The Second Sex

Women lack concrete means for organising themselves into a unit which can stand face to face with the correlative unit. They have no past, no history, no religion of their own; and they have no such solidarity of work and interest as that of the proletariat. They are not even promiscuously herded together in the way that creates community feeling among the American Negroes, the ghetto Jews, the workers of Saint-Denis, or the factory hands of Renault. They live dispersed among the males, attached through residence, housework, economic condition, and social standing to certain men – fathers or husbands – more firmly than they are to other women. If they belong to the bourgeoisie, they feel solidarity with men of that class, not with proletarian women; if they are white, their allegiance is to white men, not to Negro women. The proletariat can propose to massacre the ruling class, and a sufficiently fanatical Jew or Negro might dream of getting sole possession of the atomic bomb and making humanity wholly Jewish or black; but woman cannot even dream of exterminating the males. The bond that unites her to her oppressors is not comparable to any other. The division of the sexes is a biological fact, not an event in human history. Male and female stand opposed within a primordial Mitsein, and woman has not broken it. The couple is a fundamental unity with its two halves riveted together, and the cleavage of society along the line of sex is impossible. Here is to be found the basic trait of woman: she is the Other in a totality of which the two components are necessary to one another.

The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir, 1949.

What do you think?


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21 thoughts on “The Second Sex

  1. Zuhura says:

    Smart and true and disturbing.

  2. Stephanie says:

    I can’t say that I relate to it much which is a good thing! It seems like an archaic way of thinking because women in the west today do have feminism. Whether people would like to acknowledge it or not, feminism (at least in the West) has institutionalized the the idea that women are equal and we now have laws and organizations to protect our interests. It’s not perfect, of course and more work is to be done. In particular, economic and social disparities still exist especially among women of color. For me personally, in my own life, I feel empowered as a woman and don’t feel that my gender is in anyway a hinderance to accomplishment.

    Of course, I’m basing my opinion soley on my worldview and personal experience. I can see the quote as being quite relevant to women of in other parts of the globe or even among very conservative Muslims on any continent. I see this segment as being particularly reminiscent to the cultural and religious barriers women face among the Muslim population, even within America: “They live dispersed among the males, attached through residence, housework, economic condition, and social standing to certain men – fathers or husbands – more firmly than they are to other women.”

    Actually, as I’m rereading it, it’s almost as if the author was talking about Muslim women, especially those coming from more conservative and fundamentalist family units. Indeed, Muslim women are told in no uncertain terms that one of their primary responsibilities is to “please and obey” their husbands. They are told they can’t leave their house without permission from a male relative. They’re told they can’t travel unaccompanied.

    Indeed, the most patriarchal interpretations of Islam don’t allow for women to view themselves as anything seperate or independent from the males in society.

    • Metis says:

      I’m so glad you made this comparison. You always have such intelligent things to say, Stephanie. You are right, this is from 1949 and in 62 years Muslim women haven’t gone too far while women in the US, from where you write this comment, have changed completely.

      What do you suggest should happen in Muslim communities? And do you think that a change can or will take place?

    • Zuhura says:

      I think that even in the West women are separated from one another and that there are not a lot of opportunities for women to come together in an organized, activist way.

  3. Coolred38 says:

    If I can answer that question…for Muslim communities to change…Muslim mothers need to raise their Muslim sons with the knowledge that females are fully competent individuals that do not need hand holding and decision making done on their behalves. Mothers are the raisers of the next generation of mysoginistic sons/fathers/husbands. It starts with them.

    • Metis says:

      That is correct! My older son, when he turned five, began to say that he would *rescue* me like Spiderman and will do this and that for me like Superman and Batman because “he was a boy”! I was shocked and learned that he had been hearing such stuff in school from friends. Then one day he got stuck between two fences and I had to rescue him with his sister. We rubbed it in quite a bit that he should realise that women *also* rescue men and that both men and women have to depend on each other. It is a woman who feeds hims, bathes him, changes his clothes, polishes his shoes and cooks for him. He is entirely depended on a woman. He should know that.

  4. Metis says:

    Oh my own comment reminded me of this quote from Guru Nanak:

    From woman, man is born;
    within woman, man is conceived; to woman he is engaged and married.
    Woman becomes his friend; through woman, the future generations come.
    When his woman dies, he seeks another woman; to woman he is bound.
    So why call her bad? From her, kings are born.
    From woman, woman is born; without woman, there would be no one at all.

  5. mariam says:

    I dont think what Simone de Beauvoir has said in 1949 is only related to women in Islamic countries.
    a rising number of western women,specialy American women meet a muslim guy and :
    they start to wear headscarf and niqab,they stop listening music,they stop dancing……..they start to hate Israel ,and more importantly they come to Islamic countries and start to glorify there.for what? for sake of a man.
    I dont know about other Islamic countries but in Iran there are many many women who never never sell their minds to their fathers,brothers or husbands or goverment of Iran, despite the fact they face so many barriers but in the same time there are many American women who sell their minds to a luxury life in Gulf countries,despite the fact they have 1000 times more freedom and opportunity in their homland.
    what Simone de Beauvoir say, can be true for any woman no matter of her nationality, race or faith… .

    what I said is reality and I didnot want to judge or offend any one.

    • Metis says:

      Thank you Mariam for your comment. I understand what you mean. I have seen many Western women give up every freedom to live a life in luxury and have married Muslim men and put on hijab and changed their lifestyle. And I also have met Muslim women online who are brave, independent and bold.

      • Stephanie says:

        Yes, I agree. Some converts swallow it hook, line and sinker. Often times the conversion is for the sake of the man, but I think the belief is real. I know because I was once there. My previous comment was really referring to women who buy into or are born into orthodox or fundamentalist Islam, which is in my opinion quite mysoginistic. I do actually see it as even more ludicrous when a woman actually chooses that lifestyle out of choice.

        • Metis says:

          Stephanie, I admire your honesty and your quest for Truth and so I was wondering if I could ask you this – you said ” Often times the conversion is for the sake of the man, but I think the belief is real.”

          Do you think the belief is really there or do you think because the marriage depends on the belief a woman subconsciously tries to *make* it real? And once a couple start a family that struggle to make it real becomes stronger. Do you think that could be true?

  6. Sophia says:

    “Here is to be found the basic trait of woman: she is the Other in a totality of which the two components are necessary to one another.”

    Damn right she is! Time for women to OWN this: We are everywhere, from every race and class. No community exists without the support of women. Why, then, do we allow men to tell us we are less than what we are? Why have we not used this “bond” to our advantage?

    • unsettledsoul says:

      Because we have been socially raised to be “nice” and not to raise trouble. Those of us who go outside of our prescribed gender roles are labeled, is that not why feminism has such a bad name? Are feminists not just women speaking their mind and speaking up about their inequality? But then we are bitches, no? And women have been raised and conditioned to be agreeable, to make connections, certainly not to break them. Not only that but we have been told that our worth stems from the men in our lives. Because of our belief that we need a man in our life in order to be whole or worthy, we also grow up seeing each other as competition, not as companions. All of this contributes to us holding ourselves down. We allow men to tell us we are less than we are because we value their opinions more than our own!! They tell us we are less, and we agree!

      This mentality is what contributes to us staying in horrible marriages and abusive relationships.

    • Metis says:

      ” Why have we not used this “bond” to our advantage?”

      Excellent question, Sophia! I missed you.

      I think many times women are women’s worst enemies. We get frustrated with men and displace our anger at women. Women take more drastic action when they are upset. We are also slow at gauging our stresses and anxieties, are too paranoid many times, and find it harder to accept that we are wrong.

  7. Lat says:

    ” Male and female stand opposed within a primordial Mitsein, and woman has not broken it. ”

    What’s a primordial Mitsein?

    Well the article is still true in most countries.

    “They have no past, no history, no religion of their own; and they have no such solidarity of work and interest as that of the proletariat”

    That’s because women were never allowed the choice to practice her mind by the macho men.But of course in legends women do occupy great standings as goddesses but then again like in Hinduism,only male priests are allowed to approach them.

    Like US comment and Coolred,about mothers teaching their sons right way to understand gender relations.Often times I’ve seen mothers realizing their hopes thru’ their sons because they couldn’t do it themselves.As long as sons are prized over daughters,this unfair situation will continue.So if the author of the qoute is right,that means women never ruled the world? Not even once? I find that hard to believe.Surely our ancestor women aren’t that dump.

    • Metis says:

      Lat, Mitsein is a difficult German word but I think, from whatever I have read on the word, it means a bond – something that brings together.

      I would be interesting to read a history book only about women – The Forgotten Queens of Islam comes to mind; a religious book only about women – there are ancient mythologies that are women-centered. But ironically women are “forgotten” and have only shone in mythologies. So sad!

  8. unsettledsoul says:

    Metis,

    I think what you quoted from Ms. De Beauvoir is ABSOLUTELY still true today, especially within certain sub cultures of women. This is why sexism is so difficult for some of us to grasp, because we are so enmeshed within it. We are not like Black people as a race or American Indians as a race, who can easily separate from their oppressor (whites), and form strong ranks and bonds based on common issues. We, as women of all races, are competitors for men, which makes us cling to men over each other, makes us aim to please men over ourselves, and makes us eye each other in distrust, not in solidarity. Why do we have the overt sexism in America? Why are women over sexualized, hypersexualized commodities in America? Because we allow it, and we have swallowed our exploitation whole. Why? Because when we exploit our bodies we gain the acceptance and attention of men. We want to be the trophies, because being a trophy means acceptance by the male race. It does not matter if we are only seen and never heard, if we are tits and ass and nothing past that. This is the huge hole in our society, this is our psychologically bankrupt sisterhood. In short, our fight to exploit ourselves for men has made us enemies of each other.

    This may not be relevant to some of our lives, including mine, but that does not mean it is not real or relevant. It is 100% true that this form of sexism IS mainstream America. It IS mainstream culture, and mainstream means it IS a majority of women in our society.

    This is true of Muslim societies also, the sexism is the same, it just is shown in different cultural/religious forms. In America we have media manipulation, in Muslim countries it is religious manipulation.

    If we are American than it will effect our lives. It will touch our daughters lives at school, it assaults us at night on the T.V. Sex sells, beauty is up for grabs, exploitation is real and we are so numb to it we look past it.

    I think women around the world are dealing with sexism, just in different forms. I think non- western Muslim women and American women have far more in common than they are allowed to think about. I think we are far more similar than different.

    What makes de beauvoir’s quote ring true still today is in this simple fact: We place men above each other, we place men above sisterhood, and as long as we continue to see each other as the “other,” manipulation and exploitation will reign. Our wounds are deep.

    • Metis says:

      ” We, as women of all races, are competitors for men, which makes us cling to men over each other, makes us aim to please men over ourselves, and makes us eye each other in distrust, not in solidarity. ”

      Brilliant! I absolutely loved your comment. You are so right and every word you have written here is very meaningful. I don’t know what else to add. Thank you so much!

  9. Coolred38 says:

    Which brings to mind the fact that when we discover our man has cheated on us…we tend to blame the “other woman” for stealing him away. Quite often I hear women go on and on about going after the other woman, getting even with the other woman, how the other woman has ruined her life etc etc….once again we are letting men off the hook for abysmal behavior and blaming ourselves (females) for his actions.

    This holds equally true when a Muslim man gets another wife…first (second…) wives are quite often blaming that woman for what her husband had done…taken another wife.

    We prefer to cat fight among each other over men who obviously don’t deserve us…as we would never have known of the other except for his having gone and looked for her in some way.

    • Metis says:

      I just saw this comment, Coolred. You bring up a good example. It is certainly frustrating to watch two women fight over a man.

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