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Simone de Beauvoir was a philosopher, novelist, short story writer, playwright, and essayist of several volumes of memoirs. Beauvoir was born in Montparnasse, France, which is the sixth district in the Paris metropolitan area. In fact, Montparnasse is a mythical area of Paris, known as a meeting place for intellectuals and artists.
Beauvoir was fond of her birthplace, and it was where she made the most of her work, believing in the place’s power as the center of the intellectual world. Beauvoir’s education was outstanding: she attended the Ecole Normale Supérieure, an elite college, and graduated when she was only 21 years old.
Interestingly enough, at that time the Ecole was closed to women, but Beauvoir made friends with students attending the school and joined a study group in philosophy, which opened up a new world of ideas to her, especially within existentialism.
The feminist movement, to which she was labeled, is defined by Beauvoir as a rededicated movement with the objective of gaining the recognition or extension of women’s rights in society. The movement is the struggle led by and for women to stop patriarchal society oppression, and abhorring sexual inequalities.
Beauvoir pioneered a movement to gain those rights, and to change society in order to establish justice and equality. Beauvoir was also known to collaborate with another French thinker, Jean-Paul Sartre. The two were concerned with existentialism.
Existentialism is a modern philosophical movement stressing the importance of personal experience and responsibility, and the demands that those experiences and responsibilities make on the individual, who is seen as a free agent in a deterministic and seemingly meaningless universe.
Existentialist philosophy is omnipresent in the works of Beauvoir and also in the case of The Second Sex. On one hand, the book itself initiates the feminist modern movement but it also manages to showcase the existentialist philosophy that underpins all her writings, emphasizing the idea that only individuals can create society.
When she published The Second Sex, she already had an impressive list of publications, including three novels, L’Invitée (The Woman Who Came to Stay, 1943), Le Sang des autres (The Bloodof Others, 1945), and Tous les hommes sont mortels (All Men Are Mortal, 1946), one play, Les Bouches Inutiles (Useless Mouths, 1945), and three essays, Pyrrhus et Cinéas (1944), Pour une morale de l’ambiguité (The Ethics of Ambiguity, 1947) and L’Amérique au jour le jour (America Day by Day, 1948).
All her books explicitly discuss the female body, sexuality, and the relationship between a man and a woman’s femininity. Keeping in mind that those topics were taboo at the time the book was published, all of her books were rejected by male critics. In fact, even Sartre grew furious over the book and said that the book is “an insult to the Latin male.” The Second Sex deals exclusively with the conceptions western men have created about women since the beginning of history.
To set the general state of mind, Beauvoir chose two quotes as an epigraph: “There is a good principle, which has created order, light, and man; and a bad principle, which has created chaos, darkness, and woman,” by Pythagoras and “Everything that has been written about women by men is suspect, for although men are intimately involved, they set themselves up as judges” by the medieval feminist Poulain de La Barre.