REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION OF: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
The Second Sex
"Woman's Situation and Characters"
CHAPTER XXI: Woman's Situation and Character
We can now understand why there should be so many common features in the
indictments drawn up against woman, from the Greeks to our times. Her condition has
remained the same through superficial changes, and it is this condition that determines
what is called the 'character' of woman: she 'revels in immanence,' she is contrary, she is
prudent and petty, she has no sense of fact or accuracy, she lacks morality, she is
contemptibly utilitarian, she is false, theatrical, self-seeking, and so on. There is an
element of truth in all this. But we must only note that the varieties of behavior reported
are not dictated to woman by her hormones nor predetermined in the structure of the
female brain: they are shaped as in a mold by her situation. In this perspective we shall
endeavor to make a comprehensive survey of woman's situation. This will involve a
certain amount of repetition, but it will enable us to apprehend the eternal feminine in the
totality of her economic, social, and historical conditioning.
Sometimes the 'feminine world' is contrasted with the masculine universe, but we
must insist again that women have never constituted a closed and independent society;
they form an integral part of the group, which is governed by males and in which they
have a subordinate place. They arc united only in a mechanical solidarity from the mere
fact of their similarity, but they lack that organic solidarity on which every unified
community is based; they are always compelled — at the time of the mysteries of Eleusis
as today in clubs, salons, social-service institutes — to band together in order to establish
a counter-universe, but they always set it up within the frame of the masculine universe.
Hence the paradox of their situation: they belong at one and the same time to the male
world and to a sphere in which that world is challenged; shut up in their world,
surrounded by the other, they can settle down nowhere in peace. Their docility must
always be matched by a refusal, their refusal by an acceptance. In this respect their
attitude approaches that of the young girl, but it is more difficult to maintain, because for
the adult woman it is not merely a matter of dreaming her life through symbols, but of
living it out in actuality.
Woman herself recognizes that the world is masculine on the whole; those who
fashioned it, ruled it, and still dominate it today are men. As for her, she does not
consider herself responsible for it; it is understood that she is inferior and dependent; she
has not learned the lessons of violence, she has never stood forth as subject before the
other members, of the group. Shut up in her flesh, her home, she sees herself .as passive
before these gods with human faces who set goals and establish values. In this sense there