Simone de Beauvoir, Existentialist Feminism, and the Second Sex

By: Rhonda Nemri

As I became well known with the literature on feminism, I came across an author by the name of Simone de Beauvoir. Beauvoir is a well known french philosopher who based her writings on being an existentialist. Beauvoir (1908-1986), is a left-wing activist and a writer for both fiction and nonfiction (Schneir 3) Her well known book the “Second Sex” insisted that “womanhood as we know it is a social construct: that is, that the subordination of female to male does not represent an immutable state of nature, but is the result of various social forces”(3).

Being an Existentialist feminist you realize that women are seen as objects and men are subjects in societies eyes. Sartre who is also a french philosopher was Beauvoir’s teacher. They were also on and off lovers for many years. While focusing on becoming  well-known authors both of them became” intellectual companions”(Tong 174). Sartre focused on many things as a philosopher that very much intrigues me and has also influenced Simone’s writings on the existentialist feminist. Simone focused on the ideas of subject/object. When you look at those two words you can see that as a subject, this is because women’s oppression’s are by being man’s other. Self (man) needs other (woman) in order to define itself as a subject. The man who is “subject” lives his life, the actor, women are acted upon (Simone). Sartre states that it is the false conscious that we have. What that means is that if we do not take responsibilities for the choices that we make then we are living in “Bad Faith”. Bad faith is when we “pretend we are thinglike, that we are just body or object in the world that we can observe” (Tong 176). When you are living in Bad Faith, then you are not being authentic. When your not being authentic, you are just being what others are telling you to be. When you want to be authentic you have to realize that a lot of the ways you think and do are because other people think and do the same as you. For example, going to college. Is college something you want to do because you believe it is one of your journey’s that will help you succeed?, or are you going to college and majoring in something that you think you want because someone told you this is your path? If you constantly do what others want you to do then you are not authentic. You have to be yourself, and stray away living in Bad Faith. Next is the Myth of the Ideal Woman. This is something that is much known in society. The ideal women makes a man whole, this women looks the same to all men (Tong). When a women is ideal, she will negate herself for her man by being an object. Now when I say the word object, I mean it as someone who is subordinate or minimized because she is a woman. Woman are what men worship, so no matter what she believes she has to sacrifice herself for her man (Tong). Some of the strategies that Simone gives to women for being subject are interesting to say the least. Since Simone’s writings are written before she passed away in 1986, a lot has changed throughout the years. However, we cannot forget the fact that even though her writings are dated, women still go through the issues of oppression and has been neglected for many years. Simone stated that, women must be economically independent by having careers and jobs outside of the home. Because women feel a natural obligation to the household, they feel that this is their only job. No one is neglecting that this is work, Simone just simply states to not only use household jobs as your only job. Second, women should be intellectual and active. Instead of being defined, women should define. For example, women should take part in organizations and make a change for women. Third, women should be conscious of what society is telling her what to do and how to be. She needs to free herself from her body by being a self and not spending all her time at the beauty salon and should engage in creative-oriented projects (Simone).

Simone is someone who believed in women being subjects. She is well known for her book the “Second Sex.” In this book you will notice how she views both men and women, and how we are minimized and seen as objects throughout many instances.

At times I believe as a woman, it is hard to try and move away from the things that really do objectify us. For instance, the clothes we wear, the makeup we put on, how we wear our hair, the ways we present ourselves. We want to look great, but who are we doing it for? For ourselves, or for others? It is okay to feel you have to question your motives and intentions. We live in Bad Faith all the time, however with a little of authenticity each day is a progress to changing our ways of thinking from always thinking we are objects and moving to subject. Patriarchal ways have been around for so long, that even women think they HAVE to live their lives a certain way. Once you realize you can be authentic, then you are on your way to living your life the way you intend it to be. I am still learning to be authentic, but it is a journey I am willing to take.

References

Tong: Chapter 5 Existentialist Feiminism

Simone de Beauvoir: The Second Sex

Tidd, Ursula: Simone de Beauvoir: Existentialism and Why Beauvoir?

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