Simone Debeauvoir The Second Sex Essay, Research Paper
Existence Precedes Essence.The Second Sex, published in 1949, is one of Simone de Beauvoir’s most famous and most shocking work, during it’s time. One of de Beauvoir’s greatest influences waspartly explained by her exceptional position in a male-dominated, intellectual world of French existentialism. One intellectual and influential role in de Beauvoir’s life, was her relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre, a famous French existentialist. From the time this couple fell in love at the Sorbing until Sartre’s death in April of 1980, they accomplished an “existential” role in each others life. The two never shared permanent domestic space, owned common property, or had any children; and both had many separate affairs and relationships. Simone de Beauvoir’s existential views, such as, “One is not born, but rather becomes a woman(de Beauvoir 301),” was a major point of her philosophies. In the The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir explains, how each female creates and re-creates her “essence” through her own choices and actions.
Overall, there are several major themes that are focused on in The Second Sex. The destiny, history, myths, and situations of women’s life today, are the principal subjects of the book. In The Second Sex, Part IV called, “The Formative Years,” the information within chapter XIV, “Sexual Initiation,” is focused on closely. Simone de Beauvoir expressed, that love and sex should be possessed within free relationships built on desire and equality, and stressed the importance of openly discussing the traumas surrounding menstruation and sexual awareness. She rationalizes, “in a sense, women’s sexual initiation, like man’s, begins in earliest childhood…But the erotic experiences of the young girl are not simply an extension of her former sexual activities; very often they are unexpected and disagreeable; and they are always in the nature of a new event that makes a break with the past(de Beauvoir 414).” The sexual awareness of a young female is perhaps, not only an instinct, but in fact is created through individual thoughts and experiences. “Psychiatrists all agree on the extreme importance of a women’s first erotic experiences: they’re repercussions are felt throughout the rest of their life(de Beauvoir 414).” The female’s sexuality is continuously created and defined throughout their life. The process of growing from child to young woman, and eventually to an adult is accepting the perplexity of becoming a woman. Simone de Beauvoir explains how a, “women’s eroticism is much more complex, and it reflects the complexity of the feminine situation. We have seen that instead of integrating the powerful drives of the species into her individual life, the female is the prey of the species, the interests of which are dissociated from the females interest as an individual(de Beauvoir 415).” In the world, women have played a submissive role to men. Men and women are different, and that undeniable fact is precisely the debate over what constitutes femininity in societies definition. The gender roles of women is a topic that de Beauvoir focuses on, in the importance of creating a females sexual initiation and relationships. “It is striking that in woman there is a choice of two systems, one of which perpetuates juvenile independence while the other consigns women to man and childbearing. The normal sexual act in effect puts women into a state of dependency upon the male and the species. It is the male-as in most animals-who has the aggressive role, the female submitting to his embrace. Normally, she can be taken by the man at anytime, whereas he can take her only when he is in the state of erection. Apart from cases of vaginismus, when the woman is sealed more effectively by the hymen, feminine disinclination can be overcome; and even in viginismus there are ways in which a male can relieve himself upon a body that his muscular power puts his mercy. Since she is object, any inertia on her part does not seriously effect her natural roll: a statement supported by the fact that many men do not trouble themselves to find out whether the women who bed with them desire coition or merely submit to it(de Beauvoir 417).” A females expectations are sexually associated with a man’s aggressive sexual expectations, thus causing a female to compromise herself, and destroy what she has created as her essence. “From primitive times to our own, intercourse has always been considered ’service’ for which the male thanks the women by giving her presents or assuring her maintenance; but to serve is to give oneself a master; there is no reciprocity in this relation. The nature of marriage, as well as the existence of prostitutes, is the proof: woman gives herself, man pays her and takes her. Nothing forbids the male to act the master, to take inferior creatures. Affairs with servant girls have always been tolerated, whereas the middle-class women who gives herself to a chauffeur or a gardener loses caste. The savagely racist American men of the south have always been permitted by the mores to sleep with black women, before the Civil War as today, and they make use of this right with a lordly arrogance; but a white woman who had commerce with a black in slavery days would have been put to death, and today she would probably be lynched(de Beauvoir 418).” This hypocritical control for keeping women in a subordinate role, is a perfect example of how traditional gender roles place women in socially inferior positions. This makes it difficult for a female to create the reality of herself intellectually, emotionally, and socially. A young female might resent the idea of being created before given the chance to create herself. Simone de Beauvoir accounts for how Freud explains that a woman would be masochistic, because she accepts her passive role(de Beauvoir 444). She states that, “masochism exists only when the ego is set up as separate and when the estranged self, or devil, is regarded as dependent on the will of others…Now, ‘masochism, like sadism, is the assumption of guilt. I am guilty, in fact, simply because I am object.’ This idea of Sartre’s is in line with Freudian conception of self-punishment. The young girl considers herself to blame for submitting her ego to others and she punishes herself for it by voluntarily redoubling her humiliation and slavishness; as we have seen, virgins feel defiant toward their lovers-to-be and punish themselves for their coming submissiveness by various kinds of self-torment; when the lover is finally real, they persist in this attitude(de Beauvoir 446-447).” A female may punish herself and deny herself pleasure, because of not feeling like an equal or an individual. “The fact could not be better expressed that masochism belongs among the juvenile perversions, that it is no true solution of the conflict created by women’s sexual destiny, but a mode of escaping from it by wallowing in it. Masochism by no means represents the normal and happy flowering of feminine eroticism(de Beauvoir 448).” Simone de Beauvoir gives some light to the subject, and explains how a woman can be satisfied, as well as, delighted with a relationship with a male. Relationships, de Beauvoir explains, can be created through respect and attraction of the individual. “The dissimilarity that exists between the eroticism of the male and that of the female creates insoluble problems as long as there is a ‘battle of the sexes’; they can easily be solved when woman finds in the male both desire and respect; if he lusts after her flesh while recognizing her freedom, she feels herself to be the essential, her integrity remains unimpaired the while she makes herself object; she remains free in the submission to which she consents. Under such conditions the lovers can enjoy a common pleasure, in the fashion suitable for each, the partners each feeling pleasure as being his or her own but as having its source in the other(de Beauvoir 448).” Women and the fundamentals of existentialism are materialized through the powerful influence that Simone de Beauvoir was capable of, and opening the minds of her female readers.
The advice located throughout The Second Sex, is an existential view of the female. The existence of a female precedes the essence of the woman. Simone de Beauvoir explains the sexual initiation of the female, her relations with the male, and her place in society, in her classic manifesto of the liberated woman. An influential role in de Beauvoir’s life, was her relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre, a famous French existentialist. Her position in a male-dominated, intellectual world of French existentialism was an exceptional achievement for a woman of her time. Simone de Beauvoir influenced many woman to take control of their environment, their choices, and their existence. The logic throughout the book is a great advisement for a female to read and carry through into her life and intellect. The Second Sex, published in 1949, is one of Simone de Beauvoir’s greatest influence on female individualism and existentialism.