Sample Essay on Simone De Beauvoir- the Second Sex

Q1. What does Beauvoir mean when she asserts “One is not born, but rather becomes woman?”

One of the fundamental assertions of Simone de Beauvoir in the book is that one is not born a woman, but rather grows to become a woman. In society, people identify women with the fact that they are born with features such as the uterus, and it is believed that they make up almost 50 percent of humanity, a sentiment shared by Simone de Beauvoir in the book. However, the existence of these characteristics on a human body does not merit one to be called a woman. In fact, the biggest debate has been about what and who a woman should be, and these are some of the questions that Mme Beauvoir seeks to answer. The above assertion means that despite females being born with features such as a uterus, they may not be considered women unless they take part in the mysterious and endangered reality of femininity (De Beauvoir 23). The latter refers to the attributes, roles, as well as behaviors that are associated with female individuals.

Thus, to become a woman, it is imperative that other than being in possession of feminine features, one should show commitment to exhibiting behaviors, carrying out roles, and showcasing attributes that are solely associated with women and girls. For instance, the behavior of wearing dresses, blouses, and skirts is a way through which girls and women are identified. This means that individuals’ attempt to exhibit such behavior is what makes them be identified as women. It is impracticable for one to be born wearing a dress, although this behavior is slowly adopted and learned, and through this, female individuals are forced to identify themselves to society as women.

It is argued that there are several examples of people born with feminine features but the fact that they do not exhibit attributes and behaviors that identify girls and women has led to the withdrawal of the tags ‘I am a woman’ and ‘I am a girl that was given to them during birth. The evolution of modern society has played a role in supporting Mme de Beauvoir’s argument that one is not born but becomes a woman. Feminine individuals in America have the perception that woman no longer exists, and this is because of the belief that the attributes and behaviors that were initially attributed to women are also evident in men in society today. In fact, persons who still take themselves for women are advised to seek or undergo psychoanalysis so as to do away with the obsession of being women.  On several occasions, female individuals have gone against the expectation of associating themselves with attributes linked to women. For instance, there are women who have refused to parade their portraits together with those of other women with the argument that the way they behave is closely associated with male individuals (De Beauvoir 23).

The perceptions and the ideologies that members of society have made it hard for women to fit in the place of men. There is a general belief that an individual with feminine attributes and behaviors must be identified as a woman, and this is what underscores the assertion that one is not born but rather becomes a woman. In the economic world, there is a notion that higher wages, better jobs, and greater chances to succeed should be left from men, and the fact that female individuals have clung to this notion is what makes them be considered women. Successful women, who offer stiff competition to male individuals, rarely have the tag of ‘women’ because they have gone against societal restrictions and expectations.

Q2. Summary of Beauvoir’s characterization and critique of the marriage form

Beauvoir believes that marriage is a reference that defines a single woman, her frustration, disgust, or indifference to the same notwithstanding.  She postulates that marriage is under threat with the economic evolution of the condition of the woman being witnessed in modern society. With easier access to employment, women are giving preference to celibacy and ignoring marriage, and this is slowly becoming one of the challenges in the world today. Beauvoir’s hatred for marriage is highlighted in her argument that modern marriage is slowly becoming like ancient marriage, where women were only there for purposes of cleaning and sex. According to her, modern marriage has lost its value because the woman is limited to the reproductive function as seen in ancient marriage forms instead of it focusing on bigger or greater values (De Beauvoir 503). She supports this with the argument that marriage today is regarded more of a reproductive rather than a productive function. Beauvoir also mentions that masculine control and guardianship that were predominant in early marriages are slowly being embraced today, an underlining factor for the loss of value in modern marriages.

Beauvoir criticizes the marriage form in several ways and perspectives. First, she argues that with the marriage form, women have never had the opportunity to constitute a caste where they establish contracts and exchanges equally with men. Society considers man a complete and autonomous individual, and thus, cannot be equal to a woman particularly in marriage. Second, Beauvoir opines that the marriage form confines the woman to a domestic and reproductive role where she is not guaranteed equal dignity with the man. Third, in The Second Sex, it is seen that in the marriage form, a woman is integrated as a slave of man, and she is dominated by fathers and brothers and makes minimal or no decisions. This is worsened by ancient marriages where a woman was treated like a thing by the clan and paternal gens, and her condition was not modified when marriage slowly evolved into a contractual form.

Moreover, Beauvoir criticizes the marriage form because it highly restricts the free choice that should be made by a girl or woman. In fact, decisions linked to celibacy that is made by women are criticized or strongly opposed by society, and women who prefer to remain single are ranked as parasites. In the marriage form, a woman is obliged to give children to the community, but nobody ensures her safety and good condition when she becomes a mother (De Beauvoir 503).

Most importantly, in the marriage form, a woman is considered a tool for sexual satisfaction for the male, and her role is limited to caring for the home. With these perspectives in mind, women have not had the chance to venture into economic and social developments, which are fundamental to human survival and existence in the world today. Beauvoir is also of the opinion that despite the fact that the marriage form allows the woman to receive a piece of the world as property as well as legal guarantees that protect her from the caprices of man, it makes her man’s vassal. Society believes that the man is the head of the community in terms of economic development (De Beauvoir 503).

Therefore, by entering into the marriage form, the woman has to take the man’s name, join his religion and world, belong to his family, integrate into the man’s class, and most importantly, become his other “half.” It is imperative that the woman has to follow the man wherever he works, and thus, has no alternative but to break with her past in a brutal way. Beauvoir also criticizes marriage for the fact that the woman is seen to owe the man her strict fidelity and virginity.


Q3. Beauvoir’s conception of women’s emancipation

Beauvoir believes that the woman has made significant strides when it comes to emancipation or independence. This is highlighted by the fact that the customs of today are seen to impose minimal constraints on the woman’s past, and this has helped change the situation faced by the woman in modern society. Beauvoir also believes that the woman of today has made huge steps towards closing the gap between her and the man, an attribute of the woman’s capability to work alone. Despite the steps made, the modern woman remains a vassal and slave of man, and she is imprisoned in her condition. This means that the man still has control over the woman in various aspects such as marriage where the man is still considered by society as the head of the family and community. Beauvoir also mentions that women’s emancipation is highlighted by the fact that they no longer need a man’s assistance when mediating between themselves and the universe (De Beauvoir 813). Beauvoir is of the opinion that the woman’s vassal to man is a curse that does not allow her to do anything, and this is still evident despite the independence or emancipation witnessed by women in society today.

Today, the woman can freely and stubbornly pursue impossibilities through narcissism, religion, or love, and can also affirm herself concretely as a subject in her projects, perspectives that were impracticable for the woman in ancient times. Beauvoir is of the opinion that women’s emancipation is evident in the fact that they can sense responsibility in relation to the goals they pursue and to the money and rights they appropriate. This is seen in society today, where women are ambitious and have become more responsible because they venture into careers that help them achieve goals such as that of providing for themselves and their families rather than depending on men like before. Women today have become more responsible in how they handle issues related to the money they earn and their rights. Unlike before, they prefer to invest their money in projects that are beneficial to them, their families, and society. Today, almost all women, even those in the lowest-paying jobs believe that they have rights and that they are equal to men in every perspective (De Beauvoir 813). Beauvoir gives an example of women who are proud of the fact that they have never asked anyone for anything, and that they have achieved success on their own.

Beauvoir believes that to some extent, the role of men in society cannot be overlooked despite women’s emancipation. She believes that the world still belongs to men and still retains the form that men have imprinted on it, and this is one fact every woman will have to put up with. In the real sense, the changes in women’s conditions have not triggered the modification of existing social structures, and this means that men are still in control of almost all contexts ranging from economic to political to social (De Beauvoir 813). Women’s emancipation is seen in their venture into economic perspectives although this had not freed them from household chores, which make them considered women. As seen earlier, the fact that women participate in or showcase feminine attributes or behaviors is what allows them to possess the tag “women”, and these are some of the responsibilities they gave to carry out despite their emancipation.


Work Cited

De Beauvoir, Simone. The second sex. New York: Vintage, 2012.