Second Wave Feminism

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According to Simone de Beauvoir, “Otherness is a fundamental category of human thought” (5). This category of human thought is evident in the way natives of one country view inhabitants of foreign countries and the way some races view other races, and de Beauvoir states that this category is also evident in the way men view women, as “the Other” (4,5).

As such, men view women as inferior, secondary, and define women in relation to men, and conversely men view themselves as “Subject…Absolute” with no relation to women (4). The relationship between the “self” and the “other” is one of superior to inferior, posed and opposed, essential and inessential, subject and object, respectively (5).

Because of this “master and slave” dynamic between the sexes, de Beauvoir asserts that men view the emancipation of women as a threat to the well being of men (9); the idea of women joining the workforce and taking the jobs for men, as well as the idea of any woman living according to her own rules and standards, seems to make men feel threatened (10). The threat men may feel from women, as competition, is at the core of de Beauvoir’s assertion that women are “Other” and men are “Self,” and the master-slave dynamic prevents the woman from realizing that she can lead an authentic existence (10).

De Beauvoir’s assessment on the state of women, and how and why that state is, seems on the front a consistent one because she asserts that men justify their position over women through touting the biological differences between the sexes; yet the very reason, she states, that women have “taken nothing” (8) is because of the biological necessity the sexes have for each other, namely that of procreation and sexual desire.

This was the only point about de Beauvoir’s assessment that I found troubling because she argues that women lack a collective means of taking from men, but are bound to men nonetheless, and it seems an impossible cycle for women to detach themselves from. How do women escape their bondage without also forfeiting their sexuality? De Beauvoir does not hint at an answer, she only posits the question. The “problem that has no name” in Friedan’s article is one in which women, sold at auction to any willing bidder, have no identity outside their marriage and family, living vacuous, unchallenging lives.

Since Friedan’s article, women have gained more and more ground that men previously owned, and it has become not only acceptable but also welcome for women to take their share of the bread-winning load to financially support their families. Women are now encouraged to go to college to pursue careers in fields dominated by men, and the laws are more and more becoming more favorable toward women, or at least toward equality between the sexes.

It seems that if the article were relevant today, it would be relevant to a general audience of men and women, but not to women alone. A day without feminism looks outdated and dull. It seems that feminism was not only to advance the state of women but also to advance the state of men; it is easy to forget that men also benefited from the feminist movements, and the proliferation of male fashion designers or interior decorators (or other such “feminine” lines of work) would not have come about.

A day without feminism looks judgmental and narrow-minded, like when people believed that the earth was flat or the center of the universe. It is hard to imagine, knowing what we know now, thinking the way people used to think about gender and sexuality. A day without feminism looks scary, like what it must feel like to urinate on yourself during class, knowing that people will forever remember you that way.

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