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(2) The Second Sex - Simone de Beauvoir

Hello, everyone. I am Polina from We Read to Share - We Learn to Share's new department. I brought the second part of the book review about Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex.

Please leave comments to share your thoughts about the book with me. Hope you enjoy!

Part 1 was the heftiest, it gets simpler from here. In Chapter 1 we continue with the idea that when one has the advantage it will oppress the other. She considers how exactly men might have gained the historical advantage. Beauvoir does not believe that male production is more valuable than female, both are important, it is because humanity always longs for more, not only survival that men came to dominate.

When humans make their distinction from animals clear, then they can find meaning, and women’s role was one of simple biology. One that animals too can perform, but men invented new things and always tried to possess the environment around them, and so they recognized how they were better than animals, and how they have potential. They didn’t view women as animals, they recognized her humanity, but since she had a simpler role, she faded into a secondary position for them, the main goal became discovery and risking one’s own life. Even though women contributed to life, she dismissed this important role as a cycle, while men went beyond repetition and took on new projects, and this based the foundations of society. What do I mean here by repetition, well humans simply lived, ate, enjoyed themselves, and eventually died. This is how it was, but by eventually breaking out of this (how exactly that happened is unknown) men broke the cycle probably with the discovery that they can hunt those big creatures with sharp things, and so when men made the leap, they made the rules, and they laid the foundation, and this is why it’s harder for women to make it.

In Chapter 2 Beauvoir brings up an interesting idea- that having a female ruler doesn’t necessarily make life better. Another example of Russia, Catherine the Great, a female queen, forfeits her sex in a way, she isn’t a woman ruler, she becomes primarily a sovereign and so has other problems to focus on. Here Beauvoir examines primitive societies and how they view women. She explains that since certain societies associate women with childbirth they worship her as the divine, but she argues that even here women remain The Other. Whereas in modern societies she is viewed as inferior and not the leading male default and that is why she is the other, in primitive ones she is on level with the divine thus not an equal and so outside of humanity. Once again not belonging anywhere. From here Beauvoir argues that society has always been male centered and women seen as secondary in relation to men, it is men who made women their idols and worshipped the female body and sexuality, and so it is men who can destroy these idols. Men also struggle with figuring out the roles of women, as slaves merely there to watch the children, or as companions, because it is often a primary goal for men to find a companion. Because these roles change, this is why there is a difference in different societies, and why roles constantly change.

A quote:

“The Other is passivity confronting activity, diversity breaking down unity, matter opposing form, disorder resisting order. Woman is thus doomed to Evil.”

In Chapter 3 Beauvoir discusses private property, and how a woman's fate is linked to it. Also how to enter the world for a woman is grace, she discusses baby girls being less desired, since men are preferred, and the double standards of polygyny. She argues that with the arrival of private property, men began to value women’s sexual fidelity, since they began to also be viewed as property. And there is this mentality, of what’s mine is mine, therefore it is my woman, so she cannot even look at others. She talks about once again the difference in cultures. In some, if a woman has had contact with another man before her marriage, this will affect her ability to give birth and so she is beaten and kicked out, it is her husband who must be her only partner. However in others a woman must be prepared in advance, if other men do not take her as their partner that means there is something wrong with her. In Egypt for example women maintain equal social standing when they are married. Beauvoir argues that only by escaping to the “lows” of society and giving up the benefits that come with being viewed as the Other and protected can women be free of all those impossible constraints and difficult rules put onto her. For example sex work. She brings up the situation in Ancient Rome where women had economic independence but not control over their own bodies and no political decisions, and she views this as false emancipation, because a bigger cage is still a cage.

In chapter 4, we examine Christianity’s role in shaping women’s position. She talks about Christians portraying women’s sexuality as demonic, and this is the root of discrimination, women are the evil who represent temptation, it is Eve who ate the apple and who doomed humanity. These ideas in Christianity perpetuate negative beliefs about women, this scorn of god is believed to be constantly on women, this is why women are evil and men must dominate her. She talks about Germanic traditions where women are well treated as long as they are men’s property, and how in romantic poems, even though women are the subject, they are often still treated as evil. There is a positive note though when Beauvoir argues that beliefs of the 18th century helped alleviate women’s struggle a bit. Such as for example during the Italian Renaissance when individualism was celebrated in both sexes, and women could sponsport arts and freethinking was more encouraged.

In the fifth and final chapter of part 2 Beauvoir talks about how often movements leave women behind, and how hard it is to balance being a mother and caregiver with productive work. Women’s fertility was always something that the state wanted to control. Actually through all her criticisms of Soviet Russia Beauvoir believes women made a lot of progress, because class division was also addressed, and more factors that limit women were taken into account. She argues that circumstances have prevented women from rising to their best potential and they need rights and possibilities to create, as well as the time and space to do so; one can see the influence of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own here. She condemns the anti feminist perspective that women are unable to create anything great because they are inferior to men, she points out that women have a harder situation in life because of society. Marriage is still more difficult for women and they have to bear both domestic work and other work (again the Soviet Russia example, and the idea of the dual burden). However she says that marriage is the best way for women to get ahead, and by women choosing the easier way out and surrendering their rights, women perpetuate the cycle of women benign worse workers and inferior to men, thus she urges women to exert effort and choose independence, even though it is more difficult it will ultimately lead to satisfaction.

Even though I found Part 2 to be fascinating, I think it was weaker than Part 1, and it is more case studies rather than arguments, as can be seen through the summary and analysis of meaning.

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