Simone de Beauvoir (1908–1986) was a French writer, philosopher and political activist. She is known for her 1949 treatise The Second Sex, a detailed analysis of women’s oppression and a foundational tract of contemporary feminism.
Drawing on sociology, anthropology and biology, The Second Sex is as important and relevant today as when it was first published in 1949. de Beauvoir, S. (2015 ). The Second Sex. London: Vintage Classics.
There are some thinkers who are, from the very beginning, unambiguously identified as philosophers (e.g., Plato). There are others whose philosophical place is forever contested (e.g., Nietzsche); and there are those who have gradually won the right to be admitted into the philosophical fold. Simone de Beauvoir is one of these belatedly acknowledged philosophers. Her enduring contributions to the fields of ethics, politics, existentialism, phenomenology and feminist theory and her significance as an activist and public intellectual is now a matter of record. Unlike her status as a philosopher, Simone de Beauvoir’s position as a feminist theorist has never been in question. Controversial from the beginning, The Second Sex’s critique of patriarchy continues to challenge social, political and religious categories used to justify women’s inferior status.
The Second Sex have never had trouble understanding the feminist significance of its analysis of patriarchy, they might be forgiven for missing its philosophical importance so long as they had to rely on an arbitrarily abridged version of The Second Sex that was questionably translated by a zoologist who was deaf to the philosophical meanings and nuances of Beauvoir’s French terms. The 2010 translation of The Second Sex changed that. In addition to providing the full text, this translation’s sensitivity to the philosophical valence of Beauvoir’s writing makes it possible for her English readers to understand the existential-phenomenological grounds of her feminist analysis of the forces that subordinate women to men and designate her as the Other.