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PHIL 375 - de Beauvoir: The Second Sex (Intro).doc
PHIL 375 - de Beauvoir: The Second Sex (Intro).doc

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McGill University
PHIL 375
Susan Judith Hoffmann

Question 3: What is a woman, according to Simone de Beauvoir? How does her exploration of this question demonstrate that she is an existentialist thinker? Rejection of two positions: the 'eternal feminine' and 'liberal egalitarianism' Example of the 'eternal feminine' position: “Even in Russia, women are still very much women” (3) Contrast this with Sartre's tautological example of bad faith; de Beauvoir = existentialist! “What is a woman? 'Tota mulier in utero: she is a womb,' some say. yet speaking of certain women, the experts proclaim, 'They are not women,' even though they have a uterus like the others. Everyone agrees there are females in the human species; today, as in the past, they make up about half of humanity; and yet we are told that 'femininity is in jeopardy'; we are urged, 'Be women, stay women, become women.' So not every female human being is necessarily a woman; she must take part in this mysterious and endangered reality known as femininity” (3) “Biological and social sciences no longer believe there are immutably determined entities that define gien characteristics like those of the woman.... Science considers characteristics as secondary reactions to a situation. If there is no such thing today as femininity, it is because there never was” (4). Rejection of biological definition: female =/= woman “Although some women zealously strive to embody it, the model has never been patented” (3). Woman is archetype, an ideal “It is easy for antifeminists to show that women are not men. Certainly woman like man is a human being; but such an assertion is abstract; the fact is that every concrete human being is always uniquely situated” (4) “To reject the notions of the eternal feminine ... is not to deny that there are today ... women: this denial is not a liberation for those concerned but an inauthentic flight. Clearly, no woman can claim without bad faith to be situated beyond her sex” (4). “Even when her rights are recognized abstractly, long-standing habit keeps them from being concretely manifested in customs” (9). At the same time, female is still female; to deny the problems encountered by women doesn't actually ameliorate the situation of women. Asymmetry of Relations “It would never occur to a man to write a book on the singular situation of males in humanity. If I want to define myself, I first have to say, 'I am a woman'; all other assertions will arise from this basic truth. A man never begins by positing himself as an individual of a certain sex: that he is a man is obvious.” “The relation of the two sexes is not that of two electrical poles: the man represents both the positive and the neuter.... Woman is the negative” (5). “I used to get annoyed in abstract discussions to hear men tell me: 'You think such and such a thing because you're a woman.' But I know my only defense is to answer, 'I think it because it is true,' thereby eliminating my subjectivity; it was out of the question to answer, 'And you think the contrary because you are a man,' because it is understood that being a man is not a particularity; a man is in his right by virtue of being a man; it is the woman who is in the wrong” (5). “There is an absolute human type that is masculine” (5). “He grasps his body as a direct and normal link with the world that he believes he apprehends in all objectivity, whereas he considers woman's body an obstacle, a prison, burdened by everything that particularizes it” (5). “Humanity is male, and man defines woman, not in herself, but in relation to himself; she is not considered an autonomous being” (5) Draw in example of idolatrous love? “The male sees her essentially as a sexed being; for him she is sex, so she is it in the absolute. She is determined and differentiated in relation to man, while he is not in relation to her.... He is the Subject; he is the Absolute. She is the Other” (6). Otherness and Consciousness “The category of Other is as original as consciousness itself.... This division did not always fall into the category of the division of the sexes, it was not based on any empirical given” (6). “Alterity is the fundamental category of human thought. No group ever defines itself as One without immediately setting up the Other opposite itself” (6). There is, “following Hegel, a fundamental hostility to any other consciousness [that] is found in consciousness itself; the subject posits itself only in opposition; it asserts itself as the essential and sets up the other as inessential, as the object” (7). “But the other consciousness has an opposing reciprocal claim.... Whether one likes it or not, individuals and groups have no choice but to recognize the reciprocity of their relation. How is it, then, that between the sexes this reciprocity has not been put forward.... Why do women not contest male sovereignty? (7). “In order for the Other not to turn into the One, the Other has to submit to this foreign point of view. Where does this submission in woman come from?” (7). Women as an oppressed group is unique. “There have not always been proletarians: there have always been women” (8). “As far back as history can be traced, they have always been subordinate to men; their dependence is not the consequence of an event or a becoming, it did not happen. Alterity here appears to be an absolute” (8). “If woman discovers herself as the inessential and never turns into the essential, it is because she does not bring about this transformation herself” (8). “Women's actions have never been more than symbolic agitation; they have won only what men have been wiling to concede to them; they have taken nothing; they have received” (8). “They have no past, no history, no religion ... no solidarity of labor or interests; they even lack their own space.... They live dispersed among men, tied by homes, work, economic interests, and social conditions to certain men—fathers or husbands—more closely than to other women. As bourgeois women, they are in solidarity with bourgeois men and not with women proletarians” (8). “The tie that binds her to her oppressors is unlike any other. The division of the sexes is a biological given, not a moment in human history. Their opposition took shape within an original Mitsein, and she has not broken it.... This is the fundamental characteristic of woman: she is the Other at the heart of a whole whose two components are n
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