Book of da Week: The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
The abridged version.

Released in 1949, the Second Sex was one of those feminist things which further propagated the feminism. Written by genius Simone de Beauvoir, its influence still rages on to this day, although the full 800 pages may be a bit time-consuming for some readers, which is why there’s an abridged version (like our edition). This is, essentially, a Very Best of Feminism album.

The Second Sex is a full-on assault for the egalitarian cause with some of the most insightful and intelligent comments about feminism we’ve ever read. It’s prescient, too, highlighting the good and bad elements of feminism, which we can see in action today, especially since the advent of the internet. So! This is a momentous work way ahead of its time and one which challenged the social status of women back in the late ’40s, when the war had provided many with a new lease of independence and responsibility. Huzzah!

 The Second Sex

What makes the Second Sex such a stunning piece of writing is the objectivity and intelligence behind it. In the introduction, Simone de Beauvoir establishes the prevalent issues of her era – men viewing themselves as generally superior to women: “He is the Subject; he is the Absolute. She is the Other.” She goes on to elaborate the issues millions of women faced for a very bloody long time:

"When an individual or a group of individuals is kept in a situation of inferiority, the fact is that he or they are inferior. But the scope of the verb to be must be understood ... Yes, women in general are today inferior to men; that is, their situation provides them with fewer possibilities: the question is whether this state of affairs must be perptuated."

Things have certainly moved on a great deal and, in most civilized nations, your average dame gets as many opportunities as your average hairy, foul-smelling bloke. Of course, not everyone is particularly chuffed about this shift towards autonomous women:

"The conservative bourgeoisie continues to view women's liberation as a danger threatening their morality and their interests. Some men feel threatened by women's competition ... One of the benefits oppression secures for the oppressor is that the humblest among them feels superior: in the United States, a 'poor white' from the South can console himself for not being a 'dirty nigger'; and more prosperous whites cleverly exploit this pride."

She concludes by stating: “[Men] do not posit woman as inferior: they are too imbued today with the democratic ideal not to recognise all human beings as equals.” This is only the introduction, too, with her other chapters going on to challenge women’s rights in the workplace, before offering a liberal, humble, and perfectly achievable goal we think we’ve made some progress towards:

"To emancipate woman is to refuse to enclose her in the relations she sustains with man, but not to deny them; while she posits herself for herself, she will nonetheless continue to exist for him as well: recognising each other as subject."

This is groovy, although the far right manosphere has still convinced itself feminism is bringing about the total destruction of Western civilization. However, if you want a reminder of what feminism is really about, and what one brilliant lady can achieve, then the Second Sex is one book to turn to.

Feminism Online

These days, feminism has a mainstream appeal about it which seems to have led to some confusion about what it is (i.e. gender equality). Popular sites such as BuzzFeed try to champion the cause with content schedules including body positivity articles for women and “shutting down” (as the term goes) identified instances of sexism, before going well out of its way to objectify men with regular articles such as “Guess The Male Athlete’s Crotch”.

Many of these are tongue in cheek, but such messages provide easy cannon fodder to the far right manosphere, who can grunt modern “feminazis” are hypocrites and get away with it. Also, it seems a lot of women are just furious with men (we’ve known so many lovely guys over the years – where are some women going to meet these freaks?!) and go online to vent their pent up anger – these websites lend an eager ear and everyone sits around their keyboards angrily smashing their keyboards about how horrible men are.

Sometimes this involves a raging argument with a manosphere member who has entered the fray and these “flame wars” (another internet term) can drag on for days, weeks, months, and years. In the Second Sex, de Beauvoir highlights these slanging matches were an issue in her era, too, and dismisses them as counterproductive.

Interestingly, feminism briefly cropped up in conversation at Mr. Wapojif’s real job on Friday morning, during which time several female staff members expressed their surprise over men being able to class themselves as feminists, believing instead it to be a club available only to women.

Thusly, with our moronic brains, we can’t help but think there’s some confusion with what feminism is, with many people classifying themselves as feminists without much of an understanding of its principles. The solution? Turn to geniuses such as de Beauvoir or Virginia Woolf (A Room of One’s Own) to balance out your mind, find some harmony, and head out into the world ready to beat up bigots (yeah, the paradox of tolerance in action there – get out of here! This blog post is over).

5 comments

  1. Ok, I’m going…but first let me thank you for a very fine review. I am intrigued and look forward to reading this.

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