39 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing study of gender difference and similarity
De Beauvoir takes us on an epic tour from the dawn of the human race to the contemporary world of 1940's commerce and culture, through the internal workings of the body to how others perceive them via the beliefs, thoughts and prejudices of societies throughout the world. Her breadth and depth of research is an attempt to answer one simple question- why are women...
Published on 7 Feb 2003 by Alex Magpie
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Important but imperfect
There is much to admire in this important book: it has to be judged in the context of its time, but it clearly broke significant ground. It owes much to contemporary philosophy, which is probably better represented by Heidegger, Satre et al, but the fact that it draws on the terms of exisentialism to explain how the situation of women is implicated in their behaviour...
Published 20 months ago by Australian
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39 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing study of gender difference and similarity,
This review is from: The Second Sex (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)De Beauvoir takes us on an epic tour from the dawn of the human race to the contemporary world of 1940's commerce and culture, through the internal workings of the body to how others perceive them via the beliefs, thoughts and prejudices of societies throughout the world. Her breadth and depth of research is an attempt to answer one simple question- why are women constantly seen as inferior to men, in effect the "second sex"?
Such a question is almost impossible to answer but at just under seven hundred pages of intelligent writing TSS gets as close to the quick as any women's study or feminist book has got before or after its publication. Questioning every one of the "labels" attached to the human female De Beauvoir pulls apart traditional thinking on issues such as the "innate" maternal instinct, women's intellectual capacity and physical strength and make-up. Every chapter is a definitive case in itself and De Beauvoir's collection of facts, statistics and case studies are unshakable in their accuracy. Her conclusions are well thought through and easy to follow and it is only the sheer amount and wealth of information she gives us that can seem overwhelming at times.
The very fact that a woman has written such a masterpiece is evidence enough that women are as intellectually equal to men but it is sadly revealing of our patriarchal society that gives TSS less reverence than it deserves. Since the 1940's many other theories have developed in the area of gender studies so TSS is no longer the "one text that covers all". Supplementing TSS with more recent works such as those by Germaine Greer, Andrea Dworkin and Kate Millet will give you a more general picture of feminism but it still remains the greatest and most complete work on women's studies and possibly the most important book to come out of the twentieth century.
This is essential reading for any self-respecting individual, male or female, although its size and density means it is probably better to read this segments at a time.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Woman?",
This review is from: The Second Sex (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)So commences Simone de Beauvoir in her monumental work concerning one of the most essential issues of human existence. She uses the singular form (but in a collective sense) and follows it with a question mark. How do women become "women", with defined places in society, and particularly vis-à-vis the opposite sex. She says that women become the "other," different from the "normal standard." De Beauvoir's erudition is astonishing; her book is grand "tour de force," examining virtually all aspects of human knowledge. The book is the classic feminist manifesto, written more than 60 years ago, and it still eclipses all subsequent works. It is dense; rich in insights, and lengthy, and clearly not for the "fun read" crowd. No review can do it justice, certainly not mine. One can only hope to throw out enough tidbits that the reader says that the effort in tackling this book will be well-compensated. De Beauvoir accomplished this remarkable feat of analysis and hypotheses just as she was turning 40. As only one example of her erudition in literature, in a couple of pages she moves from Alain Fournier's depiction of Yvonne de Galais in The Lost Estate (Le Grand Meaulnes) (Penguin Classics) to Henry Miller's concept of god in a [...] to Dostoyevsky's Raskolnikov sacrifices at Sonia's feet.
"The Second Sex" is divided into two books, one entitled "Facts and Myths," the other "Woman's Life Today." Of course parts of the book are dated; consider that one chapter is entitled "The Point of View of Historical Materialism." Yes, Communism has wound up in the proverbial dust-bin of history, as is another chapter title, the male-dominated point of view of psychoanalysis. She examined the concept of woman in the works of five authors: Montherlant, D. H. Lawrence, Claudel, Breton and Stendhal. It was personally reassuring that she liked Stendhal the best, saying: "...from this carnival atmosphere where Woman is disguised variously as fury, nymph, morning star, siren, I find it a relief to come upon a man who lives among women of flesh and blood." Elsewhere, making a comparison with the so-called "Negro Problem" and "Jewish Problem," which she says is neither, she says that: "the woman problem has always been a man's problem." Other uncomfortable insights: "that is why superiority has been accorded in humanity not to the sex that brings forth but that which kills."
In the second book De Beauvoir speaks of the acculturation process whereby girls are taught to be "coquettish and seductive," and are ambivalent in arousing male interest. She says that "the feminine body is peculiarly psychosomatic," and that "woman's sexuality is conditioned by the total situation." The entire chapter on a Married Woman makes for more uncomfortable reading, including the insight that: "Many married women find amusement in confiding to one another the `tricks' they use in simulating a pleasure that they deny feeling in reality;" "This is indeed a melancholy science- to dissimulate, to use trickery, to hate and fear in silence, to play on the vanity and the weaknesses of a man... to `manage' him."
In the chapter on the Mother, her discussion on abortion could tumble out of today's newspapers. She says that a mother who is harsh with her child is seeking vengeance on the man. In terms of her Social Life, she repeats the familiar aphorism that "woman dresses to inspire jealousy in other women,..." and that it is only in Old Age that a woman gains her independence, and can determine who she actually is. Another acute sentiment: "Man enjoys the great advantage of having a God endorse the codes he writes..." Her conclusion certainly starts depressingly enough: "No, woman is not our brother; through indolence and depravity we have made of her a being apart, unknown, having no weapon other than her sex... but moreover, an unfair weapon of the eternal little slave's mistrust."
I found some significant information in some of the other posted reviews: There is the issue of a faulty translation, which even excludes portions of the original text, and this matter has never been resolved. There is also the very real matter of her personal life, failing to "walk the talk," and assuming a subordinate position to Jean-Paul Sartre, including the rumored procurement of younger women. Alas! Subordinate no longer, though, they lay side by side in Montparnasse cemetery, for those with pilgrimage inclinations.
Overall, a superlative book that can be read and enjoyed numerous times for the central insights De Beauvoir renders.
(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on June 26, 2009)
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars encyclopaedic,
This review is from: The Second Sex (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)The Second Sex is a book of mammoth proportions, displaying the intellectual prowess of de Beauviour in full swing, putting women right up there in the literary firmament. It is almost impossible to overestimate this book, and it is a shame that it never recieved its due praise whence published. However, this unfairness only concretises Beauvior's arguments upon Patriarchal attitudes. TSS is encyclopaedic in scope, and dazzling in its wealth of knowledge. Opening this book is like opening Pandora's box - there is no end to what you may find inside.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant mind, fantastic book,
This review is from: The Second Sex (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)Simone was of course Sartre's muse and his intellectual equal. No mean feat. The Second Sex is a complete study of what it means to be female. Obviously it was written over fifty years ago and reflects the fact that women were less empowered than today. De Beauvoir seems to have read everything worth reading in literature and philosophy and she draws on her massive erudition to support her assertions. I could write an endless review but it's all in the book. If you are interested in how 50% of the planet think, feel, suffer, hope and survive then you MUST read this book. Even if you are not interested in matters female Simone de Beauvoir is worth reading simply for her brilliance, clear thinking, use of language and her considerable skill as a writer. It's good to have a book like this at hand for when you want to read something substantial, relevant, interesting, educational and humane. Ist Class! JP :P)
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A hugely impressive book,
This review is from: The Second Sex (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)Simone de Beauvoir was scandalised and ridiculed particularly by the church when this first came out in 1949 which must have been a disappointment for her. Perhaps a radical book at the time but very relevant to the present and this is worth reading by all women and any man who agrees that women should have a better time whilst on this planet.
The book covers many aspects of being a woman, begining when humans first roamed the earth as nomads and the tyranny of life as a woman giving birth constantly as unlike many animals humans are always fertile. Infant death and infantacide were a means of survival then and the reason why the human population was realatively small for tens of thousands of years. Then tilling the earth when the male began to domineer and own all land, passing it on to their male heirs, leaving woman to be a virtual slave to fathers and husbands, the start of male domination!
I learnt some really interesting things from reading this for example: I didn't know that reproduction was properly underrstood until the mid 19th Century, all sorts of bizare beliefs were practised prior to this revelation, people even believed that sperm contained tiny little people!!! Also discussed is how man and woman are prisoners of instinctive behaviour and really cannot help themselves to a great extent, brilliant for understanding relationships, ie why men walk away after sex in many cases but instinctively a for a woman it is the start of relationship due to the feelings of wanting to nurture a pregnancy. It also explains why in some ways a woman does not always progress due to involuntarily sabotaging their own plans ie preferring part time work or not going for the promotion due to home making instincts. Prostitution, love, ageing are all discussed in depth in this volume. A fascinating read, it sucks you in and you cannot put it down. Only one negative comment and that is that I found it very slightly depressing as there is little hope for women to be truly independant before they get old, ugly and die according to Ms De Beauvoir.
5.0 out of 5 stars very good,
This review is from: The Second Sex (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)It is a lovely new book and a very Big read but i expected that. It is so ahead of its time. I Love it
5.0 out of 5 stars The Second Sex still relevant today,
This review is from: The Second Sex (Everyman's Library Classics) (Hardcover)Simone de Beauvoir's writing about the nature of male/female gender relations remains as pertinent today as it was 50 years ago. In fact, I was a little dismayed by just how pertinent it remains, as I had hoped we had moved along a bit since then. This book is definitely a MUST READ for anyone interested in the relationships between men and women.It is also a brilliant example of existentialist philosophy applied to an actual social problem.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Important but imperfect,
This review is from: The Second Sex (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)There is much to admire in this important book: it has to be judged in the context of its time, but it clearly broke significant ground. It owes much to contemporary philosophy, which is probably better represented by Heidegger, Satre et al, but the fact that it draws on the terms of exisentialism to explain how the situation of women is implicated in their behaviour and understanding, seems to have set an important trend in the feminist literature and thinking that followed.
I can't help wondering what else has been read by the folk who gave this five stars. It's not well written; it's dense not because it's unclear but because it's so repetitious and wordy, and the ideas aren't always grouped convicingly on either a local level or across the whole structure. I would also suggest that the success of each discussion reflects the author's own experience; some areas she discusses convincingly, while others degenerate into a rhetorical rant about the kind of women/behaviour that she knows less about but evidently despises. Certainly she discusses every area with equal confidence! But I found it very revealing when I read de Beauvoir's brief biography on Wikipedia, and saw what she had actually experienced by the time she wrote this book. I'm afraid that learning that she was rather weird sexually - including being a child-molester - rang true in the light of her approach to this task. Perhaps it's inevitable that a book so ambitious as this should tell us as much about the author as about Woman -
One last thought: the references to men are more consistently overgeneralised and pretty superficial. I guess the parallel kind of thinking had not yet been applied to the male sex, asking how he might have been created by his situation - indeed, maybe that remains to be done with an equivalent amount of energy, even now.
5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the great books of the 20th century,
This review is from: The Second Sex (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)There is more good sense in this wonderful book than in most of the rest of all the writing by and about women. Marvellous.
0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a bit biased,
This review is from: The Second Sex (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)I started reading this book with a great interest and have to say that many thoughts I found in this book were intriguing. However, unlike the author I really don't think all women are the same and this is exactly what this book is suggesting. I know the author lived in a different society but I still don't believe that even then all women were naturally submissive, strongly emotional, unrational, dependent and attracted to brutal men. This book is also very repetetive - no wonder it has over 700 pages.
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The Second Sex (Vintage Classics) by Simone De Beauvoir (Paperback - 7 Aug 1997)