Simone de Beauvoir (1908- 1986) was a French philosopher, activist, writer, and petitioner. Beauvoir graduated from the Institut Sainte-Marie in Belgium with concentrations in French literature and Latin. She went on to study at the University of Paris from which she showed mastery in the subjects of philosophy, Greek, logic, ethics, sociology, and psychology.
Beauvoir first became known as an existentialist philosopher and writer of the defenses for the theory. Existentialism asserts that we, as humans, exist before our values and behaviors are a set part of our character. The theory grants, and its subscribers believe, in the freedom of the individual to take full responsibility of choices, action, and goals. Beauvoir quickly gained notoriety for her work promoting this theory and she was interviewed on national television from the multiple countries she visited, spreading her ideas on the age-old debate of existentialism versus essentialism. As a believer that we are created by the actions we do or not take in our lives, Beauvoir identified a freedom and obligation: although we face limitless decisions that are formative of our character, we ought to choose wisely- we are obligated to do so for the sake of ourselves and our society. In one of her written defenses, The Ethics of Ambiguity written in 1947, she identifies the individual’s and society’s responsibility to be assertive, but respectful, in order to create a healthy, safe, aware, and respectful environment for all citizens.
Beauvoir also completed works that inspired political change. Through her realized power to create a better, freer world for herself and others, she began working to promote women’s rights. The Second Sex, written in 1949, explored the ways throughout history in which women have been treated and othered by patriarchal societies. A famous line from this work embodies its theme: “Thus humanity is male and man defines woman not herself but as relative to him.” Beauvoir also wrote and signed the Manifesto of the 343 which was a type of petition which three hundred forty-three French women signed, declaring having had an abortion in a country in which abortion then (1971) was still illegal. These women risked punitive action for the sake of inspiring and demanding change. This work created the pathway for future women to eventually obtain the right, which they finally did in 1810.
From the plentiful work which was a product of Beauvoir’s tenacity and inspiration, women today have an example of what good can be created when women’s education is valued and when women band together for the sake of community as well as social and political change. Her writings remain relevant to audiences of activists and philosophers, so check out her work and remember her name!
Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: https://www.iep.utm.edu/beauvoir/
Aeon (Digital magazine): https://aeon.co/ideas/simone-de-beauvoirs-political-philosophy-resonates…