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Simone De Beauvoir

Quick Facts:
Full Name: Simone Lucie-Ernestine-Marie-Bertrand de Beauvoir
Born: January 9, 1908, Paris, France
Died: April 14, 1986 (aged 78), Paris, France

Keywords: existentialist, contemporary feminist, first-wave feminism


Simone de Beauvoir was a French writer, feminist, and existentialist philosopher Her parents were Georges Bertrand de Beavoir and Francoise Brasseur. She had one younger sister named Helene. Simone attended the Institut Adeline Désir where she remained until the age of 17. She became an atheist and with this disbelief in God, pursued and taught philosophy. She then studied mathematics at the Institut Catholique and literature and languages at the Institut Sainte-Marie.Instead of engaging in marriage and having children, she became a life long intellectual studying and teaching, mathematics, literature (French and Latin), philosophy, ethics, sociology, and psychology.[i]

Literary Works

Beauvoir wrote literary works on concepts such as ethics, feminism, fiction, autobiography, and politics.
Some of her well-known literature:

She Came to Stay (1943)
Pyrrhus et Cinéas (1944)
The Ethics of Ambiguity (1947)
The Second Sex (1949)
The Mandarins (1954)


Beauvoir was a first-wave feminist, thought to have laid the groundwork for second-wave feminism. She is the symbolic mother of contemporary feminist thought.

Beauvoir claimed that human existence should be divided into two different modes of experiencing and relating to the world: the feminine and the masculine. She argues that the feminine mode of experiencing the world entails its own paradox of subjectivity. The feminine has to realize existence and has to be understood as a becoming rather than a being.[ii] Beauvoir’s idea of subjectivity is linked to the centrality of the body and how it encounters the world. According to her view of the world, the body is a source of vulnerability, alienation, and desire.[iii]

Her most influential work The Second Sex (1949) reveals an aspect of equality feminism that relies solely on masculine subjectivity, a subjectivity that inherently constitutes “otherness."[iv] Subjectivity can be deformed by attitudes of others.[v] The Second Sex revealed that men do not realize freedom because such subjectivity inherently constitutes relations of domination. Everything associated with concepts such as woman or femininity has to be defined in relation to a masculine existence.

With her famous words, “One is not born, but becomes a woman,” she articulates that gendering, or becoming a woman or man, is a social process. She is asserting that biology is not an all-embracing destiny for women.[vi]For Beauvoir, men and women are ultimately the same in their potential, but women can become a subject, a “one” because there is no essence of eternal femininity.[vi] Women have to become subjective, they must become beings of change, and men have to realize the paradoxical human condition in their concrete singular lives.[ii]

Modern Thoughts

Her only claim to a difference in equality is that men and women have different ways of being in the body.[ii]

Some contemporary feminists such as Carol Gilligan, think that women do bring a different perspective and way of thinking to moral questions and that we can profit by developing a distinctive feminist ethics based on Beauvoir’s concept of, “the other.” If we supplement the theories ignored by patriarchal theories, we can advance our moral practices by considering the feminine perspective on morality.[vii]

[i] Mussett, S. (January 17, 2010). Simone De Beauvoir. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved September 26, 2012 at
[ii] Bjork, U. (January 1, 2010). Paradoxes of femininity in the philosophy of Simone de Beauvoir. Continental Philosophy Review, 43, 1, 39-60.
[iii] Lopez, S.L. (September 17, 2004). Your Simone: Eros, Ethics and the Other Scene of Writing in Simone de Beauvoir. Min, 119, 4, 644-655.
[iv] Changfoot, N. (January 01, 2009). The Second Sex’s Continued Relevance for Equality and Difference Feminisms. European Journal of Women’s Studies, 16, 1, 11-13.
[v] Green, K. (October 1, 2002). The Other as Another Other. Hypatia, 17, 4, 1-15.
[vi] Tyler, M. (January 1, 2005). Women in the change management: Simone De Beauvoir and the co-optation of women’s Otherness. Journal of Organization Change Management, 18, 6, 561-577.
[vii] Waluchow, W. (2003). The dimensions of ethics: An introduction to ethical theory. Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press.