The Second Sex

Objectives of the Author

The Second Sex is a book by De Beauvoir written at the beginning of modern-day civilization. It was at a time when women began pursuing their place in society as equals with men. The author tackles the position of a woman in terms of her social status and her argument, as the topic suggests, is that women were forced to take a secondary role to men. According to her, since the beginning, women were subject to discrimination where men were a concern. The text describes that the whole human condition comes off as male- in documents and even treatment. As such, in most cases, women are not part of the main functions of society. de Beauvoir supports these claims by providing three examples of reference. 

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The first one is historical materialism, which is about social influence and the economic condition that influence society. According to the authorship, existentialism is the idealism that puts importance on personal freedom and choice (De Beauvoir & Parshley, 1953). She adds psychoanalysis – the significance of looking into the subconscious mind that affects human behavior. De Beauvoir’s investigation on material shows how women have learned to depend on men on almost every aspect of their lives. As a result, they fail to understand the power they have in culture and society. The author sheds lights on how the community then, treated women. For example, they were like minors with no say. With such mentality, none would come forward and claim equality, and because of that, they were absent to change the course of their direction (De Beauvoir & Parshley, 1953). During the authorship, men had access to economic, political, and social power and thus, more influence on cultural issues. 

How did Society Influence the author’s Text

De Beavouir views the whole subject of equality as looking at women from an existentialist lens. By this, she implies that one’s nature is all about their surroundings (de Beauvoir & Parshley, 1953). She offers an opposite view of how the traditional society at the time viewed human nature. According to them, nature is a fixation from the time a person is born (de Beauvoir & Parshley, 1953). As an existentialist, de Beauvoir challenges the argument that human beings are rigid and believes that we did not have any values when they were young. However, individual circumstances shaped our identity.

The Second Sex is a reflection of de Beauvoir comments and conclusion because the examples given, state her views about the position of women in society. Therefore, the text is a channel to relay what she thinks about how society treats women. She states her thoughts and claims that no one is a man, which they become one through how their environment shapes them. As such, she blames the way tradition and culture have undermined the position of women by casting them aside as another gender. You can sense the author’s personal view in the text because of her argument about the birth of discrimination against women. According to her, women are the ‘other’ based on their relation to men (De Beauvoir & Parshley, 1953). De Beauvoir asserts that men treat women only as objects of desire and strip them any other power except procreation and childbearing. As a result, this denies women their subjectivity because they can no longer view themselves as independent individuals. The longtime perception about women is dehumanizing and renders them powerless.

Basic Themes

Other vs. self

de Beauvoir views the above duality as central to what defines the ability of both men and women in society. In particular, because men have a name for themselves as ‘’positive’’ force, the definition of women stems from their differences from men (De Beauvoir & Parshley, 1953). As a result, men have become significant, independent, and central. On the other hand, women are not essential, and they are objects from the men perspective. The author also points out that women tend to yield to this definition making it challenging to convince them that they are capable of defining their ability.

Greatness towards Being

   The author derives from Sartre theories that explain the being and nothingness for her to pass her point about human existence (De Beauvoir & Parshley, 1953). As such, there is a need to transcend self to become better. The desire for growth is also what explains why people want to reproduce. Nonetheless, de Beauvoir is careful to illustrate other ways of achieving transcendence by citing that our significance is not just about reproduction. There are so many things that we as human beings can do and remain productive (De Beauvoir & Parshley, 1953). As a result, sexuality should not be the only thing that defines our place in society- for men and women. Instead, men and women should have their quest to take over as individuals.

Society vs. Freedom

Another critical theme in the text is how society interprets freedom and community. According to the author, women had to choose between being part of society and personal liberty (De Beauvoir & Parshley, 1953). In the early days, a married woman could have access to the man’s property once they married. However, her freedom diminished the moment she got married. On the other hand, prostitutes struggled with poverty and did not get any respect because they chose democracy.  However, they had a chance to be independent and be free of men. This continues even in modern society. Where women still have to choose their status in society, men are free to do as they please.

Gender Balance

de Beauvoir seems to be a big advocate of gender balance because of her plea towards the society to accept to do away with an ages-long tradition that has only succeeded in making women come second to men (De Beauvoir & Parshley, 1953). She explains the reasons that push men to institutionalize the oppression against women. According to the author, the best way forward is to put behind traditions that allow women to abuse. Notably, because modern women are slowly beginning to realize their value, it is best that men join in supporting them by educating their children about inclusivity during their formative years.

Intended Audience

The author is reaching out to both men and women because she believes they are equally responsible for the gender division. According to the book, society has put women down for so long by defining them according to male standards (De Beauvoir & Parshley, 1953). The community as a whole is in the front line policing how women should behave in society. The problem of reducing women to being objects of manipulation is a collective role in society. The community comprises of men, women, and children and they all have a common notion about the place of a woman (De Beauvoir & Parshley, 1953). Except for toddlers, others grow up knowing that women are for sexual objection, procreation, and parenting (De Beauvoir & Parshley, 1953). On the other hand, men have the right to become whatever they choose in society with little or no judgment. As such, de Beauvoir is addressing society at the beginning of modern civilization that is rigid to accept that women have a right to freedom of choice. 

The author is also keen on addressing how men have conditioned their minds to think that women are mere objects (De Beauvoir & Parshley, 1953). At the same time, she is blaming women for allowing this and believes that they can choose to be better if they want to. The author attempts to erase the traditional mentality of both men and women and tries to make them see that there are enough opportunities for both genders and no need to belittle the other. However, she leans more on encouraging women to stand up and claim their place as opposed to accepting the limits that society sets for them. This article is an eye-opener to a more liberal society that accepts the inclusivity of women in all aspects as opposed to confining them. Therefore, it is a piece that any person can relate because these issues have a direct impact on everyone.

The Significance of the Article in the Early Modern Civilization

At the time when de Beauvoir wrote the piece, people were not open to the idea of women inclusivity (De Beauvoir & Parshley, 1953). It was like a taboo to advocate for equal opportunities for both men and women at a time when society was keen on barriers, boundaries, and classifications among others. Therefore, advocating for the change of such a system was not only new but insulting to a society that was comfortable elevating the men and confining women to act according to the set rules (De Beauvoir & Parshley, 1953). Any protest brought about seclusion. Those women who felt that they needed their freedom, faced rejection and opposition and had to sacrifice their family for it. As such, it was a difficult period to advocate for equality because the women also agreed to conform.

de Beauvoir’s ideas appeared to be radical because they challenged traditions that had gone for an extended period. People were comfortable with the notion that women are secondary to men and raised their children knowing that as the tradition. Therefore, explaining the equality of women was like a war on the customs of the people. The fact that human beings are rigid to new experiences made the author’s idea appear ambitious and unattainable.


To sum it up de Beauvoir is critical of the societal standards when it comes to equality of gender. She describes the imbalance in the society regarding opportunities that seem to favor men more as opposed to women. Being a woman, one can say that she is speaking from a woman’s perspective. In particular, she has theories that back up the lack of freedom for women and how they strive to earn a place in their communities. She compares how people view women as an extension of men rather than individuals. This lack of bias also stems from the fact that she does not put the blame entirely on the men, but also the women who she accuses of allowing conformity. She is speaking to everyone who can understand the significance of opportunity. The article is a plea to both men and women to make a change, no matter how slow. Therefore, the author has no bias.

ReferencesDe Beauvoir, S., & Parshley, H. M. (1953). The second sex (p. 105). New York: Vintage books.

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