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Simone de Beauvoir's Critique of Woman as Other

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Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has an M.A in instructional education.

Simone de Beauvoir wrote a critique of woman as other called ''The Second Sex,'' which discusses how history and reproductive biology make women the ''other.'' Learn more about Simone de Beauvoir's feminist philosophical views on the treatment of women. Updated: 11/05/2021

The Second Sex

There always seems to be a sidekick. Batman had Robin, the Lone Ranger had Tonto, and Marsha had Jan. No matter what the sidekick did, they were always the Other! According to Simone de Beauvoir, the same can be said of man and woman. Man is seen as the superhero; woman is the subordinate. Man is always the subject; woman is always the object.

Speaking philosophically, the subject is what has identity. It exists independently, apart from context. It simply is because it is! On the other hand, the object is dependent on the subject. The object is the observed; the subject is the observer. The subject takes action. The object is acted upon. Again, man is the subject. Woman is the Other. Being sickened by this premise, de Beauvoir authored The Second Sex.

Today we'll take a look at this famous work and its harsh critique of woman as the Other. As a quick note of caution, de Beauvoir didn't pull any punches, so hold onto your hats. She also didn't really come up with many solutions. However, she sure did delineate what she saw as the problem!

According to many, The Second Sex stands as the first attempt to view history through the eyes of feminism. Made public in 1949, it asserts that man is seen as the absolute and essential. He is the star of the show! Meanwhile, woman is inessential and incomplete. Man gets to enforce his will on the world, and woman is bound by the circumstances of the world. Man is the great subject; woman is the Other!

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  • 0:01 The Second Sex
  • 1:48 History
  • 2:25 Biology
  • 3:31 Woman
  • 4:12 Lesson Summary
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History

Working to make her point, de Beauvoir included the words of some pretty famous men. For instance, The Second Sex quotes Aristotle as saying, 'The female is a female by virtue of a certain lack of qualities.' Ouch! It also cites St. Thomas as saying, woman is an 'imperfect man.' She's an 'incidental being.' Double ouch! Summing all this up, de Beauvoir asserts history is to blame. It tells us that man is in the right for being a man and woman is in the wrong. It teaches that humanity is male.

Biology

de Beauvoir points out that a woman's biology is often used as justification for repression and reduction to Other status. In fact, she called reproduction a curse! Because of it, and I quote, woman 'is a womb, an ovary. A woman's ability to gestate life makes her a biological curiosity to men, who sees woman as inhuman.'

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