Explain the concept of myth from the text The Second Sex as explained by Simone de Beauvoir. 

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amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In The Second Sex, Beauvior writes of how woman's role in society has been prescribed by historical and literary myths of woman, rather than what women have done, or could do, in real life. Beauvoir differentiates between what women do in real life (significance) with the falsely prescribed myth of woman: 

The myth must not be confused with the recognition of significance; significance is immanent in the object; it is revealed to the mind through a living experience; whereas the myth is a transcendent Idea that escapes the mental grasp entirely. 

Here, Beauvoir shows the double-standard in terms of immanence and transcendence. Women are limited to myths, which are transcendent ideas, but women can not transcend those myths in real, living experience. 

"Few myths have been more advantageous to the ruling caste than the myth of woman: it justifies all privileges and even authorizes their abuse."

What are the sources of these myths? To start with, men have categorized women with certain unchanging roles that supposedly are absolute, based on biological or spiritual essentialism. And women have been taught to internalize these roles. Beauvoir seeks to acknowledge that these roles are limiting and not absolute. One of these myths is that women are "mysterious." In the history of patriarchal categorizations of women, this mysteriousness is not on account of women's complexity or man's inability to recognize that complexity; rather, it is that, from men's perspective, women are odd, ambiguous, angels and demons, the Virgin Mary and Pandora. 

The "mysterious" suggestion is that women are unpredictable, incapable of reason, and untrustworthy. This is, of course, based upon man's biased perception which has been based upon these stubborn, absolutist myths. 

Beauvoir suggests that doing away with these myths (which include viewing woman as a desirable object) will not detract from her desirability. "Woman's dress in becoming practical need not make her appear sexless . . ." And even if women increasingly hold men's social and economic positions, we will all adapt to such notions and maybe even invent new myths which propose that women can be in powerful positions while also being desirable. In the end, true equality amongst both genders will only come when women are no longer considered as "man's other." This is the truly limiting myth: that women are, and can only be, defined on man's terms. The significant reality is that men and women are both capable of being autonomous, existential, self-creating individuals: neither are limited to absolute notions or myths of gender. 

favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is this myth of "otherness" that the other Educator mentions that is the myth upon which all others are founded.  What this means is that women are only defined in relation to, and more specifically in opposition to, men.  According to this myth, man is the original, so to speak, and woman is a deviant.  Man is the subject, who possesses self, while woman is the object, who is only other.  He is complete while she is incomplete, a poor copy.  He creates and acts while she waits to be created and acted upon. 

While de Beauvoir acknowledges that it is normal to define one's individual self in relation or opposition to others, she argues that it is inaccurate to define the genders in this way.  As long as woman is defined only in relation to man, as his "other," she is denied humanity and agency.  The myth of woman as other allows the inception of the other myths she outlines, as women's identities are created, culturally, by men.

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The Second Sex

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