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Shvoong Home>Arts & Humanities>XXX the most vital words Summary

XXX the most vital words

Book Summary   by:ankitrk     Original Author: me
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The Second Sex’, six decades after it first got published, still stands supreme for its highly comprehensive work in the field of gender. Simone de Beauvoir, though writing keeping in mind her French upbringing, it is surprising to see how much her work is globally relevant, even in today’s time. She just not limits herself to a particular viewpoint, but sincerely tries to really dig into the ‘why’ of things that are concerned here. Her work is holistic, ranging from perspectives from the field of biology, psychoanalysis, anthropology, sociology, law, psychology, history, amongst others! Exploring the issue, that just how the gender demarcation came into being and the whole sociology that goes along with it evolved remains her key inquest throughout the book. She initiates the book by explaining how women have not actually been allowed to exist in their real sense. What becomes of a woman is a social construct. Woman is what man allows her to be. As Simone de Beauvoir puts it, “Human Society is an antiphysis- in a sense it is against nature; it does not passively submit to the presence of nature but rather takes over the control of nature on its own behalf. This arrogation is not an inward, subjective operation; it is accomplished objectively in practical action.” It is this viewpoint through which she tries explaining the gender discrimination that exists in Human mind. It is in human nature to demarcate the world as ‘us’ and the ‘other’. From a historical viewpoint, she explains that as man discovered better control over nature, his fear and along with that, his respect for nature decreased. The women, who represented ‘nature’, for a certain mystique attached to her, and also because only she could produce life, now declined as man realized his own worth. He explored, he discovered, and accomplished new things. His self esteem rose. With his increasing prosperity, his workload increased. When the man is not able to do everything himself, he has no choice but to enslave others. Woman’s subjugation is a byproduct of this ‘progress’. She, who was seen as the mystique in nomadic times, was seen as the ‘other’, the ‘negative’, the ‘impure’, in agricultural society, as she could not keep up with the work load demanded from heavy agricultural tools, which only man could handle. In agricultural society, concept of holding of ‘property’ emerged, and with it came patriarchy, which worsened women’s position to the hilt. She was now seen as a means of expanding economic and social ambitions, according to what suited the man. Seeing the irony of things, the author explains that unlike tools that had restricted woman’s participation, the industries, the machines opened for her a new era. Huge workforce was required which propelled her to come out of homes. The woman is subjected to beautification, to uncomfortable clothes, to high heels, so that she is never able to match the man’s steps; that she remains so involved (read lost) in these particulars that it takes up whole of her time and life’s ambitions. The second part of the book explains women’s socialization and development of self through the various stages of life, keeping in context her special circumstances. She maintains how contrary to Freud’s psychoanalytic work, it is the boy who envies the girl because of extra cajoling that she receives. ‘Penis envy’, according to her is more of a socially constructed phenomenon, rather than having any biological roots. She explains brilliantly, in an entirely non-judgmental manner, the insecurities and dilemmas that define any women, at any stage of her life starting from childhood, to attaining puberty, to being a woman in love, to being married, to sexual initiation, to being a mother, to entering old age. She also explains the situations of prostitutes and lesbians. She explains, “Prostitutes are human sacrifices on the altar of monogamy”. Being lesbian, according to her is women’s true nature,and it is subjugated to meet the demands of men. Also, it is explained how through her children, a mother wants to conquer the world. Through her son, she wants to satisfy her ego, because he is a male, he will be a conqueror, a leader one day. She takes pride in creating him. Problem starts when the children start individuating. She considers it as an insult. She cannot tolerate the ‘individuating’ of her double. Also, she cannot tolerate her little girl to be her double, to take her position, so that the household can function without her, that the father gives more time to the daughter, who is more charming than her. All in all, a highly detailed, deeply introspective work of utmost quality.
Published: July 17, 2007   
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