Simone de Beauvoir
As a writer and philosopher, Simone de Beauvoir played a significant role in 20th century feminism, and continues to influence new generations of feminists.
Her importance as a philosopher has only recently been recognised, a result of her prolific writings of non-philosophical works (Les Mandarins for eg. which won the Prix Goncourt, France’s highest literary honour). At the time, many of her philosophical writings were read as echoes of sartre rather than explored for their own contributions because it was only “natural” to think of a woman as a disciple of her male companion. The second concerns the fact that she wrote about women. TheSecond Sex would not be counted as philosophy because it dealt with sex, hardly a burning philosophical issue according to her contemporaries.
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She studied mathematics at the Institut Catholique and literature/languages at the Institut Sainte-Marie, then philosophy at the Sorbonne. In 1929, while at the Sorbonne, Beauvoir gave a presentation on Leibniz. Soon after she became involved in what was a lifelong relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre. In 1929, at the age of 21, Beauvoir became the youngest person ever to obtain the agrégation in philosophy, and the 9th woman to obtain this degree. On the final examination she received second place; Sartre, age 24, was first.
Le Deuxième Sexe (1949)
“On ne nait pas femme: on le devient. Aucun destin biologique, psychique, economique ne definit la figure que revet au sein de la société la femelle humaine; c’est l’ensemble de la civilisation qui élabore ce produit intermédiaire entre le mâle et le castrat qu’on qualifie de féminin.” Simone de Beauvoir in “le deuxième sexe”
In Le Deuxième Sexe (The Second Sex), de Beauvoir traced the development of male oppression through historical, literary, and mythical sources, attributing its contemporary effects on women to a systematic objectification of the male as a positive norm. This consequently identifies the female as Other, which commonly leads to a loss of social and personal identity, the variety of alienation unique to the experience of women.
In the chapter “Woman: Myth and Reality”, Beauvoir argued that men made women the “Other” in the society by putting a false aura of “mystery” around them. Men used this “mystery” as an excuse for not understanding women, or their problems, so that they would not have to help them. Thus, men stereotyped women and used it as an excuse to organize society into a patriarchy. It is the social construction of Woman as the quintessential Other that Beauvoir identifies as fundamental to women’s oppression.
Beauvoir argued that women have been considered deviant, abnormal, throughout History. Even famous women have considered men to be the ideal toward which women should aspire. According to Beauvoir, this attitude limited women’s success by maintaining the perception that they were a deviation from the normal, and were always outsiders attempting to emulate “normality”. She believed that for feminism to move forward, this assumption must be set aside.
Beauvoir believed that existence precedes essence, hence one is not born a woman, but becomes one. Thus, the main thesis of The Second Sex sets out a feminist existentialism, which prescribes a moral revolution.
Beauvoir asserted that women are as capable of choice as men, and thus can choose to elevate themselves, moving beyond the ‘immanence’ to which they were previously resigned and reaching ‘transcendence’, a position in which one takes responsibility for oneself and the world, where one chooses one’s freedom. Her works of fiction focus on women who take responsibility for themselves by making life-altering decisions, and the many volumes of her own autobiography exhibit the application of similar principles in reflection on her own experiences.
Role in 20th Century Feminism
de Beauvoir is considered the mother of post-1968 feminism. Le Deuxième Sex is said to have influenced Germaine Greer‘s The Female Eunuch. n the 1970s Beauvoir became active in France’s women’s liberation movement. She signed the Manifesto of the 343 in 1971, a list of famous women who claimed, mostly falsely, to have had an Abortion, then illegal in France. Beauvoir had not actually had an abortion.
- She Came to Stay, (1943)
- Pyrrhus et Cinéas, (1944)
- The Blood of Others, (1945)
- Who Shall Die?, (1945)
- All Men are Mortal, (1946)
- The Ethics of Ambiguity, (1947)
- The Second Sex, (1949)
- America Day by Day, (1954)
- The Mandarins, (1954)
- Must We Burn Sade?, (1955)
- The Long March, (1957)
- Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, (1958)
- The Prime of Life, (1960)
- Force of Circumstance, (1963)
- A Very Easy Death, (1964)
- Les Belles Images, (1966)
- The Woman Destroyed, (1967)
- The Coming of Age, (1970)
- All Said and Done, (1972)
- When Things of the Spirit Come First, (1979)
- Adieux: A Farewell to Sartre, (1981)
- Letters to Sartre, (1990)
- A Transatlantic Love Affair: Letters to Nelson Algren, (1998)
- Movie “Les Amants du Flore”, 2006, directed by Ilan Duran Cohen (France)
- http://simonedebeauvoir.free.fr/fr_accueil.php Web of The International Simone de Beauvoir Society
- Autour de Simone de Beauvoir Suzanne Roy’s Web page
- Simone de Beauvoir documentary on line, 2007, FR, subtitles in Spanish