Simone de Beauvoir in The Second Sex outlines her idea of woman as Other, an object at males’ disposal, the role allocated to women in a patriarchal society. In the second volume of the book, the author describes the conventional experiences of women and shows how their submissive position is merely a construct imposed on them, the process which Beauvoir calls “becoming women.” Chapters “Childhood” and “Married Woman” present an insight into the particular aspects of indoctrination which occur in the life of every woman and demonstrate how they affect their experiences.
Beauvoir begins by describing two different paths parents or adults in general take when dealing with boys and girls, which eventually shape their behavior in society. During the first years of their life, children are treated universally, their mothers give all of their love, care, and attention to them, regardless of their sex. Yet, soon the process of weaning starts, although only for boys; they no longer remain the center of attention, which is done in order to prepare them for being independent in their future life. Girls, on the other hand, still continue to be an object of their mothers’ affection and for a longer period receive kisses and embraces, which prevents them from acquiring autonomy (de Beauvoir, 2011). The difference between the two approaches reflects the particular roles women and men are expected to perform in society, during childhood, females have to learn to exist for others, while males are taught self-reliance.
The author proposes an interesting idea about the importance of genitalia for the formation of a child’s behavior, perception of the world, and outlook on life. A phallus grants boys power and the status of a subject, and thus “he projects the mystery of his body and its dangers outside himself,” which helps him seek meaning beyond his body (de Beauvoir, 2011, 339). Girls lack this link to the outside world, and, as a result, they turn to their inner self, and a doll for them can function as a replacement for a phallus, their alter ego. The favorite doll of every girl symbolizes a female body, which she has to dress in beautiful clothing to attract the attention of others. This game reinforces girls’ role as an object who must be devoted to existing for someone else and decorate herself in order to be noticed.
Nevertheless, Beauvoir insists that this narcissism and attention-seeking are common among children of both sexes, but girls are further motivated to act in this manner by adults and society. All children want to objects for their parents because they try to compensate for weaning, and boys are not an exception. Often boys envy girls because they receive much more love from their mothers and enjoy their company for a longer period of time. Yet, this overprotection leads to girls embracing passivity and dependence, which impair their prospects in life to become independent and ultimately teach them to rely on others in order to survive. Beauvoir claims that raising girls without subjecting them to this special treatment will result in a different situation when they will be able to see themselves as subjects and compete with males.
Mothers represent role models for girls, examples of how a true woman has to behave and act in life. This also highlights the importance of a doll as a child of a girl on which she projects all of the experiences she derives from observing her mother. Girls learn to do work around the house and have chores, which they are taught to perform diligently, yet despite this hard work from a young age, boys are still held in higher esteem.
This unequal distribution of tasks in the family ensures hierarchy, which postulates that women have to admire male figures without any objection. The notion is adopted by girls through books which tell stories of handsome and powerful princes, songs, and myths. Religion is also responsible for conveying the idea of male supremacy to females, all positions of power in church are occupied by men, while God himself is portrayed as one.
Puberty is a time of serious distress for many young females because it arrives unexpectedly, and girls are often not told about the changes their bodies will experience during this period. It is also the time when some girls discover their position in society and role as objects since, for example, their breasts start to attract the attention of people in the street. In order to escape it, many girls cover their bodies in loose-fitting clothing and thus avoiding strange glances. The start of menstruation is another factor causing stress because it can be joked about by family members and thus perceived as a humiliation. For boys, puberty is a manifestation of a new life which promises freedom and numerous opportunities, while for girls, it is another step in their pre-determined life, which is similar to their mother’s one. The experiences endured by women during their childhood and puberty shape them into submissive individuals, this is what is meant by the phrase “one is not born, but rather becomes, woman” (de Beauvoir, 2011, p. 330).
Traditionally, marriage implies transferring women from their families to their husbands, which was administered with the consent of her parents, namely father. In the majority of cases, women were married by men to perform certain roles for them and thus alleviate some part of their work. Females often did not choose their husbands and essentially constituted property for them, which they promise to support with their resources in exchange for various services such as housekeeping, sex, and childbearing. Marriage means limiting herself to the tasks which in different ways satisfy the needs of her husband. She rejects all the prospects and opportunities of independence and devotes all of her time and efforts to serving her family. Thus, she is forced to attempt to realize her potential through her husband, who is the one in charge of the family and its main provider, but this is impossible. Married women try to find meaning in their inferior position by decorating their house, which manifests their province of expertise. Yet, in essence, all of their housework is performed strictly for the sake of their husband and his satisfaction.
When women become married, they forever abandon their freedom, even the relative one they could enjoy while living with their parents and which granted them a right to rebel. One of the most important aspects of marriage is the sexual relationship of two spouses, but for women, it also can be a traumatic experience. Losing her virginity can be painful, especially in situations when she has no desire for her husband (de Beauvoir, 2011). Ultimately, in many cases, by marrying, women embrace a destiny which is known to them in advance. At times, they try to challenge the male dominance in their marriage but are eventually forced to give up since they risk becoming divorced, which entails far worse consequences for women than being a wife.
Personally, I agree with Beauvoir and her analysis of the experiences women endure in their lives; the book stays relevant even today after more than seventy years since its publication. Many parents continue to raise their children according to the traditional dogmas, which strictly define the behaviors girls and boys have to demonstrate to be considered “normal.” This inevitably results in psychological traumas which people, especially females, carry into their adult lives and cannot counter. Women may feel obliged to enter marriage as fast as possible since they were told by their parents to do so and thus may choose a husband whom they do not love. Certainly, there has been considerable progress in the sphere of women’s rights and freedoms, but there is still a lot of unsolved issues which affect women from childhood. Following the advice of Beauvoir to teach girls how to be independent and marry only those whom they love is a good place to start.
Simone de Beauvoir, in the chapters “Childhood” and “Married Woman” of her book The Second Sex, gives her analysis of the events females experience in order to “become women.“ The author shows how women’s inferior position in society and family is the product of indoctrination and not biology. Girls are forced by their parents to prepare for the role of a dependent individual who has to satisfy the needs of others, namely males, for whom they must feel absolute admiration. Puberty constitutes a period of incredible stress and pressure for women since they start to recognize themselves as objects of male attention and desire, yet, simultaneously, it represents another step in their pre-determined destiny. A marriage which is not based on love and equality seizes women’s freedom and reduces them to performing duties, the majority of which are aimed at either serving their husbands or children.
de Beauvoir, S. (2011). The second sex (1st ed.). Vintage Books.