12 Jan 2009

Essays on The Second Sex

The rapid economic growth of the United State, Great Britain and other developed nations from the late 18th century through the middle of the 20th century began a stage of limited inclusion of women in roles beyond motherhood and laid the first seeds of the feminist movement.  These seeds began to bloom in full force in the aftermath of World War II, during which many women were forced to enter the workforce to support the war effort.  The image of Rosy the Riveter was born, proving women could work in many occupations formerly assumed to be only suitable for men.  Women have not forgotten.


Though Susan B. Anthony’s campaign for women’s suffrage (the right to vote) was much earlier, the formulation of modern feminist thinking can be traced to a remarkable woman in war-torn France: Simone Lucie-Ernestine-Marie-Bertrand de Beauvoir.  In the two-volume set of “The Second Sex,” de Beauvoir sets the stage for understanding the development of women throughout history (Book I – “Facts and Myths) and then evaluates the role of women in her society (Book II – “Woman’s Life Today).  Though these books were written in 1949, they show a clear philosophy which we can recognize as the birth of modern feminism.


In her dissertation, de Beauvoir argues that men and women viewing each other as competitive rivals is unnecessary and unhealthy for our society.  As a man, I have seen women who were Master electricians, police officers, firefighters, and to be honest, some of the greatest managers I have had the pleasure to work under.  I have no doubt in my heart de Beauvoir was right, though I know many still question this philosophy.  To me, this simply proves we still have a lot of work to do.


  • Why did de Beauvoir feel it necessary to begin with the history of women?  Could the context of “Woman’s Life Today” have been established another way?  Would it have been as effective?
  • Compare de Beauvoir’s arguments regarding the potential of women with the standing of women today.  What progress has been made?  What progress is still necessary? 
  • Does de Beauvoir’s depiction of feminism in 1949 reflect the current trends of feminism today?  What are the differences and why might they be present?


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