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Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir is recognized as a theorist close to the beginning of the second wave in the development of Feminist Theory.  De Beauvoir authored the text, The Second Sex in 1949, and the reader will recognize that much of the writing remains relevant in the twenty-second century. 

The essay Woman as Other has been extracted from the book The Second Sex. Through this essay, Beauvoir identifies patriarchy against which women is defined. She thinks that women is not born but made. De Beauvoir’s primary thesis is that men fundamentally oppress women by characterizing them, on every level, as the other, defined exclusively in opposition to men. Man occupies the role of the self, or subject; woman is the object, the other. Man creates, acts, invents; she waits for him to save her.

De Beauvoir states that while it is natural for humans to understand themselves in opposition to others, this process is flawed when applied to the genders. In defining woman exclusively as other, man is effectively denying her humanity.

In the society, women are defined not as human as men are defined. For the description of male positive terms are used whereas for the female negative terms are used. Society thinks that women lack certain qualities. Aristotle says, 'female is a female by virtue of certain lack of qualities'. St. Thomas called women as the imperfect man. Simone de Beauvoir views that it is culture, society, custom, tradition and religion that make female a female. Makes never think about reciprocal (mutual) relationship with the females. Generally, majority imposes the rule upon minority. But women are not a minority despite the fact that women lack certain qualities, males as well should not underestimate them.

Till now, woman has to be dependent on man. In the family between master and slave there is the relation of oppressor and oppressed. Liberation of the slave is impossible because of economic reason. So far as the relation between male and female is concerned, they never share world in equal terms. Females are thought to be heavily handicapped. Legally, they are the same. But practically there are discriminations. She has been treated as the other and male as the one.

De Beauvoir discusses various mythical representations of women and demonstrates how these myths have imprinted human consciousness, often to the disservice (ill service) of women. De Beauvoir hopes to expose the persistent myth of the “eternal feminine” by showing that it arose from male discomfort with the fact of his own birth. Throughout history, maternity has been both worshipped and reviled (spread negative information about): the mother both brings life and acclaims death. These mysterious operations get projected onto the woman, who is transformed into a symbol of “life” and in the process is robbed of all individuality.

De Beauvoir insists on the impossibility of comparing the “character” of men and women without considering the immense differences in their situation. She traces female development through its formative stages: childhood, youth, and sexual initiation. Her goal is to prove that women are not born “feminine” but shaped by a thousand external processes. She shows how, at each stage of her upbringing, a girl is conditioned into accepting passivity, dependence, repetition, and inwardness. Every force in society conspires to deprive her of subjectivity and flatten her into an object. Denied the possibility of independent work or creative fulfillment, the woman must accept a dissatisfying life of housework, childbearing, and sexual slavishness.

The writer speaks of the different situations of men and women. Beauvoir writes, "And even today woman is heavily handicapped, though her situation is beginning to change." But, here she is speaking of legal, political, and economic situations. They are different because women have very few, when any, rights. Men of course have a full range of privileges. She continues in this when she writes, "It is the difference in their situations that is reflected in the difference men and women show in their conceptions of love." She has taken her statement about handicaps to a new level here by saying that women have no choice but dependence on men because those handicaps translate into a social inferiority.

Through this essay, Simone de Beauvoir suggests for the radical change. For this there should be the development of self-consciousness. This consciousness can only be found only when females break their role from the tradition. They should not be influenced by the male's desire. She examines man and women to the concept of humanity. If woman can support herself, she can also achieve a form of liberation. In the concluding chapters of The Second Sex, de Beauvoir discusses the logistical hurdles (an obstacle that you are expected to overcome) woman faces in pursuing this goal. 


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