To Read The Existentialist Feminism Of Simone de Beauvoir

It has been 32 years since the death of the writer, philosopher and feminist Simone de Beauvoir. Owner of a restless and revolutionary spirit for her time, Beauvoir rejected models, hierarchies and values.

Without a doubt, her great contribution was in the field of studies on feminism and in the struggle of gender equality. Along with this, Beauvoir was an adherent of the existentialist theory, for which freedom is the main characteristic.

But, after all, why is she such an important figure in the feminist struggle? Here are 5 books that show why Beauvoir's works are revolutionary and inspiring for many women:

1. The Second Sex, 1949 | Le Deuxième Sexe

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This is the book that set the agenda for the feminist movement in our time. The premise of the book is that women is are not the "second sex" or the "other" for natural and immutable reasons, but a series of social and historical processes that have created this situation.

Their Her whole argument revolves around the questioning of the existence of the so-called "eternal feminine," seen by society as something intrinsic to any woman, and which would hold us within a restricted range of characteristics, and especially limitations. Thus, the famous phrase "No one is born woman: becomes woman" enshrines the author's thought.

2. The Mandarins, 1954 | Les Mandarins

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In the existentialist novel "The Mandarins", Simone portrays French society in the postwar period when political, moral and intellectual issues are discussed by the author. An interesting element of The Mandarins is the constant allusion the personal life’s facts of important personages in French contemporary history to the writing. Several intellectuals are quoted in the form of alter egos, so it is possible to observe the biographical character of the work.

3. Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, 1958 | Mémoires d'une jeune fille rangée

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From all her autobiographies, this deserves prominence, because Simone presents real accounts of her life in relation to the behaviors of her bourgeois family. The young woman's thirst for freedom, her desire and curiosity for life, and her innocent rebellion, which consisted almost exclusively of lying to her parents to get out at night, mark the narrative of this book.

Simone de Beauvoir describes all the insecurities, the confusions, the naivety, the permanent sensation of inadequacy of a woman in her time. It shows how in French society of the early 20th century every gesture, every word, every look was watched. How women were oppressed by a word as heavy and dark as a heavy cloud: moral.

4. Woman Destroyed, 1967 | La Femme rompue

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Despite the misunderstandings of translating the title of this work, the narrative brings together three short novels or short stories about mature women facing family, professional and relationship crises, in parallel with the frustration of aging. The first narrative, "The Age of Stealth," is clearly autobiographical and deals with the daily lives of a couple of mature intellectuals.

The second story, "Monologue", has as its raw material the flow of consciousness of the protagonist, Murielle, and her suffering after two separations and the suicide of her daughter Sylvie. It is an experimental composition, in freestyle and without punctuation, that tries to represent the confused and painful thought of the character. 

In the last story, Monique, a typical housewife, lives a humiliating situation when she discovers her husband Maurice has a mistress; abandoned and despised, she tells in her diary the progressive degradation of the relationship she seeks to maintain in all forms, even though she knows she is betrayed.

All the tales point to a change of course for women, and the role that men play in our lives. In fact, the men in the tales are not particularly strong. There is in all of them a cowardly, awkward, anemic, hesitant behavior. For a new woman to exist, there must also be a new partner who is more prepared, effective and decisive.

5. The Coming of Age, 1970 | La Vieillesse

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In this essay, the author sought to reflect on the exclusion of the elderly in their society, but from the point of view that she knew she would become one of them, as if she were thinking of her own destiny. For her, one of the problems of capitalist society lies in the fact that each individual perceives other people as a way to fulfill their needs: protection, wealth, pleasure, domination.

In this way, we relate to other people prioritizing our desires, poorly understanding and valuing their needs. The book aimed to "unmask this scandal", to condemn this deforming and mutilating system. And to radicalize, Simone again touches on the subject of sexuality. And as she had done with the feminine-desiring question, it would now be the old-wishing affair too disturbing. For the author, although the body decays in its forces, the sexual desire persists. Society refuses to admit it, but the old men and women have sexual desire.