Often cited as the seminal text of modern feminist theory, Simone de Beauvoir’s 1949 publication, The Second Sex still deeply resonates with readers who seek to understand the pervasive oppression of women. The magnum opus of her long and prolific career as a writer and existential philosopher, The Second Sex offers both a sweeping history of women’s subjugation, and a compelling theoretical statement on the nature of being a woman. Women, de Beauvoir argues, are Other. “Humanity,” she writes, “is male and man defines woman not as herself but as relative to him…He is the Subject, the Absolute—she is the Other.”
In this Olio, we will examine how the experience of being other shapes women’s relationship to the world around them, and perhaps more importantly, to themselves. For, if de Beauvoir is correct, women are not simply “othered,” objectified, and subjugated by society, women actually come to experience themselves as other—indeed, as non-selves. We will look closely at this compelling claim with a particular focus on romantic heterosexual love.
Indeed, one reason for women’s continued subjugation, de Beauvoir contends, is that unlike other oppressed groups, women love their oppressors. “The bond that unites her to her oppressor,” she writes, “is not comparable to any other.” Thus, even the most freedom-hungry woman will attempt liberation by falling in love, finding her “avid will to exist” transformed into a seductive, and often crushing, “dream of annihilation.”