The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

The Second Sex Readalong: Patriarchal Times and Classical Antiquity

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Although this chapter picks up on concepts first encountered in The Point of View of Historical Materialism, I believe it is here that we see the concept of ‘woman as man’s property’ clearly for the first time. Beauvoir is articulate and detailed in her discussions of dowry and inheritance as means of facilitating woman’s transmission from independent entity to property, passed from one family to another and, in certain cases, between male members of the same family. Examples situated in ancient Greek and Roman civilisations provide the majority of the historical context for this chapter, although Beauvoir also makes reference to ‘woman as property’ in old Bedouin, Muslim and Jewish societies, amongst others. This chapter also informs on and discusses aspects of woman and law, with specific reference to property and inheritance, and the relationships between husbands, wives and courtesans in the family. Continue reading

The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

The Second Sex Readalong: Early Tillers of the Soil

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This is not, as the title might suggest, a chapter devoted to farming or agriculture; however, it does have a focus on man’s ability to interact – interfere – with nature, and his ability and willingness to shape the world around him. Beauvoir expands on on this ability of man, introduced in the previous two chapters, in order to further discuss another of his: the ability to shape woman’s world around him, both figuratively and literally. Through a discourse focused on man’s dominance of ‘old religions’ and tribal/clan behaviours, the emergence of patriarchal behaviours, and then cultures and societies, becomes an observable phenomenon, and woman’s subjugation is achieved. Continue reading

The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

The Second Sex Readalong: The Nomads

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This short chapter explores the value we place on man and woman through the contribution(s) they make to both the human species and human society. Beauvoir talks about how their early respective roles as provider-protector and mother-carer have been perpetuated throughout history, with repetition and routine leading to normalisation, and the expectation that these behaviours/functions would be performed by every succeeding generation – even when circumstances made it apparent that these roles (particularly woman’s) might not have been the most appropriate for the situation in which man and woman found themselves. She notes occasional historical anomalies of woman warriors; however, she does not elaborate on these, nor does she speak about notable woman inventors or explorers – a failure, I believe, to offer a holistic view of woman in history that does not allow for a comprehensive comparison with man. Continue reading

The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

The Second Sex Readalong: The Point of View of Historical Materialism

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Beauvoir’s third chapter concludes the first part of The Second Sex: following on from biology and psychoanalysis, she speaks about historical materialism to situate woman’s place in the World according to her ability to interact physically with it. With the advent of tools requiring significant physical strength to use, woman’s place on the fields became redundant, and she was relegated to ‘secondary social spheres’ that required less of an active physical contribution – such as the domestic, where she has remained, what with its primary concern not being production, but maintenance. As woman was unable to shape the physical world around her, so was she unable to shape the cultures and societies that developed on it. Man’s power came from his ability to create and manipulate his domain, and he exercised this across both said domain and the occupants less powerful than he by taking them and making them part of it – subjects of the Subject, as it were. This gave rise to the phenomenon of ownership of both places and people, with woman becoming property that served to reinforce man’s status. Odd how Beauvoir’s writing reflects some of the earliest human truth in which we can continue to find a contemporary analogy. Continue reading

The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

The Second Sex Readalong: The Psychoanalytic Point of View

To find out more about the Second Sex readalong, click here. By the way, this is a lot more than I expected to write for this chapter. If you get halfway through and decide to go and look at some cat pictures instead, I’ll understand.

In this chapter, Beauvoir employs Freudian and Adlerian psychoanalytical theory to deconstruct male and female sexuality – the ‘erotic self’. She explores the relationship between the cultural and societal qualities attributed to the penis and the vagina, and the way in which a person begins to situate themselves amongst the rest of the populace based on these. This chapter situates childhood as the point in which boys and girls discover the physical differences between them and the different ways in which they are treated because of the qualities attributed to these differences, and the contribution this makes to the definition and situation of the ‘self’ and the ‘other’. Continue reading

The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

The Second Sex Readalong: The Data of Biology

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Beauvoir’s first chapter feels more like a science lesson than a philosophical discussion, as she employs an exploration of a range of reproductive behaviours and sexual dimorphism in animals to situate humans’ essential biological function: to perpetuate the species. Incidentally, we share this with every other creature on Earth. We’re not different. We’re not special. In humans, the two sexes necessary for this form one whole for this function to take place, with each one equally important to the intended outcome – so why aren’t each of the sexes equally important in every other area of humanity? Beauvoir explores how cultural and societal significance is given to the each of the two sexes based on mutually exclusive physical qualities, and how this significance defines their relationship amongst and between each other – thereby setting up further discussion on more psychological and sociological matters of sex and gender later on. Continue reading

The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

Readalong: The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

A little while ago, I decided that it would be a good idea for me to reread The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir. Over the last couple of years, I’ve only really read pieces of popular writing on feminism, and I wanted to reacquaint myself with some of its historical literature. Continue reading