Considering I wrote both a midterm and an essay on Simone de Beauvoir for my gender and politics course, I figured I would write a post addressing her theories and literary contributions in order to better educate others about her work.
In 1949, de Beauvoir composed and published a text titled The Second Sex in which she proposed that women, throughout history, have been perceived as ‘the other’ and therefore as inferior to men. She examines key theories and concepts such as biology, psychoanalysis and historical materialism in order to justify her argument, and furthermore analyzes the six stages of history to demonstrate reasoning as to why women are recognized as ‘the other’, the six stages being agriculture, pre-agriculture, patriarchy, middle ages, eighteenth century and nineteenth century.
De Beauvoir says that biology proves that sex is not always necessary within reproduction in nature, specifically in the case of some plants and insects. She argues that a division of the sexes is simply improbable, and that sex does not define human identity – possessing a physical body and having an awareness of death does. She argues that Freud’s psychoanalytic theory is positive in the sense that it reveals how sexuality is associated with the unconscious mind as opposed to solely the conscious mind, yet criticizes his theory because focuses on the figure of the male as opposed to both the male and the female, and in doing so communicates the idea that women’s sexuality is inferior to men. She argues that historical materialism is positive in its arguments against capitalism, specifically in the perspective of Marx and Engels, however she criticizes the theory because it fails to address diversified familial structures, choosing to depict a model of the family in which the male goes out to work and the woman is forced to remain in the domestic sphere in order to carry out her maternal obligations.
De Beauvoir argues that women, throughout the six stages of history, have been associated with animals because of reproductive duties such as suckling, and as a result they have been alienated into their role in the home as the domestic and maternal figure. She argues that this alienation serves as reasoning as to why women are less likely to enter the public/political sphere than men.
De Beauvoir was a brilliant theorist, and I encourage you to check out The Second Sex. It truly is a fascinating read, and I believe her arguments are still relevant in society today.