up than others, such as village dwellers opposing themselves to those living in cities, citizens of a country can oppose themselves to foreigners, and so on. Thus, in society, it is common to oppose One to the Other as something inessential or as an object. The author claims that such relations are characterized by reciprocity.
Simone de Beauvoir states that the issue of domination arises early or later in most of the relations. It means that the majority imposes some ideas on or prevail over the minority. It is frequently characteristic of national minorities such as African Americans of Jews. However, women are not the minority since the number of men and women on Earth is almost the same. The minorities forming a separate group were traditionally oppressed in the past.
Still, women did not make such a group. There have always existed women as long as it is known, and their relations with men have always been subordinate. Nevertheless, this subordination is different because the division of genders is not of history but biological nature. The author concludes that a woman is the Other at the heart of the whole that has two crucial components that are undividable.
Simone de Beauvoir discusses the issue of reciprocity that could influence the relations of men and women. In some way, men are dependent on women because of biological needs such as sexual desire, but it does not provide social freedom to females. In their turn, slave and lord are linked by an economic need that does not set a slave free. Thus, despite evident reciprocity, women are still treated as vassals of men. Their inequality is seen in social and economic issues as well.
The author claims that traditionally, men have better positions and higher salaries. Also, they are more likely to succeed in politics, economy, or industry. Simone de Beauvoir mentions that the world is still in the possession of men the same as it was historically. It causes the situation that the denial of the Other position can mean the refusal of the protected position when men provide the living and take risks. Consequently, women prefer not to claim themselves as subjects and are often satisfied with their role as the Other.
The philosophers sometimes speak about “the eternal feminine” that is almost the same as “the black soul.” The author addresses the parallelism observed between women and blacks. There are many similarities between them such as the process of liberation and acquisition of equally human and social rights. Also, both categories are believed to need a master to keep them “in place.” This idea introduces the concept of a “true woman” who does not take responsibility, is infantile, and subject to man.
Finally, Simone de Beauvoir concludes that it is worth to discover the essence of women from biological, psychoanalytical, and historical materialist positions. She hopes to reveal the development of “feminine reality.” Also, the author aims to present the complications that women face on their way to new spheres of life.