Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
The text is divided into two parts. In part 1, the more academic section, de Beauvoir discusses instances of women being oppressed throughout history, from early nomadic societies until the surprisingly late grant of suffrage in France in 1947. She draws impressively from a wide range of disciplines, including biology, psychology, sociology, anthropology, literature, and, of course, history. She attempts to assess women’s biological and historical circumstances and the myths by which these have been explained, denied, or distorted. She recognizes that men have been able to maintain dominant roles in virtually all cultures because women have resigned themselves to, instead of rebelling against, their assigned subordinate status.
The Second Sex has two major premises. First, that man, considering himself as the essential being, or subject, has treated woman as the unessential being, or object. The second, more controversial premise, is that much of woman’s psychological self is socially constructed, with very few physiologically rooted feminine qualities or values. De Beauvoir denies the existence of a feminine temperament or nature—to her, all notions of femininity are artificial concepts. In one of her most telling aphorisms she declares, “One is not born a woman; rather, one becomes one.”
De Beauvoir derives her chief postulates from Sartre’s philosophic work, L’Être et le néant (1943; Being and...
(The entire section is 497 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
The Second Sex is considered a pioneering treatment on the subject of women’s personal and social freedom. Simone de Beauvoir, who was a prolific writer, was most famous for The Second Sex because of its profound impact upon the feminist movement. Though some feminists have concerns with the study, most continue to recognize it as a significant, perhaps even definitive, tract in the history of the modern women’s movement. The essays also have been criticized by nonfeminists, with some justification. At times the work suffers from imprecise data and oversimplified generalizations. Generally, though, the work is considered one of substance, and later editions include corrected statistics.
The text, drawing upon a voluminous number of studies to explain the past and present condition of women in society, is not merely a biological and historical treatment. It is also an argument against the received views on the nature of women and an appeal for change. The work has two main ideas: First, borrowed directly from Jean-Paul Sartre, is the famous notion of the other, a phenomenon acknowledging that woman sees herself only in relationship to man, while man does not recognize woman as an entity separate from himself. The second major idea is that woman is conditioned from birth to perform the role of a woman: thus, what is perceived as feminine nature is not innate but an artificial invention.
The book is divided into two parts:...
(The entire section is 1836 words.)