Literature Study GuidesThe Second SexVolume 1 Part 2 Chapter 2 Summary

The Second Sex | Study Guide

Simone de Beauvoir

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

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Summary

When nomads become farmers, the law appears and social structures develop. Women are highly esteemed and valued, largely because large numbers of children are needed to work the land. The concept of time takes on significance both in terms of the seasons, but also because the history of the land encourages ideas of ownership and the concept of times past, present, and future. Without knowledge of the father's role in procreation, many tribes are matrilineal, recognizing the importance of the mother in birth and care of children. Women are trusted to perform agricultural work because they are associated with the mysterious fertility of the earth and the female body. Following Lévi-Strauss, however, Beauvoir argues that for men, women are not peers. In their mystery, women are Other, and always under men's guardianship. According to Beauvoir, "the woman is never anything more than a symbol of her lineage," and continues to remain under the rule of her father or eldest brother.

Beauvoir claims the story of the "devaluation of woman represents a necessary stage in the history of humanity." As man's practical intelligence grows—by making tools and making laws—woman is seen as mysterious, mystical. Homo faber—he who makes things—is sovereign. Mystery is intriguing but suspect, and woman is the perplexing Other. As man gains land, wealth, and slaves, woman is deprived of her domestic duties (pottery, cloth, and management of the tribe's wealth). By dominating the world, man triumphs over woman. Children and women become possessions like the land. He is order and accomplishment; she is mystery and chaos.

Analysis

As men grew wealthier and more powerful, women's prestige diminished. Even maternity was devalued. Pregnancy, it was believed, resulted from semen mixed with menses (menstrual flow). Thus men came to see themselves as progenitors, and matrilineal descent was replaced by agnation: that is, the father holds the rights and transmits them. When "the mother is no parent of that which is called her child," she "is lowered to the rank of wet nurse or servant." These affirmations, Beauvoir declares, "are not the results of scientific discoveries," but acts of faith.

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