Simone de Beauvoir talks about women through the eyes of an existentialist in her book The Second Sex. Specifically, de Beauvoir’s views on how woman is “man’s dependent” shows the Subject and the Other relationship, a solution she gives to abolishing the oppression of women is that we need to abandon the idea that women are born feminine, second, weaker and not made, and the responsibility that she puts on herself and women for accepting the roles given to them are all very existentialist ideas.
Subjectivity as de Beauvoir uses it is created out of defining, or created roles for the people around you; it is a self given power. A man must be the ego, the subject, in order to do this and a woman must be the Other in order to accept this. While talking about existentialism in class we learned that people interact with each other by constantly switching from the subject to the object; I am at a stop light in my car looking at the people next to me, I am the subject until they look back at me, into my world, making judgments and what have you, and then I am the object, I am second, or the Other.
I think the difference between how de Beauvoir uses it, is that women do not change from being the Other, or the second sex. In class we discussed that women who attempt to abandon their gender roles by becoming more like men, are simply mimicking them (in the workforce for example). But the act of trying to be something you are not promotes the idea that you are different, which ultimately says that you are not what you are trying to be. Women who have the brawn to be able to do everything men can do physically are seen as butch; masculine women.
Women who are harsh bosses in the business world, who may have all the traits of a good male boss (hardiness, leadership, gall) are seen the same way; women trying to be men. It is a self defeating process. The way she uses the terms masculinity and femininity also relate to existentialist views. While many people think that these are traits that are natural with your gender, de Beauvoir says that these roles were taught to us in childhood and reinforced all our lives.
On Christmas parents buy their little girls Baby dolls, and plastic kitchen sets while their little boys get bikes, and fake guns, and action figures; boys do not cry and girls wear dresses. People start teaching their children at a young age how to behave like boy and girls. And if repeated enough then we start believing this is the way it is supposed to be. But we still have the choice to decide who and what we want to be! Similar to the existentialists view on morality; it is not a human instinct, and we know this because people steal, and people kill.
Laws and norms do not hold anyone back from doing anything considered “immoral”. This is one of her main solutions to the patriarchal social problem; she says that we should abandon these roles, like how existentialist say we should abandon the morals that our fathers have taught us. Abandoning these ideas and creating our own meaning, will give us that freedom that we are unjustly separated from as human beings. Freedom like in existentialism is equally important to de Beauvoir and feminism. She says that escaping the limitations that separate women from the human race will guarantee liberty.
These existentialist views strengthen the position of women in my opinion. Although the theory will say that women are responsible for being oppressed for so long, it will give them the power of choice. The idea tells us that we do not have to accept the oppression. There is no physical ailment separating us from being as important as men, or as human, de Beauvoir says that there is not some destiny holding us to our place. The rules of society were invented and they have no actual validity in anyone’s actions; which is an exact influence of existentialism.
The fact that we are free to change the world, to change lifestyles, ideas, social norms, is incredibly empowering. The way that this power can be undermined is by women who are, knowingly or unknowingly, not letting go of their roles or from want to be men and try everything in order to be seen as their equals instead of simply being their equals. People need to realize that without women, there would be no men. There is a co-dependency in most life forms including human beings. So the meaning in a free beings life needs to be defined by that person.