The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir, 1949

· book review ·

Simone de Beauvoir, photographed by Nia Vasileva.

The Second Sex is an eight-hundred-page encyclopedia concerned with the folklore, customs, laws, history, religion, philosophy, anthropology, literature, economic systems, and received ideas that have since time began, objectified women. It was researched and written by Simone de Beauvoir in about fourteen months, between 1946 and 1949, while she was also engaged with other literary projects and trips.

Considered the “feminist bible” by some, The Second Sex may easily appear outdated for the reader of today, especially the one involved with the feminist theories of our times. Nevertheless, it is a fundamental read for any gender’ studies researcher or feminist activist.

This work approaches women’s lives in 360 degrees, challenging given misconceptions and natural facts, such as female lack of aggressiveness or the ever supposedly innate maternal instinct.
De Beauvoir starts by asking herself “What is a woman?”:

“She is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her; she is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute – she is the Other.”

She goes so far as to state that: “One is not born, but becomes a woman”, establishing a fundamental distinction between sex and gender that will later be echoed by important feminist scholars - such as Judith Butler - and suggesting that gender is an aspect of identity that is gradually acquired. By Simone De Beauvoir’s views, in relation to men’s standard.

To any reader interested in approaching this work I would suggest reading beforehand the excerpt from The Second Sex second English edition, translated by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier, published by The New York Times in 2010.

Simone de Beauvoir in her studio.


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