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The Second Sex | Quotes


American women ... think ... woman ... no longer exists ... friends advise her to ... get rid of this obsession.

Narrator, Introduction

Thinking of her purpose in writing a book on woman, Beauvoir reflects on "the idiocies" on the subject churned out over the 20th century. Here she makes fun of Americans' pragmatic approach to women in the workforce after World War II, and the illusion of an equality achieved in commonsense attitudes with respect to money, work, and happiness so distinct from the existentialist morality that supports the argument of this book.


She is the most ... alienated of all ... female mammals, and ... refuses this alienation ... most violently.

Narrator, Volume 1, Part 1, Chapter 1

Beauvoir calls this "the most striking conclusion of this study." The cyclical nature of the female body operates without direction and governs mood, health, and welfare. That the body operates outside the volition of the woman herself does not disqualify it as the source of wholeness and sexual and reproductive satisfactions.


Freud was not ... concerned with woman's destiny ... he modeled ... it on ... masculine destiny ... modifying ... the traits.

Narrator, Volume 1, Part 1, Chapter 2

To Beauvoir—whose emphasis across all the disciplines she studies is on the difference between the sexes—Freud misses the point. The greater complexity in feminine development from masculine development is her topic, and feminine opportunity and choice as destiny is her conclusion.


The categories clitoral and vaginal, like ... bourgeois and proletarian, are ... inadequate to encompass a ... woman.

Narrator, Volume 1, Part 1, Chapter 3

Rejecting both Freud's and Engels's analyses—the personal emotional conflicts and the economic history of humanity—Beauvoir holds out for the existential infrastructure that makes it possible to understand the unique form that is a life.


The mother ... recognizes her inferiority. The ... masculine victory is consummated in the cult of Mary.

Narrator, Volume 1, Part 3, Chapter 1

Beauvoir, a lapsed Catholic, recognizes in the history of the Church the subordination of women as a rejection of the sexual woman. The Sacred Virgin is worshipped as a sexless woman who knows her rightful place.


Beauty, Poetry, she is All: ... all in the figure of the other, All except herself.

André Breton, Volume 1, Part 3, Chapter 2

Breton's sympathetic view of women and his belief that they are superior to men, does not posit women as subjects. She is All, that is, she is summarized and objectified, thus still robbed of subjectivity and individuality.


O young women, when will you be our brothers ... without ulterior motives of exploitation?

Jules Laforgue, Volume 1, Part 3, Chapter 3

Beauvoir quotes the poet Laforgue who recognizes men have "played doll with the woman," and that it has gone on too long. The poet has recognized men's longstanding role in the objectification of women.


One is not born, but rather becomes, woman.

Narrator, Volume 2, Part 1, Chapter 1

Perhaps, the most widely quoted and disputed sentence in The Second Sex, this observation points to usage of the term, "gender"—determined by behavior, traits acquired by cultural practice and social position—as distinct from "sex"—biology and body parts. This observation focuses Beauvoir's dispute with the popularized Freudian notion that "biology is destiny" for the woman.


At sixteen, a woman has already gone through disturbing experiences: puberty, menstrual periods ... fear, disgust.

Narrator, Volume 2, Part 1, Chapter 2

Adolescent girls have endured shaming and painful episodes with respect to their changing bodies: the pain and embarrassment of first menses; often violent, insensitive, or ordinary painful deflowering; rape; incest; unwanted attention in public; combat with their mothers; and fear of pregnancy. The bad habits of girls are developmentally familiar compensations for the incomprehensible insufficiencies of the world beyond the girl's childhood experience.


Man's 'anatomical destiny' is ... different from women's. Their moral and social situations are no less different.

Narrator, Volume 2, Part 1, Chapter 3

Male sexuality is a natural event, unchanged from early childhood. The penis is the key source of pleasure. Women's sexual development is significantly more complex. Standards for male sexual behavior with respect to adultery and promiscuity are also different from women's.


The 'real woman' is an artificial product ... these supposed 'instincts' ... are inculcated in her.

Narrator, Volume 2, Part 1, Chapter 4

Beauvoir takes the opportunity in Chapter 4 to begin reflecting on the social standard that not only condemns homosexuality, but makes femininity compulsory to humans with the body parts of women.


Homosexuality is no more a deliberate perversion than a ... curse ... an attitude ... chosen in situation.

Narrator, Volume 2, Part 1, Chapter 4

This observation leaps ahead 50 years and establishes Beauvoir as a voice of the 21st century. Although the notion of "choice" is periodically under scrutiny, the range of sexualities as currently conceived is fully within the spectrum of everyday humanity.


Marriage must combine two autonomous existences, not be a withdrawal ... an escape, a remedy.

Narrator, Volume 2, Part 2, Chapter 5

This formula, a welcome note in a chapter in which marriage is for the most part disparaged, represents a proposal for change in the traditional forms of marriage, not at all a simple matter if one factors in the organizing argument of this book—the foundational objectification of women. Here, in the hopeful account, are prospects for women's autonomy.


It is not the individuals ... responsible for the failure of marriage: it is ... the institution.

Narrator, Volume 2, Part 2, Chapter 5

The economic inequality fundamental to most marriages throughout history is just the beginning of the story of the subordination of women in marriage and the burdens men bear.


The day ... woman ... love[s] in her strength ... love will become for her ... the source of life.

Narrator, Volume 2, Part 3, Chapter 12

According to Beauvoir, the independent woman who marries must annihilate herself—that is, she must suppress her independent transcendent self, her position as subject, and assume the subordinate position of Other.

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