Literature Study GuidesThe Second SexVolume 2 Part 2 Chapter 9 Summary

The Second Sex | Study Guide

Simone de Beauvoir

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The Second Sex | Volume 2, Part 2, Chapter 9 : Lived Experience (Situation) | Summary

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Summary

In Chapter 9, "From Maturity to Old Age," Beauvoir explores the similarity of the repetitions and abrupt shifts that characterize movement through the earlier stages of a woman's life, the movement from maturity to old age registers as a jarringly abrupt change. Beauvoir states, "While the male grows older continuously, the woman is brusquely stripped of her femininity."

Behaving somewhat out of character, the aging woman may dress inappropriately, indulge in masturbation and sexual fantasies, and find herself attracted to younger men, to women, and to religion. She is also susceptible to questionable authorities: faith healers, prophets, and charlatans. Menopause and offers a new life. Moments of fervor and depression alternate, partly the result of hormonal drops, but such mood swings may also be psychological. Should her sex drive persist, as it does for many women, she may pursue young men.

A woman's situation changes as she ages. Her husband is likely at the height of his career as she finds herself in retirement. She is no longer swayed by public opinion, and she avoids things she once valued: beauty treatments, social obligations, etc. Turning to her children, she becomes overprotective of her sons and often unkind to their wives. If she is sympathetic to her daughters, she attempts to live vicariously through them. Her relationships with her grandchildren are problematic—she wishes to mother them and is hostile to the little strangers they are to her. Some grandmothers, however, manage their hostility and become guardian angels to their grandchildren, demanding nothing and capable of an unassuming love.

Elderly women find serenity near the ends of their lives. Many, having married older men, outlive their husbands. They come to cherish their independence and develop a kind of cynicism born of "having seen it all." But, according to the author, the greatest freedom an elderly woman can achieve is "stoic defiance or skeptical irony. At no time in her life does she succeed in being both effective and independent."

Analysis

Unlike the preceding sections, there is nothing here that doesn't sting, that doesn't offer the solace of prospects for repair or, as in earlier sections, a redeeming wit. As rhetoric, the advantages are clear: an imperative to ask, "What must women do?" builds line by line, each line a life sentence to be avoided at all costs.

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