I don’t really know how to start reviewing this book. It’s a book which will open your minds. It’s a work which will improve your debates. It’s a text which will provoke and inspire both men and women.
De Beauvoir believes that woman’s inferiority in society is a result not of natural differences but of differences in the upbringing of man and woman. Male domination is not inherent or fated but conditioned at every stage of development. She uses the words, “Man learns his power.” By the same token, woman is not born passive, mediocre, or immanent. Rather, she is socialized to believe that proper women must embody these characteristics and, subtly and not subtly, she is conditioned to believe that denying her true self is the only way to achieve happiness and gain acceptance.
Biology has been well discussed in her work. A woman’s reproductive capacity should not stop her from fulfilling a position in society beyond the home. Woman is neither exclusively a worker nor exclusively a womb. Right through history, woman has been enslaved to her reproductive function. Her life to the present has been an uninterrupted succession of pregnancies, and her contributions to society have been restricted to her womb. Woman cannot be incorporate in a workplace, for she must still juggle the burdens of childbearing and childrearing, an impossible task for even the most energetic mothers. For woman to achieve more than liberation and enter the workplace as man’s equal, the nuclear family must be changed so that she is able to leave the home. Social stigmas against unwed mothers and abortion must be lifted to allow woman to take charge of her own pregnancies and control her own life.
De Beauvoir challenges “the eternal feminine,” or that “vague and basic essence, femininity.” This myth takes many forms—the sanctity of the mother, the purity of the virgin, the fecundity of the earth and of the womb—but in all cases serves to deny women’s individuality and trap them inside ideals. She pointed out that just as there is no such thing as the “eternal masculine,” there is no such thing as “eternal feminine”.
De Beauvoir uses the term Other throughout The Second Sex to diagnose the female’s secondary position in society as well as within her thoughts. Throughout human history, a woman has value as a sexual partner but not as an independent entity. She completes him, but she herself is incomplete.