Simone de beauvoir                                      

   Home                                        The second sex


The Second Sex by  Mathieu Durelle


Written in 1949 by Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex quickly became a standing stone of feminist philosophy all over the world.  Divided into two tomes, it spanned feminist ideologies in the domains of literature, history, sociology, biology and medical science. Based on the philosophical and literary movement of existentialism (humanity is not bound to fate or destiny but rather decides and creates its future by its actions), The Second Sex explored the multifaceted ideas and theories on the essence or place of women in the world. The two tomes are each divided in three and four chapters.

The first tome itself is divided in three different chapters: destiny, history and myths. In destiny (a title with an ironic tone remembering that the essay is based on existentialism), Beauvoir examines the biologic, psychoanalytic and historic materialism of women. In biology, the aspect that female mammals are dominated by males is explored and refuted with the argument that humanity is not only a species but also a civilisation.  Simone de Beauvoir then proceeded to refute psychoanalytic approaches by explaining that they are based too much on sexuality and predetermined acts to be valuable (oppositely to existentialism). Finally with historic materialism, the author states that the opinions we have on women are often solely based on the economy.


The second chapter, history, is similar to what Woolf did in A Room of One’s Own. Although not focusing on imaginary figures of the past like Woolf, Beauvoir examines the course of history from prehistoric times, to the coming of Christianity to current times. She comes to the conclusion that history as we know it has mostly been written and thus envisioned by man (Beauvoir 226).

Finally with Myths, Simone de Beauvoir elaborates on the different myths that were created throughout history (Christian myths that lead to the repugnance of menstruations and the importance of virginity, muses, etc.). Like the chapter on history, she progresses with history to examine and analyze these different myths. She then concludes the first tome with a reflection on how these myths are imposed or manifested in reality or, if they are applicable to women in their real life.

The second tome focuses on the formation and growth of a woman (from childhood to old age), on situations (from married woman to prostitution), on justifications (ways for woman to cheat themselves into thinking they are free) and finishes with ideas and reflections toward the liberation of woman. A majority of the topics in this tome are often felt as personal experiences from Simone de Beauvoir’s life (childhood analogies, lesbian relationships as her “marriage” with Jean-Paul Sartre was not based on a monogamous relationship and so on). The parts on woman archetypes that simulate freedom are also truly interesting ranging from the lover, to the narcissist and finally the mystic are interesting perspectives on some social behaviours still present in today’s society.

In the end, Beauvoir speaks about the problem of dichotomy that slows the process of equivality between men and women. As long as one still acts as an oppressor to growth and equality, and the second acts hypocritically or refuse to open to the real world, the place of women will not be established




Beauvoir, Simone. Le Deuxième Sexe. France. Haitier. 1977.

            Bauer, Nancy. Simone de Beauvoir. Philosohpy & Feminism.   New York . Columbia University Press. 2001




©Martine Pelletier