Literature Study GuidesThe Second SexVolume 2 Part 1 Chapter 4 Summary

The Second Sex | Study Guide

Simone de Beauvoir

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The Second Sex | Volume 2, Part 1, Chapter 4 : Lived Experience (Formative Years) | Summary



In this chapter, "The Lesbian," although Beauvoir uses inversion—a term for homosexuality contemporaneous with her work—she assumes an existential position, saying, "The past is grasped ... by a new choice, and ... must be judged by its authenticity." Beauvoir believes "psychoanalysts' great error ... is that they never envisage [homosexuality] as anything but an inauthentic attitude." With this statement, Beauvoir's work leaps into the 21st century with respect to a non-judgmental appreciation of the fluidity of gender and the range of accompanying identifications and practices.

In an earlier section, the reader is introduced to the fear of penetration and resistance to domination, which is part of the girl's experience. While the lesbian is repulsed by the male body, she finds the female body to be an object of desire. This is an utterly natural attraction, since the maternal body is a person's—male and female—first object. Reference is also made to adolescent homosexual experiences in the lives of most boys and girls, connections commonly not pursued in maturity.


While Beauvoir writes compellingly of the nature of homosexual love, and the roles that lesbian lovers play, she acknowledges that much the same may be said of heterosexual couples. That is, sex play itself—in private and public life—may involve a range of performances by both sexes, including active and passive, virile and feminine. She also refutes the notion of categorizing lesbians by type, although it may be observed that in today's culture of fluid sexualities, categories do operate. It's just that in the present, such categories need not be banned since they are merely descriptive, neither coercive nor pejorative—butch and femme.

The difficulties for lesbian couples, however, come from the times and places in which the couple are not in compliance, or cannot be in stride with the conventions of social practice. For example, there is the pain of not being able to have children, or to unite in marriage. Today, this sentence is cast in the past tense in many parts of the world. Finally, Beauvoir makes normative the lesbian experience by scrutinizing examples in fiction as well as reports from ordinary lives. She concludes: "It is wrong to establish a radical distinction between heterosexual and homosexual."

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