The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

The Second Sex Readalong: Since the French Revolution: The Job and the Vote

To find out more about the Second Sex readalong, click here.

In this, the final chapter of the second part of the ‘first book’ of the Second Sex, Beauvoir uses the French Revolution as a starting point to discuss the progression of woman’s situation from the mid-eighteenth century to the early twentieth century. She cites the Industrial Revolution as one of the major factors in liberating woman (somewhat, at least) from her reproductive role, and casting her in a productive role, since birth control became more prevalent, accessible and permissible (just not in the Church’s eyes) during this time, and advances in technology allowed her to engage in a wider range of work on the same terms as man. Becoming productive allowed woman to find solidarity both within and outside different classes, to become part of unions and to form these herself; this politicisation became a founding part of the suffrage movement – the first wave of modern feminism. The fundamental nature of ‘woman’s condition’, however, remained unchanged, as equality was not fully achieved. Continue reading

The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

The Second Sex Readalong: Through the Middle Ages to Eighteenth-century France

To find out more about the Second Sex readalong, click here.

This chapter used historical examples from various Western European countries in order to illustrate the fluctuating condition of women from, as the title suggests, the Middle Ages to eighteenth-century France. Beauvoir once again relies on religious context to introduce her ideas, discussing Christian and Jewish beliefs about woman and her place in society, before moving the discussion on to woman’s power to acquire, possess and bequeath property, to earn and spend money, and to participate in artistic and political life – to a certain extent, anyway. We note, as the chapter progresses, that there are changes in woman’s condition, but not in her fundamental nature, which many would argue is as accurate for twenty-first century society as it was for society two to three hundred years ago. Continue reading

December calendar

Metablog – December 2014

December was a much better month than November. I started off by taking myself to Paris in order to celebrate my 30th birthday, and then spent the rest of the month in a rather celebratory mood, joining friends and family in Yule and Christmas celebrations. And, as the end of the year’s approached, I guess I’ve been infused with that (false?) sense of hope that comes from the ‘new beginning’ that the new year is supposed to bring. Despite this, I still didn’t want to write anything on this blog. I didn’t feel ready to. Continue reading

November calendar

Metablog – November 2014

After a couple of months of staying away from the keyboard, at least where this blog has been concerned, I’ve found myself playing catch-up with my metablog posts in order to wrap up 2014, tie up its loose ends, get some closure – or whichever cliché you’d choose to use. Thinking ahead, and about how I want to try and motivate myself into writing some more (again – no, yet again) in 2014, I think it’s important to look at both what I did and didn’t do during the last couple of months of the year, so that I can make sure I build on the positive bits next year, as well as make sure I don’t repeat the negative bits. Well, that’s the thought, anyway. Continue reading

October calendar

Metablog – October 2014

I wish that I could say that my ‘return’ to keeping a regular blog has been a glorious triumph, with celebrations accompanied by fireworks and an orchestra, but it feels more like a lopsided thumbs-up and a bronze star-shaped sticker to put on my jumper. I’ve not managed to post much at all over the last few weeks; even the Second Sex readalong, designed in part to keep me blogging on a weekly basis should I be unable to think of anything to write, has completely gone by the wayside (I’m trying to get back on track with that soon). Even this metablog post is a good couple of weeks later than I would have liked it to be. Continue reading

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

To find out more about the Second Sex readalong, click here.

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