Simone de Beauvoir

Most Influential Feminist

If one is asked to point out one feminist critic that stands apart among all the feminists as the most influential of them all, it has to be Simone De Beauvoir.

She was born in 1908 in Paris, France, and is considered by many as the most influential and intellectual feminist so far. Not only she was a distinguished feminist, but was also a highly influential philosopher, with specific expertise and interest in existentialism.

Her later attribute, and excessive interest in existentialism was no doubt stemmed from her life-long relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre.

The Second Sex

Beauvoir’s book titled “The Second Sex” is considered a ground-breaking and one of the foundational text from which modern feminism heavily derives its ideas from. In this book, Beauvoir argues that women, throughout history, have always been subordinated and treated as the “other.”

They were relegated to the position of a sub-human and were always seen as the objects and never as the subjects. Their existence has no individuality and they were made to play a secondary role to that of a man, that is to say, that their life has no meaning outside the existence of the man.

Unlike man, who is free to explore the world and its new boundaries as a free being, women, on the other hand, have been confined by the societal and familial duties imposed on them, be it as a mother or a wife.

Feminine Nature of Women

She rightly points out in her work, “One is not born a woman but becomes one.” In her book The Second Sex, she goes on to explain this very idea by investigation and exploring the very definition and notion of femininity, womanhood and what constitutes this and what makes a woman “feminine in nature.”

According to Beauvoir, femininity is not inherent to a woman and is, like any other idea we of an individual, the result of social and cultural construction.

To reiterate the point made in the above paragraph, these very definitions of femininity and this particular attribute being associated with a woman is created to suppress women. She gives extremely valid reasons to explain why this is done so in society.

Women are actually taught by the society to fulfil the needs and demands of a man, and therefore to exist in relation to them. They were never given proper legal rights and therefore they failed to make any significant public influence.

Treatment of Women like Dolls

De Beauvoir argues that women were always treated like dolls. Since they are kids, they are incessantly given lectures, by their family or society, to behave, dress in a certain way. They adore themselves so that they can please other men, and hence women end up objectifying themselves just like the man does to them.

The torturous, mundane life of a woman is explained in these words from The Second Sex, when Beauvoir states, “few tasks are more like torture of Sisyphus than housework, with its endless repetition: the clean becomes soiled, the soiled is made clean, over and over, day after day.”

One should notice the use of existentialist idea of absurd and meaningless nature of human toiling in this world being applied to this absurdity and endless torture of women’s life. 

According to Beauvoir, if a woman wants to free herself off this patriarchal bondage, she has to first realise that all her feminine characteristics are socially constructed and not her true essence. Only by understanding this, a woman can, live a free life with complete agency and not a life of being treated like an accessory of man.