“One is not born a woman, one becomes a woman.” In 1949 Simone de Beauvoir wrote these words in her groundbreaking work, The Second Sex, and sparked a revolution. Exploring the roles that biology, history, and literature have played in creating and upholding the myth of woman, she plotted how this transformation takes place from birth through old age, and she challenged us to imagine what a free woman’s life might be like. In doing so she initiated the second wave of feminism.
Now, 70 years later, we will revisit this text to assess what has remained the same and what has changed in the lives of women—and men. Alongside The Second Sex, we will read the first volume of Beauvoir’s autobiography, Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, to consider her theories in context as she applies them to her own experience of becoming a woman. Considering her observations about love, sex, marriage, motherhood, work, and ageing, we will compare and contrast Beauvoir’s 20th-century ideals with the 21st-century realities of women’s lives. Have we reached that day Beauvoir envisioned when “it will be possible for woman to love not in her weakness but in strength, not to escape herself but to find herself, not to abase herself but to assert herself?”
Throughout our seminar we will focus on the philosophical issues that informed Beauvoir’s work and still underlie the most pressing challenges faced by women today: Can a woman ever be seen as a self, or is she inevitably to be considered the “other”?
“On the day when it will be possible for woman to love not in her weakness but in strength, not to escape herself but to find herself, not to abase herself but to assert herself – on that day love will become for her, as for man, a source of life and not of mortal danger.”
– Simone de Beauvoir