Literature Study GuidesThe Second SexVolume 1 Part 2 Chapter 1 Summary

The Second Sex | Study Guide

Simone de Beauvoir

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The Second Sex | Volume 1, Part 2, Chapter 1 : Facts and Myths (History) | Summary



Beauvoir's historical account begins in the pre-agricultural world, of which little is reliably known. She speculates on women's roles: carrying heavy loads and accompanying men in battle. Physical strength—a key value for survival—was, however, limited for women by the reproductive demands placed upon them. And without understanding even how pregnancy occurs, the horde has too many children. For the women, this means continued dependence on men for protection and sustenance. Women's lives are characterized as repetitious throughout their childbearing years, while men's lives are creative. Women are caught in "repetition," in cycles of pregnancy and birth, and the tolls on the body exacted by many births. The men build boats and weapons, hunt and fish. They also face danger for the good of the horde and reap the benefits of prestige and accomplishment. Thus men find value in diverse challenges and self-worth in achievements.


"By transcending Life through Existence," Beauvoir says, man has his lessons and woman, hers—but only vicariously. That is, he participates in life, and she celebrates his accomplishment in festivals. Destined only to repeat life rather than to surpass it, the woman does not find in her life reasons for being. Moreover, her complicity is revealed to all because "transcendence ... inhabits her," and her project "is not repetition but surpassing herself toward another future." Thus, according to Engels, the feminine is imagined as equivalent to the masculine in desire for the fullness of a creative life, while "her misfortune is to have been biologically destined to repeat Life," or to live inside the confines of a procreative life. This living inside is called immanence.

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