Literature Study GuidesThe Second SexVolume 1 Part 2 Chapter 3 Summary

The Second Sex | Study Guide

Simone de Beauvoir

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The Second Sex | Volume 1, Part 2, Chapter 3 : Facts and Myths (History) | Summary



According to Beauvoir, "once woman is dethroned by ... private property, her fate is linked to it for centuries." She lives with her husband's family, she cannot inherit his wealth, and his children are not hers. Owning nothing, she is hardly a person. She can be disowned at will, male prenuptial chastity is not a value, and a husband's adultery is not judged severely. She is sent without her consent from her father's house to her husband's family where she is little more than a servant. She tends to the children of her body who are not considered hers.

This chapter lists the shifts in women's situations as patriarchy makes adjustments to local custom and law. A problem, for example, for societies founded in agnation is the family without a male heir. The Greek solution was to have the female heir marry her oldest relative in her father's family. Thus, the inheritance would remain in the same family. Sparta was an interesting exception—a rare place in which community property prevailed. Beauvoir observes that if family property is denied, the importance of the family and its conventions fail. The Spartan model included near equality for women in education; girls and boys were brought up the same; the woman was not confined to her husband's home; and the disappearance of the notion of adultery when the notion of possession was no longer part of the culture. No one, or no one thing, is owned. Aside from Sparta, some free unmarried women have been noted across several societies. They were, for the most part, prostitutes, and, depending on the specific social arrangements, some prostitutes achieved considerable rank, some earned a good deal of money, and some, in fact, came from families of rank. For example, in the ancient republic of Rome, well-born matrons who had no work to occupy them registered as prostitutes in order to freely indulge in debaucheries.

Finally, the deeply imperfect freedom of Roman women cannot go without scrutiny. Beauvoir points out this woman "can inherit, ... has equal rights with the father concerning the children, ... can will her property," and can divorce and remarry. She has, however, no means of employment. The result, according to Roman poet Juvenal (55–60? C.E.-after 127?), is women on the rampage. Juvenal "reproaches their hedonism and gluttony; he accuses them of aspiring to men's professions."


Beauvoir states, the "Roman woman ... has a place ... but ... is still chained ... by lack of ... rights and ... independence." Thus, this chapter circles back to a theme developing from the book's opening sections: happiness is not the necessary component or condition of freedom. Value in life is a matter of surpassing freedom by "transcending Life through Existence." Freedom begins in individual choice. Women need to have the courage, the imagination, and the proper legal circumstances in order to find their place in the world.

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