Beauvoir arrived at a notion of a fundamental conflict between self and other….partly through her own struggle, an explicit and implicit subtext of a second sex with an imperious need for love that she experienced as a temptation to self-abnegation.
Introduction by Judith Thurman of The Second Sex (1949) by Simone de Beauvoir
Beauvoir describes the fall into knowledge…the beginning of conscious femininity…and the necessary step to becoming a woman, realizing the curse or responsibility woman bares which includes necessarily resisting the temptations of self-abnegation and power itself. She brazenly writes:
The conflict will last as long as men and women do not recognize each other as peers, that is, as long as femininity is perpetuated as such; which of them is the most determined to maintain it? The woman who frees herself from it nevertheless wants to conserve its prerogatives; and the man then demands that she assume its limitations. “It is easier to accuse one sex than to excuse the other,” says Montaigne. Meting out blame and approbation is useless. In fact, the vicious circle is so difficult to break here because each sex is victim both of the other and of itself; between two adversaries confronting each other in their pure freedom, an agreement could easily be found, especially as this war does not benefit anyone; but the complexity of this whole business comes from the fact that each camp is its enemy’s accomplice; the woman pursues a dream of resignation, the man a dream of alienation; inauthenticity does not pay: each one blames the other for the unhappiness brought on himself by taking the easy way out; what the man and the woman hate in each other is the striking failure of their own bad faith or their own cowardice.
We have seen why men originally enslaved women; the devaluation of femininity was a necessary step in human development; but this step could have brought about a collaboration between the two sexes; oppression is explained by the tendency of the existent to flee from himself by alienating himself in the other that he oppresses for that purpose; this tendency can be found in each individual man today: and the vast majority give in to it; a husband looks for himself in his wife, a lover in his mistress, in the guise of a stone statue; he seeks in her the myth of his virility, his sovereignty, his unmediated reality. “My husband never goes to the movies,” says the woman, and the dubious masculine pronouncement is engraved in the marble of eternity. But he himself is a slave to his double: what effort to build up an image in which he is always in danger! After all, it is founded on the capricious freedom of women: it must constantly be made favorable; man is consumed by the concern to appear male, important, superior; he playacts so that others will playact with him; he is also aggressive and nervous; he feels hostility for women because he is afraid of them, and he is afraid of them because he is afraid of the character with whom he is assimilated.
What time and energy he wastes in getting rid of, idealizing, and transposing complexes, in speaking about women, seducing, and fearing them! He would be liberated with their liberation. But that is exactly what he fears. And he persists in the mystifications meant to maintain woman in her chains.
That she is mystified is something of which many men are conscious. “What a curse to be a woman! And yet the very worst curse when one is a woman is, in fact, not to understand that it is one,” says Kierkegaard. Attempts have been made to disguise this misfortune for a long time.de Beauvoir, Simone. The Second Sex (p. 752). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
One thought on ““One is not born, but rather becomes a woman” Simone de Beauvoir”
Oh I read and loved The Second Sex when I was in my 20’s. But now I want to question this statement: “We have seen why men originally enslaved women; the devaluation of femininity was a necessary step in human development;” Why “necessary” for human development? Perhaps necessary for the overthrow of Mother Goddess cultures and replacement by a Patriarchal and hierarchical Father God order of being? One reason I believe men originally enslaved women in many cultures is simply that they could because they are in general larger and stronger. Plus in our first tribal hunter/gatherer beginnings, they were called to protect their childbearing and nursing women. It seems to me that femininity and masculinity must be devalued equally and together, or perhaps explored and blurred at the edges as so many young people are doing today by rejecting any binary gender identities and calling themselves neither he nor she but “they.”