Book Synopsis: The Second Sex

The Second Sex

by Rashi Sinha

“One is not born, but rather becomes a woman”                                                                                                                                               ~ Simone de Beauvoir

Revolutionary and instigative, The Second Sex 1 is one of the earliest attempts to confront human history from a feminist perspective. Simone de Beauvoir, a French modern feminist and novelist, seeks answers as to why the female’s position is secondary in the society or maybe in her own thoughts? Why is the woman ‘the Other’?

What is a woman? And the answer that echoes ~ ‘Woman is a womb’.  But can the presence of the ovaries and the uterus merely give rise to a woman? It is not nature that defines woman; it is she who defines herself by dealing with nature on her own account in her life.


In this chapter of her book, Beauvoir has expounded Freud’s theories as well as Alders. Citing Freud’s words ‘The libido is constantly and regularly male in essence, whether it appears in man or in woman’, she highlights that he declines to regard the feminine libido as having its own original nature and also stresses upon the idea put forward that a woman runs a much greater risk of not reaching the end of her sexual evolution. Her rebellion on this line of thought is quite visible in her words. The other point here emerges from the fact that Freud based it upon a masculine model. He assumes that a woman feels that she is a mutilated man. Her disapprobation of the Electra Complex on being vague and without any emotional diffusion in it, is also expressed.

In Alder’s theory, the sexual urge is substituted with motives and purposes. He propounded that the place the father holds in the family, the universal predominance of males, her own pattern of education and development – everything confirms her in her belief in ‘masculine superiority’.  In woman, the inferiority complex takes the form of a ‘shamed rejection of her femininity’.

The author rejects Freudianism & Aldernism, the methods of psychoanalysis2 and states that all psychoanalysts will tag women with the same destiny and find empirical confirmations for it. They take for granted unexplained facts. She believes that the female libido, for instance, has never been studied directly but has been moulded from a male context. The woman’s consciousness of her own feminity is not taken into consideration.

Why? Why ‘the Other’?

Her analysis is indeed thought-provoking. It makes one ponder as to why does the whole system, even the famous theories that have gained respect and recognition, place the women on the lower pedestal? Why is it masked by men? And if you would deny it, Beauvoir would answer “To deny it is to falsify all human history.”

1 This book was also the starting point of second-wave feminism. The Vatican placed it on its ‘List of Prohibited Books’.

2 The Second Sex helped to inspire subsequent feminist arguments against psychoanalysis, including those of Betty Friedan‘s The Feminine MystiqueKate Millett‘s Sexual Politics, and Germaine Greer‘s The Female Eunuch.


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