We women are the Other (Simone de Beauvoir)

I only follow two bloggers because the rest of them bore me to death. One of them is the Amsterdam Shallow man.

He has a group that is very engaged, where you can find some heated and passionate conversations- and that, as you can imagine, appeals to my Frenchness and political background. 

Recently, one lady started off a conversation by writing: “ I barely know any woman that supports women’s quota. We all want to get our jobs because we are good at it, not because of the sex we were born with. Positive discrimination IS discrimination.” 

In this tiny paragraph, one can only admire how she managed to touch upon a lot of subjects, give her opinion, and “slightly” annoy the majority of the female population. I am not going to explain point-by-point how her statement is not solid, how I disagree with everything. 


However, I will discuss here a point that has not been mentioned during the thread, which is: “How does society define our gender? In other words, how does a woman become a woman in society?” 

How does society define our gender?

As Simone de Beauvoir wrote in the feminist philosophical book of all time, the second sex: “She [the woman] is determined and differentiated in relation to man, while he is not in relation to her; she is the inessential in front of the essential. He is the Subject; he is the Absolute. She is the Other.” 

She opines that as a woman, you create your identity by comparing and referring yourself to man. Man is the focal point in reference to everything. He is “society”. We are the Other. 

We are the Other 

The Other that is negatively viewed. 

Racists and antisemites would call the community that they hate: the Other. 

Women are that “Other” to  Men. 

Can we free ourselves ? 

As an existentialist, de Beauvoir believes that we can free ourselves from this objectification; she even thinks we are the ones who put ourselves into this state of objectification.

She classifies women who have let go of their freedom into three categories: the narcissist, the lover and the mystic. 

It was their obsession over their own image, their partner or God, which reduced their freedoms to nothing. But this is a choice they made freely. (This book was written four years after the second World War, but it is incredible how it remains striking in its modernity!)

Moving on, to top up de Beauvoir’s analysis on what prevents women from being free, I would add the ascendency of the mother on our womanhood, in other words on our freedom as the second sex.

Indeed, the ones who gave us life and who consider us the continuity of their being have participated in reducing our freedom. They condition us to believe that we have a certain role to play in satisfying society, in satisfying men; they teach us femininity by imposing upon us their definition of a woman. And for centuries, Men – or should I say society – had tied us mainly into two roles: we can either be a Mary or a Magdalena, in other words a virgin mother or a prostitute. These are two fantasy images of the role of the woman: either inaccessibly pure or either inaccessibly sinful. 

The detachment that we as women need to impose upon the flesh of our flesh to become our own selves will come to be either subconsciously or even consciously traumatic.

We need to become the subject 

To become a woman, a woman needs to engage in multiple battles to become free again. 

We need to become the subject of own lives, to accept the subjectivity of our womanhood and not allow ourselves to be an object. There is no ideal woman. 

De Beauvoir illuminates us with the belief that there is a plurality of beings for a woman, that one woman can endorse a variety of roles.

De Beauvoir liberates us in demonstrating the social stigma that has been imposed upon our gender. However, she undermines the importance of the female support system. And I disagree with her on that aspect. But this is for another time. 

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