Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings

By Charles Lemert | Go to book overview

❖ Others Object ❖

Simone de Beauvoir ( 1908-1986) was born in Paris to a bourgeois family. Much of her early life was spent in rebellion against the constraints of bourgeois manners. Though her public life with Jean-Paul Sartre is often considered the symbol of that rebellion, it is much more accurate to say that, from her youth, Simone de Beauvoir focused her intelligence and energy on the problem of defining, and living, the authentic human life. This was the real-life foundation of her feminism. She and Sartre met at the École Normale Supérieure, from which both graduated with distinction in 1929. They were companions, occasional lovers, and coworkers until the last years before Sartre's death in 1980. Some are inclined to fault de Beauvoir's feminist credentials because of her relation to Sartre, to whom she seemed, at times, to have ceded too much. Their relationship was, however, complicated. Hurt ran in both directions. The important thing is that they lived an honest and engaged life of politics, letters, intimacy, and friendship. De Beauvoir wrote fiction, autobiography and memoirs, and philosophy. Her Prime of Life ( 1960) is one of the best narrative descriptions both of her relation with Sartre and of life in Paris before, during, and after World War II. The Mandarins ( 1954), one of her fictional works, won the Prix Goncourt. She and Sartre were founding editors of Les Temps modernes. Her most enduring philosophical work is The Second Sex. However history may treat the philosophy of Sartre, it is virtually certain that Second Sex will always be remembered as a classic of feminist social theory and, thus, of modern philosophy.


Woman as Other

Simone de Beauvoir ( 1949)

Thus humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him; she is not regarded as an autonomous being. Michelet writes: "Woman, the relative being. . . ." And Benda is most positive in his Rapport d'Uriel: "The body of man makes sense in itself quite apart from that of woman, whereas the latter seems wanting in significance by itself. . . . Man can think of himself without woman. She cannot think of herself without man." And she is simply what man decrees; thus she is called "the sex," by which is meant that she appears essentially to the male as a sexual being. For him she is sex--absolute sex, no less. She is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her; she is the incidental, the

____________________
Excerpt from H. M. Parshley, trans., The Second Sex ( Random House UK Ltd., Jonathan Cape, publisher).

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