Often mentioned as an essential book on Feminism, the first volume of The Second Sex is dedicated to exposing the biological, historical and mythological facts that contributed to create women’s reality; and the consequences from men’s standpoint.
The fact that women are undeniably physically weaker than men has played a major role in women’s economic, social and political alienation throughout centuries.
During the earliest times of the Stone Age, women’s physical strength was up to the work required by garden’s exploitation: while men would hunt and fish, women would stay at home, producing pieces of pottery, weaving and gardening. Women played a significant economic role then, which resulted in sex equality.
With the discovery of tin, bronze, copper and the emergence of plow, came agriculture extension: intense work was required to clear forests and make fields yield profits. Women’s fertility would prevent them from partaking in the growth of resources while they were constantly creating new needs. They lost their economic role in societies. Men resorted to other men’s services whom were enslaved. Private property appeared: masters of slaves and grounds, men also claimed ownership of women. The big defeat in women’s history is explained by the changes that occurred with the division of labor that followed the invention of new tools. Women’s housework value disappeared in comparison to men’s productive work. It was the apparition of patriarchal families, leading to women oppression.
De Beauvoir goes on to explain that when two human categories are in presence, both strive to impose to the other their sovereign power. If one of the categories is favored, it prevails over the other and works on maintaining it in oppression.
The author points out that females have never had a direct and independent relationship with males whose biological privileges have allowed to assert themselves as sovereign subjects.
When the dissolution of family outgrew former moral values, no other moral value was proposed to women. They were faced with two options: either continue to respect old values or completely deny all value. The majority of women still chose the first option.
The emergence Christianity further oppressed women. In a society where all abilities stemmed from brutal physical strength, women were completely powerless.
De Beauvoir claims it is the absurdity of women’s education that created their inferiority. Instead of making them carry burdens like in primitive societies, men hasten to unload them from all difficult tasks and worries, which ultimately freed women from all responsibility. Men hoped that by duping and seducing women with the easiness of their circumstances, women would accept their role as mothers and housekeepers in which men wanted to confine them. And most women accepted their condition because liberating themselves from men would condemn them to work.
With the Industrial Revolution, women finally reconquered their economic role because they took part in production in factories. Physical strength was no longer the main attribute to be able to work.
Women can only be emancipated when they take part in great social measure to the economy.
Women’s salaries were inferior to men’s because they did not defend themselves against their exploiters. Additionally, tied to their father’s or husband’s home, they contented themselves with a secondary income. Since women did not have to provide for the whole family’s needs, they accepted lower pays than men. All women’s salaries aligned to low amounts which was profitable for employers.
De Beauvoir claims that everything still encourages young girls to expect from their “prince charming” fortune and happiness, instead of trying alone its difficult and uncertain conquest. Education, ambition and hard work are key to be free.