Literature Study GuidesThe Second SexVolume 2 Part 2 Chapter 8 Summary

The Second Sex | Study Guide

Simone de Beauvoir

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The Second Sex | Volume 2, Part 2, Chapter 8 : Lived Experience (Situation) | Summary



Historically, prostitution has been the outlet for male sexual energy, even viewed as the means of preserving marriage. This chapter, titled "Prostitutes and Hetaeras," examines the objectification of the female in the lives of women who have chosen the profession of sexual object—women who earn their survival in capitalizing their passivity. Many have suggested the same is true for the married woman. It is, perhaps, for them, less blatant a notion.

Choosing is perhaps not the right verb. Although there are many theories as to what drives a woman to prostitution, most convincing are the obvious: lack of work and the misery of inadequate salaries. This chapter offers, anecdotally, the prevalence of the abuse that transforms a young girl into a prostitute. The life of a prostitute commonly includes a girlfriend, sometimes also her lover, who is complicit in their "counter-universe" in the same way that a best friend is complicit in the virtuous woman's private life. Beauvoir states, "it is not their moral and psychological situation that makes prostitutes' existences miserable." Illness, drug addiction, alcoholism, humiliating medical checkups, arbitrary cruelty by police and by clients, and gratuitous violence all reduce the common prostitute to the level of a thing.

Beauvoir compares the miserable life of the common prostitute, whose appeal is general to the class of women she calls hetaeras, to women who traffic in delivering "woman to the dreams of men who give her fortune and glory in exchange." Today people might think of women who operate expensive escort services. These are, according to the author, "women who use not only their bodies but also their entire person as exploitable capital." Beauvoir explores the notion of freedom for a woman whose role as expensive sex object is a professional choice. This woman's freedom is not so much the male freedom of transcendence. Instead, she endows her passive femininity, her willing herself as object, and "engulfs them with herself in immanence."

Here, money has a "purifying role; it abolishes the war of the sexes." The prostitute seeks not only the economic advantage, but the "apotheosis of her narcissism."


Up to this point in the text, the reader has encountered the potential for a moral existence modeled on the opportunities of male privilege. Thus far in the text, this privilege is denied the un-individuated woman, the biological generalization, the sex object. She is all immanence, at least by reputation.

Just as the male model is based in what might be called an apotheosis of transcendence—from the early analyses of projection of his body in the boy's sexual initiation, to the husband's movement out into his community—the apotheosis of the feminine is revealed here in the hetaera's trap.

In the text, the male lover of the hetaera is trapped in her immanence, which includes her self-love, just as, historically, the female object is pinned by the patriarchal projection—her objectification, her generalization as sexual object. This chapter operates as a point of comparison, showing the reader what happens when turnabout is not so much fair play as it is a model for the harm of extremes at either end of the spectrum. Could a matriarchal culture have produced a similarly objectified male, identified only as sperm donor or sex toy? What does this say about the patriarchal subordination of woman?

The liberation of women, as this text urges the reader to conclude, is the liberation of humanity, an equality between the sexes that replaces the male oppositional response to alterity with the feminine response. This is neither a destruction of difference nor an opposition, but an alterity based on reciprocity and relativity.

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