CMS 362A Women’s Literature and Feminist Theory: Maternity, Myth, and Materiality
22 January 2013
Simone de Beauvoir – “Woman” as Other
Simone de Beauvoir is recognized as a theorist close to the beginning of the second wave in the development of Feminist Theory. De Beauvoir authored the text, The Second Sex in 1949, and the reader will recognize that much of the writing remains relevant in the twenty-second century. This is an examination of the third chapter of that text in which de Beauvoir identifies the myths regarding women, and how these myths have been made manifest in the lives of men. The author adopts the title of “Other” for women based on the dominance of men over women throughout history. This dominance has been demonstrated in the powerless state that women have experienced due to a lack of physical, financial, and intellectual independence that have been solidified through “the codes of law [that] have been set up against her” (300). Lacking these liberties, woman became dependent on man, and at the time of de Beauvoir’s writing, was rarely recognized by man as an equal.
Early in the chapter, de Beauvoir claims that woman is
“The wished-for intermediary between nature, the stranger to man, and the fellow being who is too closely identical. She opposes him with neither the hostile silence of nature nor the hard requirement of a reciprocal relation; through a unique privilege she is a conscious being and yet it seems possible to possess her in the flesh” (301).
The “Other” is one who fills what is lacking in the dominant being without the threat a person of equal stature would possess. De Beauvoir argues that all creation myths support this position of dominance over women. The author goes on to state that “Man seeks in woman the Other as Nature and as his fellow being,” and goes on to point out the disregard man has displayed toward nature as the model of the treatment of women. The Other, according to de Beauvoir is desired by man “not only to possess her but also to be ratified by her” (312). The woman has been groomed to remain loyal to the values of the man. De Beauvoir asserts that
“the ideal of the average Western man is a woman who freely accepts his domination, who does not accept his ideas without discussion, but who yields to his arguments, who resists him intelligently and ends by being convinced” (313).
The woman, the Other, is the supreme validating force of the dominate one. She is his “treasure, prey, sport and danger, nurse, guide, judge, mediatrix, mirror” (315). De Beauvoir goes on to proclaim that if woman did not exist, man would have “invented her” (315). And, the author says, he did.
Woman as Other fails to exist only if “women assert themselves as human being” (302). DeBeauvoir completes this section of the book by describing what being the Other means for the woman (323).
She is other than herself, other than what is expected of her. Being all [for the man] she is never quite this which she should be; she is everlasting deception, the very deception of that existence which is never successfully attained nor fully reconciled with the totality of existents.
By succumbing to the role of Other, woman is less than.