This inspiring feminist manifesto by Simone de Beauvoir has been translated from French. In a new edition, the English version is unabridged and a forceful study of the inequality of women and what it means to be a woman in the Western world. Written in 1949, it is still as relevant in the twenty-first century as it was when first written. Let’s find out more in our The Second Sex Book Review.
What is the Theme of The Second Sex?
The Second Sex gives insight to how women became subjugated from the beginning of time and that was the legacy passed on from one generation of women to another.
De Beauvoir writes about the effects on women of living in a male dominated world. It is a type of textbook for women to reflect on the scientific, philosophical and psychoanalytical facts that have influenced her behaviors and choices.
She blames are defective view of who we are as women on our acceptance on what we have been taught and observed in the behaviors of women before us. Men told them that they were to be submissive and accept their dependence on superior males and they listened and obeyed.
Resist Male Domination
The Second Sex highlights the fact that women have seemingly achieved equality in many aspects of life, but the ethos of male domination prevails even today. De Beauvoir claims that women should question and persist in demanding that they make their own decisions and repudiate any indoctrination by men or other women who have buckled under pressure.
The Second Sex also reminds us how fortunate we are in the present day thanks to the sacrifices made by previous generations of women who fought for our freedom. It also challenges us to fight for those women who are still subjected to atrocious abuse, dogmatic dictatorships in many countries of the world.
This Book is About Equality for All
Being scorned as militant feminists should not deter women from fighting for equality for all women. Men should also be encouraged to join their voices to the call because it is the right thing to do. And this fight is not just for equality for women. It is about naming and shaming any examples of inequality and abuse in the world. For example how we treat anyone who is different from us, whether it be their color, race, beliefs or gender. Anyone who is relegated to a position of worthlessness by those who wield the power.
Women as Second-Class Citizens
The world that Simone de Beauvoir describes in the 1940s saw women as objects. Married French women were the property of their husbands and they had no choice about using birth control or abortion. You would be hard-pressed to find a woman in the world who had embraced a leadership role.
Since then, the choices that women can make about their careers, motherhood and ways of living have changed considerably, but there is still a hangover from the old ways. Misogyny and sexual abuse is considered a right of the male and even humorous to some. Beauvoir wrote that “the problem of woman has always been a problem of men”.
Who Was Simone De Beauvoir?
Simone de Beauvoir was born into an affluent Catholic family in Paris in 1908. Simone and her sister, Helene, had no dowries due to her father’s lost fortunes during the war. This meant that they had little chance of finding wealthy husbands. Simone was intelligent and had ambitions to be a writer.
She decided that she would forego motherhood in favor of a career as an author. Under the influence of her cousin, Jacques, she took to the wild side of life and enjoyed alcohol and the company of reprobates. She had no interest in getting married because she had witnessed what a wife could anticipate from the state of holy matrimony and it held no appeal for her.
She had always had a voracious appetite for reading and a curiosity about the world. In 1929 she met Jean-Paul Sartre, the only man who she ever considered to be superior to her. They formed a mythical partnership that was equal but not exclusive. While they acknowledged that there was a strong bond between them, this did not prevent them from sharing lovers.
This leads to an ironic situation where Beauvoir enjoyed free love with no regard for those who were hurt in the process. She later recognized that this way of conducting relationships was unfair to others. She opposed domination by men but accepted Sartre’s condescending comment that she had “A man’s intelligence”. She wrote that “humanity is male, and man defines woman, not in herself, but in relation to himself”.
The Second Sex – a Feminist Bible
The Second Sex book, proclaimed as a “feminist bible” because it was unique and written using a similar structure to the Bible.
The first translation of the Second Sex was tailored to the American culture, but the new translation is an uncut version that better reflects Beauvoir’s personality as a writer and her philosophy. The Second Sex is a hefty historical tome detailing the history of the objectifying of women.
Her travels to America and her various lovers influenced her motivation to write a book about women. She also became aware of racism for the first time and reflected on the anti-Semitism she had witnessed during the war. She concluded that Jews, Blacks and women were portrayed as worthless and deserving of subjugation. She blames male prejudices for the creation of the values that people now hold and encouraged women to question the belief that women are intrinsically inferior to men and challenged them to be free thinkers.