Literature Study GuidesThe Second SexVolume 2 Part 3 Chapter 12 Summary

The Second Sex | Study Guide

Simone de Beauvoir

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The Second Sex | Volume 2, Part 3, Chapter 12 : Lived Experience (Justifications) | Summary

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Summary

In this chapter, "The Woman in Love," Beauvoir claims, "The word 'love' has not at all the same meaning for both sexes." Women believe love means total devotion, body and soul. For men, "the woman they love is merely one value among others."

This difference is not a law of nature—it is a matter of difference in situation. The man is ambitious and reaches out. The woman chooses to lose herself in another. This loss is her freedom, and love is her religion.

The adolescent girl seeks out the love of one of the males. According to Beauvoir, love eventually comes to hold "less place in feminine life than ... husband, children, home, pleasures, social life, vanity ... and career." For a woman, rather than fighting on her own account, the "easy way out" is to seek love. Worn out by her adventure, she discovers years too late she has taken the wrong path.

Psychoanalysis suggests that the girl seeks the adoring father whom she can worship: that love has to do with seeing herself through his eyes. And once she loves another man, the difficulties multiply. In love, woman reconciles her sense of self-love and eroticism. For the woman who can get past the division between the animality of eroticism and the spirituality of love, sexual satisfaction awaits. It is then that she wants to give everything and demand nothing. She finds herself by loving another and losing herself in him.

Unable to see her lover as a man, she worships him as an idol. And when he fails her, when his faults or vulnerabilities reveal he is not a god, she loses everything. In her disappointment, she refuses him his freedom.

When a man has had enough, he is comfortable with separation. The woman in love can never give enough. Still, she is not All for him and strives at least to believe she is indispensable to him.

Even jealousy is perceived differently. If the woman perceived his love as dimmed, she invents rivals. For the man jealousy is just a passing crisis, while for her it is a matter of vigilance and paranoia. She lives in fear that she can be replaced, even as she has placed all she has in him. Indeed, she believes "there is no great distance between betrayal by absence and infidelity." As soon as she feels unloved, she becomes jealous.

If the woman exists essentially for herself, a condition that demands economic independence, then she can find love. According to Beauvoir, for women love is "an attempt to overcome the dependence to which she is condemned by assuming it."

Analysis

This chapter is a catalog of the differences between men and women in the ways they love. The paradox, brought to light in this analysis is that love is both poison and cure for the "woman trapped in the feminine universe ... incapable of being self-sufficient." In 1949 Beauvoir found herself in the "trap" and imagined the way out. It is for the individual woman to say whether this is her case in the present. For Beauvoir, the trap could only be sprung in a socialist economy in which maternity and its responsibilities, as well as incomes, were shared. A rash of utopian novels with this model in mind was in vogue in the 1980s. Perhaps there are other models yet to be invented.

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