Simone De Beauvoir: The Second Sex
Question 1: What does Beauvoir mean when she asserts “One is not born, but rather becomes a woman?”
From the assertion of Beauvoir and the descriptions that she accords to the woman based on personal experiences, it can clearly be said that Beauvoir exemplifies the consideration of the woman as a characteristic that can be acquired or developed rather than one that is attained naturally. This explanation is based on examples given by the author, in which the woman is classified in various contexts under other characteristics that are similarly acquired. For instance, Beauvoir reports that during one of her tours, she came across a tradition that refers includes the woman as part of the other lesser characteristics. In the same light in which racism is shown, the woman is also categorized under groups that align with racial tendencies. For instance, the woman, the Jew and the Black are listed under different categories. This categorization brings out the image that the woman in this case is not considered as something that is innate but rather like something that is developed.
Beauvoir explains sexism as involving the objectification of women as other human characteristics which distinguish them from males. This categorization, she says, imposes cultural constructs on women, making them subjective to particular cultural traits and requirements. The ability of the sex of an individual to be assigned to a descriptive characteristic separate from the unconditioned male gender can be said to be sexist and part of the reasons why Beauvoir claims that one is not born but becomes a woman. The ability to be fitted within particular cultural norms brings about the image of a lesser being, or the image of an unimportant trait in the human form.
While expounding on the objectification of the female, Beauvoir claims that the specification of individual genders only on condition that the person in question was female, such as the need for one to clearly state their gender when female, brings about despotic and insidious objectification of females. Consequently, the particularity of gender for females makes their existence as humans to be drawn into an abstract cliché, as if their being female has no implication on their humanity. While the assertion by Beauvoir that one becomes a woman and is not born does not gain explicit exemplifications in ‘The Second sex’, the comments of the author about the treatment of women in various cultures and the consideration of women as possessions in marriage clearly show the meaning of objectification as intended by the author. This claim, despite constant criticism from various academic quarters, has remained to be a key point of consideration by feminist movements.
As a tool for feminist movement advocacies, the assertion has been used to criticize patriarchal regimes, with explanations that the female is as human as the male, despite the application of the term ‘man’ to both the male gender and the neutral implication. On the other hand, the same assertion has also brought about strong criticism with claims arising that the assertion is unfounded since the female gender is an innate characteristic that that is based on innate sexual differences between the man and the woman. From the point of view of the opponents of this assertion, Beauvoir only has the desire to create homogeneity among the human race.
Question 2: Beauvoir’s analysis of the figure of the lesbian
Beauvoir begins her analysis of the figure of the lesbian through an explanation of the common misconception that exists about the identity of the lesbian. According to this author, people normally confuse the lesbian and the virago based on the dressing and masculine tendencies of the latter. She claims that there is need to clearly distinguish between the two and subsequently understand that even though lesbians may at times adopt masculine behaviors, it is possible for one to be heterosexual and still exhibit masculine tendencies based on various factors. This explanation can be concluded to be true based on the fact that there are currently in existence, many women who are classified as ‘tom boys’ who are not necessarily lesbians. It is therefore essential to identify the characteristics that make someone be labeled as a homosexual apart from the masculine tendencies.
To achieve this distinction, Beauvoir provides guidelines towards determining the reasons that make an individual to desire to adopt lesbian tendencies. According to Beauvoir, the first contributing factor to the formation of lesbian tendencies in females is physiological predisposition. Persons with dual sexuality, i.e. hermaphrodites have the tendency to develop into lesbians due to the underdevelopment of female sexual characteristics and hormonal imbalances. While others may claim that this is not a sufficient reason for the adoption of lesbian tendencies, it should be understood that possessing masculine hormones predisposes individuals to behave as males, having the same sexual desires possessed by males hence tending towards homosexuality. Deficiency of female hormones also makes it difficult to align female behaviors with the observed female physical characteristics.
Another reason given by Beauvoir as to why females become lesbians is due to differences in sexual development where two types of women described as vaginal and clitoral women exist. The clitoral women are said to be more predisposed to Sapphic love than the vaginal women. However, these differences are also explained to be based on the infantile developments in sexual desire which appear as unfinished development in the clitoral females. Moreover, persons may also develop lesbian characteristics as a way of masculine protests and also due to infantile fixation which results from differences in upbringing. Despite the differences in factors that initiate lesbianism, the characteristics of lesbians are said to be more or less similar through the consideration of factors such as libido, and aggressiveness.
From the point of view of the author, lesbians have higher libidos compared to the heterosexual females, and their libidos tend to nearly match those of males. This results in the distinction of two types of lesbians, either feminine or masculine. It is the masculine lesbians that cause confusion in consideration of their similarity with the virago. However, while the virago may adopt male behaviors as form of liking, the lesbian tends to adapt those characteristics to conform to the expectations of the male gender and to avoid being undermined as a female. This does not however imply that discrimination may not result or that lesbians will be self-sufficient in their sexuality. As a matter of fact, several issues still arise which impact the lesbians’ views about themselves and about the society as a whole. As reported by Beauvoir, lesbians still face challenges such as the appearance of incompleteness as a woman since they remain eunuchs despite their engagement of other women. Moreover, they also remain impotent as men since they have no developed male sexual characteristics. The life of the lesbian can thus be described as a perpetual dilemma, always having to make decisions on whether to remain in their lack of productivity or to change their sexual orientation.
Question 3: Beauvoir’s Characterization of the marriage form
Throughout her book, Beauvoir makes references to the marriage form in various contexts, comparison of marriage in the pre-historic times when male domination took center place and the post historical times where patriarchal tendencies continued to be eliminated and freedom continued to be experienced creates the key theme of the marriage subject in the book.
From some instances, Beauvoir clearly explains the treatment of marriage in the traditional set up, explaining that formerly, the woman was considered to be a private property, upon whom one paid dowry. As an explanation, a quote is cited where the author exemplifies the objectification of females in marriage through the report of one saying that although he married through payment of dowry, the woman has become a thorn in his flesh. In the pre historic times, the marriage form is presented as having a clear social hierarchy where the husband took the highest position while the wife and children took lower positions. In such a setting, both the wife and the children belonged to the husband and could be considered explicitly as personal property. This implied that in the same way the man handled his material wealth, he also his wife and children.
The patriarchal years have since passed and as Beauvoir reports, the more chauvinistic males who consider females to be lesser have to contend with changing historical times. This is based on the argument that in the times post gender equality, marriage has also undergone a transformation, the result being the extinction of social hierarchies from the marriage context. In the more modern times, married women are compared to the unmarried who may be in the same financial and material wealth position. According to Beauvoir, the unmarried find themselves jealous of the married women who are well kept by their husbands and who as a result have their own businesses gaining greater profitability than the others. The support they get from their husbands clearly makes marriage tempting to the unmarried.
While being kept by the husbands is done at the discretion of the husband, the key point is to bring out the juxtaposition between the traditional marriage set up and the present day marriage context. Initially, the presence of social hierarchies in the hole could result in the consideration of females as lesser beings even by their own male children. This is contrary to latter marriages in which the children do not perceive hierarchical differences but consider their mothers to possess the same social dignity as their fathers. Based on this attitude, the children develop habits of respect for their wives and the mothers of their children, which lasts until irreconcilable differences separate them. In cases of misunderstanding between the children and any parent in the marriage, concrete differences may result, while at the same time bonds of love and common interest are created between the children and the parent who takes care of them most. Furthermore, women in marriages enjoy freedom associated with social equality and can in present days operate businesses besides having other ventures similar to males.
From the presentation of the contrasting and cross temporal points of view on marriage, Beauvoir clearly manages to bring out the nature of the marriage set up and the role of the woman in it. However, this work can still be better enhanced through the incorporation of more modern outlooks.
De Beauvoir, S. (2011). The Second Sex 2nd Ed. Vintage books