Simone-Ernestine-Lucie-Marie-Bertrand de Beauvoir was a French writer, political activist, feminist thinker and existentialist philosopher. She had worked alongside other famous existentialist such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus and Maurice Merleau-Ponty and was able to produce wonderful works such as She Came to Stay, Pyrrhus and Cineas, The Ethics of Ambiguity, The Second Sex, “Must We Burn Sade?”, Djamila Boupacha, etc. Her works, especially in her time, has always been viewed as controversial because she was one of the few women who chose to speak up about matters of the patriarchal society we have been apart of. Some would contend to her being a philosopher because first, she was a woman and they would connect her works with her famous long-time partner, Sartre. Also, because she wrote about women, or rather, sex, which they deemed as a non-philosophical issue though all the allegations did not push through because her recognition as a philosopher is now secure. (Bergoffen, 2018).
Her works which are: The Ethics of Ambiguity and The Second Sex is what I would like to focus on. The Ethics of Ambiguity was assumedly written because of World War II. It may have something to do with the growing fear she and the people of her time had experienced when the Nazis had occupied Paris. Dealing with these powerful yet fearful Germans may have been the spark on which Beauvoir chose to speak of the war and thus had created an existential rupture in time. It is this work of hers where she identifies herself as an existentialist and gives emphasis on how this is the philosophy that takes the question of evil seriously.
From what I’ve understood in Ethics of Ambiguity which was translated by Bernard Frechtman (1949) is, it tackles on the ambiguity of human existence. It makes us, the readers, know how we are both Facticity and Transcendence. It speaks of how our normal state is filled with tension and how we must first recognize what we lack to look for our own philosophical rationalization---as to what makes us understand why we matter and what the world means to us. Beauvoir whiplashes us with the undeniable fact that we are all condemned to be free. This freedom requires effort. Effort in terms of finding ways for the people around us to make them realize that they too, are free. “It is the world willed by man, insofar as his will expresses his genuine reality.”(Beauvoir, 1947).
One can also take note on how she was able to include a Marxist approach. We see how she questions some of what Marxists contest but focuses on how individuals must not give into the “dull comforts” of what our society has to offer. An individual must not be content in being obedient to the deeply ingrained system of Capitalism. She then continues to explain how several intellectuals deny existentialist truths, so they may promote a worldview that only they desire. It goes to show how we live in a world wherein we must be conscious of how we behave, how we think. Our actions, our decisions can be in danger of reciprocating what the authorities of power wants us to become. (Wheelock, 2012). It is an essay that entails how it is us humans that usually set up barriers that can destroy the freedom of others. Her essay is strongly anti-paternalistic and makes us question what our meaning in life is going to be. She makes us stop and have an honest look on how it takes to be a human.
The Second Sex begins with, “One wonders if woman still exist, if they will exist, whether or not it is desirable that they should, what place they occupy in this world, what their place should be…but first we must ask: What is a woman?”. This book of hers is one of the founding documents in modern feminism. It was written in French and was translated by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany Chevallier. She wrote this in third person and some had accused her; was outraged because she wrote women as if she was not one herself. (Bair, 1990).
A favorite line of mine in her book is, ‘One is not born a woman but becomes one’. A woman is molded in what the society dictates her to be. This has been an interesting read wherein the author gives us an historical context on how women throughout history, have been subordinated to men. Beauvoir conceptualizes how women are often encountered with ‘a destiny, a necessity, a limited range of roles and figures in the closed chamber of history’s conspiracy against her.’ Though the focus is women and how they fair in our patriarchal society, Simone de Beauvoir insist that both genders suffer from subjection. The men’s experiences of dominance can affect; can shape their behavior towards women. She also includes Hegel’s Phenomenology and applies the first rule of phenomenology which is to identify the assumptions being made, treat them as biases then put them aside, and only make mention of it when they have been validated by one’s experience.
It confronts us with the sad reality on how women, for the most part, are never radically free due to the sexual divide they encounter. It elucidates the past and current situation of women and how they are being unjustly treated. It makes us question if this is the kind of life we want our younger sisters, the future generation of women, to experience. Patriarchy still exists and the processes of how one becomes a woman continues to be a requirement such as having to deal with a variety of manners—the internalization of modes and modalities of subordination. It helps us examine what the Female Identity is and initiates us to contest it.
The Second Sex was what many women had held unto because of the Post-war. This book of hers was a part of the rallying cries for women’s need of liberation. It had fascinated readers with its ability to exploit the masculine ideologies and how it creates a system of inequality. It offered methods of critiquing the social constructions of femininity. (Grosholz, 2004; Bair, 1990; Bergoffen, 2018).
What we should remember in her works are: ‘We are free, unlike objects; There is no God to create values and meaning; It is up to us to create values and meaning; We must take responsibility for our freedom; There will always be conflict with other consciousnesses which might lead to objectification and lastly, if we ignore our freedom due to ‘bad faith’ it is considered as a rejection of responsibility and an inauthentic way to live.’ Although I disagree with her belief that there is no God, I believe that we should keep in check how we are as humans and how do we live our lives presently. Living in a modern world where we solely rely on technologies and go with the trends, it’s hard to question the quality of life. We forget that there is more to our lives. Most of us, especially my peers, have been consumed in the capitalistic and patriarchal society we live in wherein we comply to whatever is being taught or handed down to us. Simone de Beauvoir gives us a chance to rethink what we have been doing with our lives. Are we adding to the subjugation of men and women? Are we aware that we are free? Do we exist just because we do or are we living our lives knowing how much we can offer to the world?
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