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The Second Sex

Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex remains a foundational piece of feminist theory. It reads as more philosophical than many of the other classic works of social theory, but, like Du Bois’s Souls of Black Folk, the power of the reading comes through in de Beauvoir’s reflexive writing about her own experiences. In the introduction to her book included here, de Beauvoir describes how being a female and being a woman is not necessarily the same thing. Answer the following questions after completing the reading.


1. De Beauvoir uses the metaphor of two electrical poles to explain the relationship between the two sexes. What ends of the poles do men and women occupy, and what does it mean for the man’s end to be “neutral”?

2. De Beauvoir is arguing that women (“the Other”) are defined in relationship to men, but men are not defined in a similar way. According to de Beauvoir, why have women not resisted this definition?

3. In another part of The Second Sex, de Beauvoir writes, “One is not born, but rather, becomes a woman.” Based on what you’ve read so far, what do you think de Beauvoir is trying to say here?

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