SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR, French feminist writer, died (b. 1908); A French author and philosopher, de Beauvoir wrote novels, monographs on philosophy, politics, and social issues, essays, biographies, and an autobiography. She is now best known for her metaphysical novels, including She Came to Stay and The Mandarins, and for her 1949 treatise The Second Sex, a detailed analysis of women’s oppression and a foundational tract of contemporary feminism.
In the essay Woman: Myth and Reality, Beauvoir argued that men had made women the “Other” in society by putting a false aura of “mystery” around them. She argued that men used this as an excuse not to understand women or their problems and not to help them, and that this stereotyping was always done in societies by the group higher in the hierarchy to the group lower in the hierarchy. She wrote that this also happened on the basis of other categories of identity, such as race, class, and religion. But she said that it was nowhere more true than with sex in which men stereotyped women and used it as an excuse to organize society into a patriarchy.
Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, published in French in 1949, sets out a feminist existentialism which prescribes a moral revolution. As an existentialist, Beauvoir accepted the precept that existence precedes essence, i.e. one is not born a woman, but becomes one. Her analysis focuses on the concept of The Other. It is the (social) construction of Woman as the quintessential Other that Beauvoir identifies as fundamental to women’s oppression. The principal 1932 treatment by the feminist author Adrienne Sahuqué, born circa 1890, entitled Les dogmes sexuels (1932) had already approached, fifteen years prior to the publication of The Second Sex the question of sexist prejudices against women.
Beauvoir argued that women have historically been considered deviant, abnormal. She submits that even Mary Wollstonecraft considered men to be the ideal toward which women should aspire. Beauvoir says that this attitude has limited women’s success by maintaining the perception that they are a deviation from the normal, and are outsiders attempting to emulate “normality”. For feminism to move forward, this assumption must be set aside.