The Second Sex | Study Guide

Simone de Beauvoir

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The Second Sex | Conclusion | Summary

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Summary

The conclusion opens with the question: do people believe the "battle of the sexes" is "an original curse," or rather "a transitory moment in human history"?

The subtle and overt differences between men and women developed throughout the text are reviewed here in a summary fashion: Is male superiority defined in its transcendental proclivities, and female subordination in her "natural" tendencies to immanence? Beauvoir asks if it is true that for men, who have always been dominant, there is no reason to trade their "insolence"?

The author claims the tension will remain "as long as men and women do not recognize each other as peers." But what of the woman who wants her freedom and her femininity, and the man who demands that she assume her limitations? Beauvoir reminds the reader that men find "more complicity in their woman companions than the oppressor usually finds in the oppressed."

It seems little progress is being made. And just how much of the conflict is built from irreconcilable conviction? Beauvoir argues that woman is "a distraction ... for the man; for her he is the ... justification of her existence." He is the alleviation of her boredom, the respite for which she had been biding her time. Man, on the other hand, values his time in terms of his ambition for his creativity, his business partners, and his transcendental inclinations that insure the comforts of his and her world.

Beauvoir thinks about the Soviet vision in which men and women are equals in education, work life, erotic freedom, and where maternity is paid for and managed by the state. However, she immediately recognizes it is not enough "to change laws, institutions, customs, public opinions and the whole social context."

Despite the briefest reconsideration and rejection of the socialist vision, Beauvoir returns to Marx in the end. She quotes his belief that the "necessary relation of person to person is the relation of man to woman." Thus, she reasons, men and women "must, among other things and their natural differentiations, unequivocally affirm their brotherhood."

Analysis

This emphasis in the end on the masculine must be evaluated in a text written in a time when the masculine pronoun was in ordinary usage as the universal pronoun. This effect of natural usage enforces the notion of the propriety of cooperation between the sexes. That is, men and women, recognizing the other as other, reciprocally appreciate their alterity while "not doing away with the miracles that the division of human beings ... engenders."

One cannot help but see a movement in the organization of the sexes as 21st-century practice separates sex from gender. If there are biologically two sexes forever, there is a range of sexualities that provides potential for brotherhood across a full spectrum of human beings, and a full spectrum of human identities.

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