The Second Sex Questions and Answers
by Simone de Beauvoir

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What did Simone de Beauvoir mean by labeling women as "the second sex"?

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Not equal, as their sex not equal seemed;
For contemplation he and valor formed,
For softness she and sweet attractive Grace,
He for God only, she for God in him:

Milton's description of Adam and Eve in Paradise Lost delineates precisely the distinction Simone de Beauvoir makes in The Second Sex. Man comes first, as the Bible says he was created first. He is closer to God and more godlike in his attributes. Woman is an afterthought, continually defined in relation to man.

Man is also the "default" sex, the one that includes the other. Mankind includes womankind. This is even more striking in French, since the plural word "they" can be either "ils" or "elles." If it is a mixture of men and women, the word is "ils," the masculine form.

de Beauvoir argues that women are always the second sex both in our consideration and our estimation. We think of women second, and we think them less valuable. If we hear that Dr. X has made a discovery, or that this book was written by X, we immediately assume the...

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