The Second Sex  

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"One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman." --The Second Sex (1949) by Simone de Beauvoir

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The Second Sex (French: Le Deuxième Sexe, June 1949) is one of the best known works of the French existentialist Simone de Beauvoir. It is a work on the treatment of women throughout history and often regarded as a major work of feminist literature. In it she argues that women throughout history have been defined as the "other" sex, an aberration from the "normal" male sex.


Woman and the Other

In it she argues that women throughout history have been defined as the "other" sex, an aberration from the "normal" male sex. Beauvoir wrote the book after attempting to write about herself. The first thing she wrote was that she was a woman, but she realized that she needed to define what a woman was, which became the intent of the book.

Gender and sex

Judith Butler says that de Beauvoir's formulation that "One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman", distinguishes the terms 'sex' and 'gender'. Butler says that the book suggests that 'gender' is an aspect of identity which is "gradually acquired". Butler sees The Second Sex as potentially providing a radical understanding of gender.


Toril Moi points out that the current English translation of The Second Sex is poor. The delicate vocabulary of philosophical concepts is frequently mistranslated, and great swaths of the text have been excised. The English publication rights to the book are owned by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc and, according to Moi, although the publishers have been made aware of the problems with the English text, they have long insisted that there was really no need for a new translation, even though Simone de Beauvoir herself explicitly requested one in a 1985 interview: "I would like very much for another translation of The Second Sex to be done, one that is much more faithful, more complete and more faithful.". The publishers have now apparently given in to those requests, and have commissioned a new translation, currently being prepared by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevalier.


See also

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