The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir Essay

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The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

In the chapter of her book The Second Sex entitled “the Woman in Love,” Simone de Beauvoir characterizes the romantic ideal of the relationship with a man as a woman’s purpose as a form of self-deception (translated here as “bad faith”). The self-deception de Beauvoir describes is based in the thesis of The Second Sex. This is the idea that women have been deceived into believing that they are second-class humans. Western culture, according to de Beauvoir, teaches us that women are missing some elusive element of the self that endows men with freedom- a concept essential to the existentialist definition of the conscious being. Therefore, a woman can never find fulfillment as a thinking person as long as she believes that men are free beings and women their dependents. This state of affairs is reinforced through an all-encompassing system of thought that posits man as subject and woman as object, “doomed to dependency.” (In this chapter, de Beauvoir writes about the “modern woman” whose consciousness of her self has not yet matured. Therefore, when “woman” is referred to here, this is merely shorthand for the self-deceiving woman. The independent woman is another matter entirely.)

De Beauvoir postulates that the reason why women’s idea of love is so much more intense than men’s is because the woman, unable to become a whole person in and of herself, thinks that by attaching herself to a man she can transcend her position in life. She can move from object to subject through osmosis- the ultimate expression of “being for the other.” She can claim a share of his activities and his accomplishments in the public realm which she is prohibited to enter. Giving herself wholly to the man ...

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...that many women cling to even after they give up hope that “he” will ever come.

Is there a solution to this paradox, this Catch-22 that de Beauvoir describes? Yes, she says, but only when certain conditions are met. First, a woman must have a solid sense of herself as an existentialist “free being” before she goes looking for love. Second, the love relationship must be a freely chosen association of equals committed to respecting each other’s freedom. As de Beauvoir writes on p.667:

“Genuine love ought to be founded on the mutual recognition of two liberties; the lovers would then experience themselves both as self and as other; neither would give up transcendence, neither would be mutilated; together they would manifest values and aims in the world. For the one and the other, love would be revelation of self by the gift of self and enrichment of the world.”

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