The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

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The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

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Category: History
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: A thumping, big book dealing with all things female. Equality is the buzz word here with the author giving in-depth history and analysis and covering the crucial life stages of the female sex.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 848 Date: November 2010
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099499381

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This book was first published in France in the late 1940s and was an instant success. Much praise is heaped upon it as we see from the back cover; but the line which resonates with me, is simply The Second Sex is required reading for anyone who believes in equality. I happily put my hand up for that one, speaking, as it happens - as a second sex individual. It struck me that wouldn't it be interesting to also have a male reviewer give this book his thorough and undivided attention?

At a whopping 750+ pages Beauvoir has given herself ample space for her passionate debate. Where to begin? Well, there's a generous introduction as befits a work of this volume and this amount of research. She writes with vigour about the wide confinement of women down the ages on many levels: physical, psychological, intellectual and also cultural. Interestingly, her own childhood was strictly controlled and censored. Perhaps her saving grace was the gift of education. She attended university and time and time again throughout the book she talks about education being the golden key to freedom and emancipation.

I concurred with Beavoir's thoughts and sentiments at the beginning of her introduction where she says I hesitated ... before writing a book on woman (sic). The subject is irritating, especially for women ... And is there a book out there called The First Sex, I wonder. My point exactly. I also personally dislike the word feminist. But I strongly believe in equality in all areas. But, as many of us are all too aware, currently women still lag behind men in areas such as business, commerce, politics, law. Men still continue to receive higher salaries - even when women are carrying out the same duties. Now, what's fair about that?

Beauvoir gets back to basics. She also goes back in time. She talks about Plato, for example, and illustrates why the pendulum has swung favourably towards men. She veers off in the direction of the biology of various birds, insects and animals to prove her point. Basically, telling us in all the gory and often painful detail of the female species bringing up her young. The male is nowhere to be seen.

There are many academic and scholarly chapters such as The Psychoanalytical Point of View interspersed with perhaps more reader-friendly ones: History, Myths and Childhood. Beauvoir is not afraid to speak her mind, which I liked and admired. The book is littered with strong opinion such as Freud was not very concerned with women's destiny ... and the shortcomings of Engel's point of view.

And as for modern-day Arabic culture, well, the uncomfortable lot that the female of the sex endure stems from the Koran which states categorically that Men are superior to women ... Beauvoir then goes on to give the reader an example of the male/female divide in Tunisia. It is a sad and depressing life for these particular women and for the female children still to be born. The male is master of all he surveys, his word is law and he is not questioned. Will this situation ever change? (Beauvoir does not give her thoughts on that).

Beauvoir covers so many areas to illustrate woman's inferior place - in literature for example. Think of all those clever, Victorian women not allowed to use their brains, forced by society to stay at home and do a little light needlework. The girl, the married woman, the mother - all get their own lengthy investigative and weighty chapters. I must admit that at times, while reading this tome, I did feel depressed - at our lot overall. No area is left untouched under Beauvoir's keen and forensic eye. An extremely in-depth read. A must if you interested in equality and women's place in the world at large.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals then you might also appreciate Over the Wide and Trackless Sea: the Pioneer Women and Girls of New Zealand by Megan Hutching.

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