Simone de Beauvoir, in her 1949 text The Second Sex, examines the problems faced by women in Western society. She argues that women are subjugated, oppressed, and made to be inferior to males – simply by virtue of the fact that they are women. She notes that men define their own world, and women are merely meant to live in it. She sees women as unable to change the world like men can, unable to live their lives freely as men can, and, tragically, mostly unaware of their own oppression. In The Second Sex, de Beauvoir describes the subjugation of woman, defines a method for her liberation, and recommends strategies for this liberation that still have not been implemented today.
De Beauvoir, in attempting to define the subjugation experienced by woman, notes that women lag behind other oppressed groups of her epoch, like Jews and blacks. She argues that women are behind in terms of civil rights mainly because they have not identified that they are indeed being oppressed, despite their lack of social and professional status. De Beauvoir writes that “the epithet of female has the sound of an insult,” (1) meaning that women experience discrimination and social inequity. Further, she asserts that man is responsible for the construction of a world based upon his values, his norms, and his capabilities. She is unsurprised by the fact that woman has achieved comparatively less – in a male-oriented culture, how could anyone possibly expect woman to accomplish as much as man?
This societal commentary transcends legal status. The acquisition of civil rights will not be enough to right the wrongs perpetrated upon woman as a whole, according to de Beauvoir. Liberalism, therefore, is also insufficient to address the problems woman faces. De Beauvoir states that woman is compelled to perpetuate the same state of affairs as prevailed during her time by asserting that woman is “biologically destined for the repetition of life, when even in her own view life does not carry within itself its reasons for being.” (64) De Beauvoir goes on to explain that even if women had equal rights, their role in society would still be secondary, since Western society is oriented in a patriarchal way. She comments on the oppression experienced by woman through three distinct lenses: that of biological differences, that of the psychoanalytical perspective, and finally through the lens of historical materialism.
Biologically speaking, De Beauvoir notes that the sexes are defined in opposition to each other; for example, man is not woman and woman is not man. Their differences are, however, unidentifiable at the most basic of cellular levels. Therefore, the main differentiation of the two genders is demonstrated through sexuality. De Beauvoir goes on to argue that woman’s passive role in procreation reflects her passive role in society, and that society trains women to become subjugated from the very day of their birth. Further, despite the two sexes’...