Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

Book Details
The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
Hardcover, 848 pages
1993, Everyman's Library
ISBN: 0679420169

In The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir posed questions many men, and women, had yet to ponder when the book was released in 1953. "One wonders if women still exist, if they will always exist, whether or not it is desirable that they should ...," she says in this comprehensive treatise on women. She weaves together history, philosophy, economics, biology, and a host of other disciplines to show women's place in the world and to postulate on the power of sexuality. This is a powerful piece of writing in a time before "feminism" was even a phrase, much less a movement.

Delving into every aspect of female history, biology, psychology and sexuality, The Second Sex must have made quite a stir when it was first released over 50 years ago. Over the course of those years, many theories proposed in the book have either become verified fact or have been completely disproven.

To a reader discovering this book for the first time today, it is nothing more than a mix of common sense and misleading data. The words, though, get into your psyche. While reading I could feel myself getting worked up, wanting to stand up, be counted, rebel against, well, men.

Simone de Beauvoir seemed to be fighting for absolute sameness between men and women and that's where she lost me. While she admits that men and women differ biologically, she rather convincingly tried to reason that someone was to blame for that difference. That men were stealing women's power because women were forced to carry and raise the children they had. It doesn't even make sense as I write it here, so maybe I lost the true meaning in the never-ending cry of it's-not-our-fault-that-we've-been-held-down.

She pointed out that women are forced to bow down to men because they have been raised that way. Inversely, shouldn't she also accept that men take control of women because that is the way they were raised to behave? The message to rise against biology and psychology and to change the system is a very important one, but blaming the entire male gender for women's fear of standing up for themselves is prejudice. If I was a man, I would be horrendously offended.

As a women, I see the value of that kind of passion about our gender. The Second Sex is powerful and compelling and often times inaccurate. It's to be expected based on the multitude of changes garnered by the feminist movement over the last 50 years. The book makes you think and that is always a good thing.



  1. Interesting review! I have it on my shelf to read and I think it will be interesting! I'm excited to get to it.

  2. Thanks for the review! I'm a 'baby feminist', so I haven't read the important texts yet, and I was thinking of this one, but after this review, it seems best not to bother--I really have heard the arguments herein contained before.

  3. I have The Second Sex on my TBR, while perhaps the ideas are old and maybe do not have a place, I still think it should be read if only for it's history and significance to the feminist movement.