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The Second Sex by S. de Beauvoir Review Essay

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Updated: Sep 15th, 2021

Introduction

In the essay, Beauvoir sews and describes women as a second sex in contrast to men who contain high position both biologically and socially. Beauvoir examines the role of women in society and her functions as a social member, analyzes her duties and importance for community. Beauvoir underlines that man is the sex whose characteristic attributes are strength and energy and who developed first, but rather than helping woman as a sex to develop.

Beauvoir’s attitude towards women in essays

Beauvoir regards women as human beings but women are always portrayed as the ‘other’ opposite to a man. “A man is in the right in being a man; it is a woman who is in the wrong”i. The classical liberal point of view holds that the basic unit of society is the individual and that the only legitimate function of government is to protect individual liberty by protecting the rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. This was the tradition of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century liberalism, which was transplanted to the American colonies and the United States. Thus, women are historically regarded as “afflicted with a natural defectiveness”ii. Beauvoir sees a woman as ‘the Other’ in biological sense. He states women have “ovaries and the uterus; these peculiarities imprison her in her subjectivity“iii. Conservatives, too, often misunderstand the idea as implying an insistence that men and women be totally androgynous, or a denial that biological differences exist.

On the contrary, questioning sex-roles is the way to find out, through experience, what biological differences there may be. All that a sex-role revolution implies is that no one is required to take on a role he or she dislikes because it is supposed to be the masculine or the feminine thing to do. The Man does not have always to appear to be strong, reasonable, or courageous— sometimes he can feel weak, or emotional, or afraid. And the Woman does not have always to be caring, understanding, or gentle. Beauvoir portrays that throughout the history women were perceived as the Other in contrast to the men, the Self. During slavery and the Holocaust, women were seen as inhuman and scattered. Socially, women are weaker and less enthusiastic than men. “Women lack concrete means for organizing themselves into a unit which can stand face in face with a correlative unit”iv. Beauvoir states that historically women were in position similar to master and slave. “Master and slave are united by a reciprocal need, in this case economic”v. Women also depend upon men and economic issues. The main strength of Beauvoir arguments is that he accepts the position that low status of women is historically determined because of differences in gender roles.

The main weakness of Beauvoir’s position is inability to accept equality of women and social significance. Beauvoir sees women as means but pay no attention to such important functions as child rearing and even political activity. Following modern critics, experiences that came out of consciousness raising often reveal that the process strengthened marriage and romance. Following Kallen (2003) the strongest impact of contemporary women has been social, not politicalvi. Women have changed commonly accepted social expectations as well as the behavior and relationships of individuals. When it came upon the scene in the late sixties, it was an idea whose time had come. What does the concept of “an idea whose time has come” really mean? It means that an ideal of behavior becomes widespread at a time when social and economic conditions allow behaving that way. The idea that woman’s fulfillment does not come from motherhood or marriage but from her individual actions, goals, and purposes could not change society until it was articulated in an economic and political context in which such actions, goals, and purposes were possiblevii.

Only a small fraction of privileged women could manage to educate themselves, and only a smaller fraction could find a congenial circle of like thinkers willing to talk to them. Following Moi, women wanted to have it all to be sexually and professionally liberated. They married for love; they divorced more easily than they had ever done before. Some were lesbians, and it was acknowledged privately that lesbians existed, although they were hardly out of the closet. Instead of being women in the Woman Movement, the feminists encouraged everyone to call them “girls,” because they thought of themselves as eternally youngviii. Moi also discovers that if “society” has certain false attitudes and norms about what women want and what abilities they have, women themselves have internalized these same attitudes. Many of the women have never discussed sex with their husbands until after they talked about it in the group. Consciousness raising for women doesn’t seem to be very big in the world todayix.

Conclusion

Women can be sees as ‘the Other’ but it does not mean that she obtains lower position than men. Perhaps one reason is that as women moved into the Superwoman mode, trying to combine demanding jobs with family concerns, they didn’t have as much time as they did in the seventies. Perhaps it’s that feminism is no longer new, and women think they have nothing to learn from each other in this way. It is in some ways an expression of success, but in others, it’s a loss. Consciousness raising formed a connection between many women that will never be broken.

Endnotes

  1. Beauvoir, S. The Second Sex. (Vintage, London 1997), 15.
  2. Ibid., 16.
  3. Ibid., 16.
  4. Ibid., 19.
  5. Ibid., 19.
  6. Kallen, S. Women of the 1960s. (Lucent Books, 2003), 23.
  7. Moi, T. Existentialism and Feminism. Sexual Differences, 92..
  8. Ferree, M.M., Hess, B.B. Controversy and Coalition: The New Feminist Movement Across Four Decades of Change. (Routledge, 2000), 45.
  9. Boxer, M., Quataert, J. eds. European Socialist Feminism in the 19th and 20th Century, (Vintage 1978), 82..

Bibliography

Beauvoir, S. The Second Sex. Vintage, London 1997.

Boxer, M., Quataert, J. eds. European Socialist Feminism in the 19th and 20th Century, 1978.

Ferree, M.M., Hess, B.B. Controversy and Coalition: The New Feminist Movement Across Four Decades of Change. Routledge, 2000.

Kallen, S. Women of the 1960s. Lucent Books, 2003.

Moi, T. Existentialism and Feminism. Sexual Differences, pp. 88-96.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "The Second Sex by S. de Beauvoir Review." September 15, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-second-sex-by-s-de-beauvoir-review/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'The Second Sex by S. de Beauvoir Review'. 15 September.

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