simone de beauvoir myth and reality pdf

Simone de beauvoir myth and reality pdf

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Simone de Beauvoir (1908—1986)

1. Recognizing Beauvoir

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Simone de Beauvoir (1908—1986)

To browse Academia. Skip to main content. By using our site, you agree to our collection of information through the use of cookies. To learn more, view our Privacy Policy. Log In Sign Up. Download Free PDF. Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex. Lori Marso. Download PDF. A short summary of this paper. Even within feminist scholarship, although it is often cited or acknowledged, only short excerpts, usually the introduction, are read carefully.

This essay argues that the reception of The Second Sex has been marred by overly emotional and ambivalent responses, in part a result of its literary style. The Second Sex is written as a situated dramaturgical staging of conversation. Beauvoir puts men into conversation about women in Volume I and invites women into conversation with each other about their experiences in Volume II. These literary techniques invite readers of The Second Sex to also participate in the conversation, a conversation Beauvoir hopes will change the way we see and talk about sexual difference, conditions of oppression, and how to enlarge the space for freedom.

Keywords: The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir, feminism, political theory, affect, political conversation, politics, authority Since its publication in , reception of The Second Sex has been ambivalent and fraught with emotion. Beauvoir goes on for several pages documenting violent and aggressive reactions to her book.

All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a title in Oxford Handbooks Online for personal use for details see Privacy Policy. Over half a century later, the text still solicits powerful reactions. Even specifically within feminist scholarship, while The Second Sex is almost always cited and acknowledged, only a few excerpts, mostly the introduction, are regularly read.

Moreover, certain criticisms of the text render it politically noxious. Overall, our ability to appreciate the political and philosophical significance of The Second Sex has been limited by intense rejection or veneration, excessive historicizing,1 and the debates that ensued when the text was published in English, translated by Parshley in the edition and by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chavalier in the edition. Like Toril Moi , Emily Apter has commented on how the philosophicality of Beauvoir has always been lost in translation for English-speaking feminists.

Given all these caveats and criticisms, why, and more importantly, how, should we read The Second Sex as political theory? As a political conversation, as opposed to philosophical argument or utopian manifesto, The Second Sex unearths and evaluates dominant oppressive features of our world and relationships, but promises nothing.

Rather, Beauvoir leaves it up to us to find our way via a politics that is localized, affective, and agonistic. Form, Affect, Politics The Second Sex stages a series of conversations across multiple identities and perspectives. More simply put, Beauvoir puts several different people into conversation, yet their identities and situations are permeable to each other and to the world. The people, as described by Beauvoir, are each situated by ontological, affective, economic, and historical conditions, but emerge transformed from the conversation as received by readers, opening up new opportunities for political collectivities to emerge.

We should notice, too, that the text experiments in cross- and inter-disciplinarity, putting biology, physiology, philosophy, literature, qualitative sociological record, history, economics, psychology, and political science all into conversation about the meaning and hierarchy of sexual difference.

These conversations diagnose both good and bad feelings about gender and belonging that are the products of patriarchal oppression. They also show how ideology and myth-making are themselves a product not only of systems, structures, and material conditions, but also of affective states and interactions that both arise from and result in material effects.

Beauvoir asks us, via the conversation she constructs within the text and solicits beyond the text, to revisit and explore the anxiety produced by bodily facts, turn away from myth, ideology, history, and linguistic and institutional structures and practices of oppression to embrace ambiguity, better imagine our world, and radically recreate its meanings. The conversation Beauvoir constructs, and the way she invites multiple perspectives into her text by experimenting with this style, is especially adept for political thinking true to conditions of freedom as non-sovereignty, inter-subjectivity, and an enactment of future possibilities for collective political action.

Not only does Beauvoir note that the dominant masculine response to the human predicament of embodiment and finitude precipitates feelings of hostility, fear, and anxiety that result in the creation of myths and ideologies about sexual difference, she further argues that women, too, absorb and replicate these emotions and attitudes, and they are imprinted on female bodies.

Ultimately, the form of the text itself invites new conversations: it unfolds as a political appeal, producing a community beyond the text inviting readers to invent new subjectivities, new thinking, and indeed to create a different future.

First, structural conditions of oppression arise from the myth of Woman, an ideology produced contingently via political meanings about sexual difference. There is no doubt that by opening the book we have stumbled upon a creative and sometimes baffling textual beast. Volume I features male authority figures— scientists, politicians, historians, psychoanalysts, philosophers, playwrights, theologians, and novelists—declaiming on the roots, legitimacy, and meanings of sexual difference.

With the introduction of a diverse group of women in Volume II, the conversation gets even more heated and we see the world from a new perspective. One of the techniques that Beauvoir employs throughout the first volume of The Second Sex is to give male authority figures space to speak for themselves and in conversation with other authority figures while at the same time undermining, sometimes explicitly and sometimes in more subtle ways, their assumed right to shape, determine, and dominate conversation.

But she also steps in at key moments, aggressively inserting herself into conversation to make a pointed and often damning observation. As readers, though, we have to be attentive: we must never turn away for even a moment, for we might lose the thread.

Myths, too, are a response to certain ugly, or at least unsettling and uncomfortable, feelings such as anxiety. Moving between and amongst people in conversation, identities are seen as inherently unstable and relational, and affects as shifting and moving to both stabilize and destabilize material conditions and ideological perspectives.

Put into staged conversation with each other, male authorities show how their identities as authority figures are built on shifting sand, and they reveal their affective preoccupations—fear, disgust, repulsion, hostility, and anxiety. These emotions motivate and undergird patriarchal ideology and structures, and themselves form a complex assemblage of emotions that hold men, and as we shall see, women too, emotionally, anatomically, and psychically captive to the hierarchy of sexual difference.

There are good feelings generated by the comfort that one receives from belonging to the community of women who embrace and manage femininity, and bad or ugly feelings experienced by belonging inexpertly or not at all. And yet, via the both formal and affective techniques Beauvoir utilizes to create new conversations the staging and the appeal , we more clearly see the links between patriarchal structures and systems and their affective, particularly their emotional, hold on us.

This method, she wagers, not only helps us see our shared world anew, it may also spark new antagonisms and solicit our investment in creating conditions for the emergence of new alliances.

While Beauvoir is exceedingly attentive to the attractive affective links between oppression and identity, as well as the way these links emotionally bond us with each other and with repressive power, she simultaneously calls for dissociation from identity categories and the feelings, both good and bad, that they solicit. Put as an explicitly political question, Beauvoir asks: does femininity ever become a site of resistance whereby affects produced and nurtured via oppression can lead elsewhere?

What we will see in the reading that follows is that while Beauvoir exposes both the attractive allure of femininity as well as the pathological characteristics its demands engender Marso , her appeal to her readers via the conversational form invites us to embrace the risks of freedom and collective action that a dissociation with identity and its affects makes possible.

She argues instead that ontology is a concrete and political reality we have bodies, we reproduce, we die, we are slaves to the species, we are configurations of cells, blood, tissues, bones, and muscle , and that the meanings ascribed to sexual difference, itself created as a key and central difference, stems from an actively emotive fear of bodies, biology, and the complexity and vitality of life processes.

Indeed we must speak with and to those identified as women, and even speak emotively as if the category were meaningful, in order to begin to dismantle the many mechanisms that undergird the hierarchy of sexual difference.

Beauvoir argues that all humans are situated, located as we are within constraints of biology, history, social and political conditions, the existence and experience of time as linear and non-linear, ideologies and systems, the existence of others, and webs of discourse. Beauvoir recognizes these constraints, and furthermore argues that some of them—the ontological aspects of conditions within biology, for example, such as time and death—should be embraced.

To avow and embrace ambiguity would be to accept that we are each simultaneously self and other, transcendence and immanence. Throughout her oeuvre, especially in The Ethics of Ambiguity, Beauvoir seeks to understand how some subjects race, class, gender, and power are interlinked here have been able to deny ambiguity, systematically and structurally, by assuming the role of transcendence for themselves and confining others to immanence. In The Second Sex, Beauvoir says women often acquiesce to conditions of oppression by acting in some combination of bad faith and reasonable assessment of their situation.

Claiming freedom triggers the angst that accompanies making free choices. All quotations this paragraph, Not only do you get positive reinforcement from patriarchal structures and from the individual men to whom you are attached, you also get the feeling of belonging to a culture that points beyond the self.

Anticipating contemporary work in cultural and feminist theory, but solicited differently through the conversational form as mobilized through people both real and fictional , Beauvoir brings attention to the emotions and anxieties of women, diagnosing these affects as a response to situation expressed on and by the body and its comportment.

I expected this, yet I could never have imagined it would be so terrible. Why do people always think I am so happy? What no one seems to realize is that I cannot create happiness, either for him or for myself As she shows in The Promise of Happiness , emotions coalesce in social and material form to falsely appear for individuals as specific orientations that are the result of conscious choice.

While affects do appear on particular bodies, it is the failure of emotions to be located solely in a particular body or object that allows them to reproduce and generate the effects that they do. But with Beauvoir and Ahmed, we see that unhappiness, shame, and pride, for instance, are constituted by other means; they are saturated signs, rather than individual symptoms. Reading with Beauvoir and Ahmed helps us to see affects and emotions such as unhappiness, melancholy, worry, anxiety, grief, obsessions, and so on, as produced within a social system, in this case under patriarchy.

Reading this way, we see the circulation of affects between and across bodies and histories as registering a potential critique. Invoking another common emotional state for women, Beauvoir talks about worry to diagnose it as lack of freedom.

January 15, I have been feeling [out of sorts and] angry that he should love everything and everyone, when I want him to love only me … In the following and final section, I return to the significance of the conversational form to draw out its most explicit political implications. Conversation and Collective Political Action As Beauvoir constantly reminds us, seeking meaning through identification with god, myths, humanity, or any a priori or transcendent universal, even the belief in revolution, destroys the space and time between us, and thus destroys politics.

She also says, though, that many, both women and men, heard and responded to her appeal. Could it be the case that hearing the female complaint, learning the truth of the origins of myths in male anxiety and fear, and making space for conversation between and amongst women is, itself, what feminist politics is about?

Do these acts themselves create the possibility to encourage collective action? If we read The Second Sex as an appeal to solicit our judgments, and see politics as taking the form of an unending, open, and necessary conversation, we can see this text and its central question what is a woman? References Ahmed, Sara.

Ahmed, Sara. The Promise of Happiness. Durham: Duke University Press. Apter, Emily. London: Verso. Beauvoir, Simone de. The Ethics of Ambiguity. New York: Citadel. New York: Paragon. Philosophical Writings, edited by Margaret A. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. Diary of a Philosophy Student, edited by Margaret A. Wartime Diary, edited by Margaret A. New York: Vintage. Political Writings, edited by Margaret A.

Berlant, Lauren. Kruks, Sonia.

1. Recognizing Beauvoir

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Simone de Beauvoir , in full Simone-Lucie-Ernestine-Marie Bertrand de Beauvoir , born January 9, , Paris , France—died April 14, , Paris , French writer and feminist , a member of the intellectual fellowship of philosopher-writers who have given a literary transcription to the themes of existentialism. She began studying philosophy at the Sorbonne in She thereafter earned her living through writing. Simone de Beauvoir wrote works of philosophy , novels, memoirs, essays, short stories, and journal articles. Her best-known work is The Second Sex , a classic of contemporary feminist literature.

Simone de Beauvoir

Though she did not consider herself a philosopher, she had a significant influence on both feminist existentialism and feminist theory. Beauvoir wrote novels , essays , biographies , autobiographies and monographs on philosophy, politics, and social issues. She was known for her treatise The Second Sex , a detailed analysis of women's oppression and a foundational tract of contemporary feminism ; and for her novels, including She Came to Stay and The Mandarins.


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