The Second Sex played a pioneering role in feminism by providing a synthesis and an overview of then-current ideas about male and female roles. First published in French in the 1940s, Simone de Beauvoir’s book became an influential work in popularizing arguments that were integral to Second Wave, later known as classical, feminism. While de Beauvoir made original contributions to theory, the impact of her work largely derived from the scope of her inquiry and her ability to draw connections between theory and a broad array of evidence.
One of the most important characteristics of classical feminism is the assertion of “women’s status.” The author argues that all women are in some profound way deeply similar; this bond of sisterhood is established by their sex. In the mid-twentieth century, the concepts of sex and gender were often not distinguished. As the title suggests, de Beauvoir claimed that men always were considered superior, and women were the second sex. She means that the global condition of females was universal subordination. She amasses a large amount of information to support her point that such subordination has a lengthy history and remained in place around the world at the time of her writing.
Another key characteristic is the association of nature or biology to this relationship of domination and subordination. She identifies the basis as reproduction, in that women are held back by bearing and raising children. Men are not only unencumbered by these biologically based duties, but devalue women for being trapped by their bodily functions. By rejecting such roles, the author contends, and staking a place in male-controlled domains, women can begin to move toward equality.