Saturday, 18 February 2017

Individual Freedom, Trailblazer, Simone de Beauvoir: The Second Sex

Simone de Beauvoir: Wikimedia Commons
Individual freedom requires the freedom of others in order to be realized, says feminist, philosopher and trailblazer Simone de Beauvoir.

Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986) met with her soulmate, Jean-Paul Sartre while they were both students, and they now share a grave in the Montparnesse Cemetery in Paris, France, after a lifetime of companionship. De Beauvoir was a trailblazer, unrelenting in her pursuit of women's rights and emancipation.

De Beauvoir became the youngest philosophy teacher at the Sorbonne after passing her final examination at the age of 21 years. She made significant philosophical contributions in the field of ethics from an existentialist viewpoint, insisting upon the individual's ethical responsiblity for him/herself and for others, for example those who are economically and socially oppressed. Her book, The Second Sex, published in 1948, focussed on female oppression in all its guises. The strength of her commitment evoked wide-ranging criticism from both the right and left, and offended the Vatican who showed its disapproval by listing her book in their Index of Prohibited Books.

Simone de Beauvoir and the Eternal Feminine
In The Second Sex, we are introduced to a new concept, that of woman being termed as "The Other" by men, thereby labelling her as inessential. Man is "Subject" and "Absolute" making relationships between male and female unequal.

De Beauvoir decided to uncover the roots of this inequality, and to expose the attitudes that helped to maintain the status quo, causing woman to live in a manner considered appropriate for her by men. There were certain requirements that needed to be recognised if women were to emancipate themselves. "A modern woman prides herself on thinking, taking action, working, creating, on the same terms as men; instead of seeking to disparage them, she declares herself their equal." To achieve this the following changes needed to be made:
  • The instigation of change in the existing social structure.
  • The provision of universal childcare.
  • Equality in education.
  • Contraception and the legalisation of abortion.
  • Women's economic freedom and independence from men.
Another key work of de Beauvoir's was The Ethics of Ambiguity. She described her philosophical approach as "combining literature and metaphysics."
Later feminists declared de Beauvoir's message to be misguided because it postulated that women should become more like men. "However, nowhere did de Beauvoir say that male qualities are superior to female ones. What she did say is that only be achieving those ends can women become liberated."

Simone de Beauvoir - Midwife of Sartre's Existentialism
It is, perhaps, a little ironic that, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, de Beauvoir described herself as the "midwife of Sartre's existentialism" rather than a thinker in her own right. When she died on 14 April 1986, she was famous for her support of women's rights and as a writer, but not as a philosopher. The reason for this was because not only did she write about women, not a pressing philosophical issue during her lifetime, but because readers considered her work to be "echoes" of that of Jean-Paul Sartre.

In truth, she was very much a thinker in her own right and fully familiar with the work of Leibniz, Hegel, Husserl, Heidegger, Marx, Descartes and Bergson.


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