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As much as the subject may be to women, the quarrel over feminism has been written about extensively but a lasting statement to finally bring quiet about the issue has never been achieved. The issue here is about what really is the problem, are women having a problem with being a woman, and are there still women out there, what is a woman’s place in the world? Beauvoir in her book The Second Sex helps in finding the explanation on how it all occurred. Many women are convinced especially in the United States of America that there is no longer a place for women in the modern world. It goes even further when women psychoanalyses there friend who think otherwise.
The main argument by Beauvoir in the second sex is that women have been in the relationship of oppression to man by the relegation of her to being the Other of man. Beauvoir points out that a self needs otherness so as to be able to define itself as the subject and the other, the object. It is therefore essential to have the inessential as she put it when men needed the inessential women to define their essential self. This understanding of self should be reciprocal as Beauvoir finds out only that in this case, women are consistently defined as the other by the man and women do not reciprocate, they rather comply granting men all the dominance. In her introduction, woman is incidental as opposed to man who is essential. The human existence is ambiguously characterized by transcendence and immanence, men always bringing to the for the transcendence through projects and creative works while women being forced into the monotonous and uncreative life of immanence.
Beauvoir in the second sex investigates the myths and facts surrounding women and the many perspectives that even include materialistic, historical, literary and even anthropological. She is very careful to point out that none of these is enough to explain the woman’s definition as the Other or the oppression she endures as a result. Biologically, she explains how physiological occurrences pregnancy, lactation, and menstruation are foreign to men but happens to women thus brings out the differences. In the situation of psychoanalysis, it refutes the reality of choice but in the case of historical materialism, it refuses to take into account the existential significance of the phenomena it decreases to material conditions.
One is not born but she rather becomes a woman is a phrase Beauvoir coined to assert the understanding that women are born feminine as opposed to the essentialism that they are constructed to be such through social indoctrination. Women are forced to relinquish their claims of transcendence at each stage by a progressively strict acceptance of the passive role to man’s active demands. Beauvoir’s studies the role of a mother, a prostitute and a wife to indicate how women instead of progressing through their creative work, are coerced into monotonous existences of bearing children, household chores and sexual objects for the males. She insists though that there is the existentialist belief in the ontological freedom of each existent no matter the sex. This way according to her, man has not succeeded in destroying woman’s freedom, she remains a transcendent freedom in spite of her oppression and objectification.
It is beyond control as Beauvoir puts across that individuals have to experience and recognize the reciprocity of their relations to each other. It is rather different when it comes to sexes. It has been left that one of the sexes is the essential one thus denying any relativity. This has been the main reason why women are always contesting the male sovereignty. It is though the Other that defines itself as One and the Other the Other. But it takes the Other to submit to the other’s point of view. This brings out one of what could be the women’s greatest enemy with regard to this issue, submission. There is the notion perpetuated throughout the society that the majority controls the minority, this is not the case in women since they are not the minority, actually in many societies they are the majority. It is rather interesting how the women came to realize they can’t be without men, how did they come to realization that they are the absolute other whereas the men can be whole by themselves?
It is intriguing to notice that these two groups were autonomous before and were not subjected to each other’s subordination until some historical events submitted the weaker to the stronger as in the examples of slavery in America, the Jews in the Diaspora, and even the colonialism. Before this the oppressed shared a past such as religion and culture. Beauvoir uses this to exemplify where women are failing to make their own ground. When the Ploterians or even the Blacks refer to themselves as we, they automatically posit themselves as subjects and the whites or others as Others. You realize that women do not use the word we when in meetings but men refer to them as women, this hence do not mean that they posit themselves as subjects authentically. Their actions have been more of agitation than sensical that is why they have only taken only what men can afford to concede. The big question here is whether women cannot organize themselves into units to gain identity and posit themselves as the opposition. They even lack the solidarity of interests that have brought together oppositions such as the American blacks, Jews or even workers in factories since they have been scattered all over in homes and engrossed in their employments and economic interests. Blacks in America can plan to boycott military, Ptolerit can decide to massacre a whole ruling class, what about women, they cannot pull a plan to even exterminate men. Why is this since they have the numbers! The weakness that is trying to be demystified here is to blame.
Therefore women as much as they can be agitated, deep down they know it that they cannot afford to completely shrug of complicity with the man. As clearly brought to the fore by Beauvoir, This will mean that they risk losing the advantages that come with the association with a superior caste. Man is therefore there to materially take care of the women whom they know need them, he is even in charge of justifying her existence as is in the creation story. Where did all these begin? As far as we can remember, men have always been the superior sex and women the weaker ne and it will not take advocacy and campaigns going on now to change what has been existent for ages and what very significant institutions advocate for such as religions, Plato even says in his prayers that he thanks the gods for being born free and not a slave and secondly for being born a man and not a woman. Women in the Jewish custom have a more submissive prayer thanking God for creating them according to His will unlike their male counterparts who thank God for being created as Men. These aspects coming to the realization of women, they shy off trying to change the status quo for it is deep rooted in the society since time immemorial. Could it be because men held the powers then and probably swung everything their way like religion, laws etc?
The unknown freedom that affirms freedom has a conflict with it. This is what consciousness goes through unhappiness. Each consciousness always tries to posit itself as the sovereign subject above the other. Each tries to overcome each other by squeezing the other to slavery. In work though, the slave or the object Other knows that he is essential and the master the inessential one. The reciprocal movement is the only way to overcome this conflict when each consciousness recognizes the other as both object and subject. The virtues that are necessary for this to happen like happiness and kindness are not easy to possess.
Men did not automatically enslave all women, as we know now; man is afraid of danger and does not like difficulty. There always existed free women, women who accepted their place in the society hence men were not threatened by them. The revolt that could have turned the subject into and object is what man feared and thus women were opposed to this were enslaved while the ones who complied were awarded their place in the society, the inessential place, they were never to return to the essential ones as the absolute other. There was no reciprocity by women that condemned them to objects. This spans years since the creation where God committed woman to Adam and entrusted her to him, she was not created not from the same substance as man and not at the same time. This legend of creation is very precious to man for it defines many western cultures which are Christian in nature.
A woman is mostly perceived as sex, that which is flesh, its joys and dangers, that it is a man who is sexed and the carnal is the truth that no one has ever proclaimed. This is a myth that again has been coined by men, because men come up with everything that affects women today. The object that is the woman is relative and fluctuates from the good to the bad as in the instance of the Virgin Mary to the wicked Delilah. Women are known to be the idol, source of life, power of darkness, servant, lies, gossip, a witch and a medicine woman too. It is even said that to be a woman is something so strange and complicated that one understand and no one can express. A man therefore only seeks the woman because it’s natural and just for companionship for that is all there is in a woman for him.
Even though we cannot claim that it’s the woman’s fault to be the Other, we also cannot absolve her for her subjection. In conclusion, Beauvoir asserts that various demands essential for woman’s freedom and in the bid to reclaim her selfhood. She demands that women be allowed to transcend through her own free creative works and projects with the risks, dangers and uncertainties entailed. Modern woman hence prides herself on thinking, working, creating and taking action on the same level as men and instead of belittling them, she declares herself as equal to them. She advocates for equality via equal education, contraception, legal abortion and even the important economic freedom. In The second sex, Beauvoir maintains that the most basic belief is that each individual regardless of age, class, sex, should be empowered to define themselves and take responsibility that accompanies freedom.