Life and times of ‘world’s first’ radical feminist

‘You aren’t born a woman, you become one’ Simone de Beauvoir

The Connexion celebrates one of France’s inspirational intellectual figures, who helped shape a global shift in political thinking in the Sixties and Seventies, but who is still defined by her relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre...

Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986) is one of France’s towering intellectual figures.

A writer, philosopher, political activist, social theorist and a feminist, she wrote novels, essays, biographies, autobiography and articles on philosophy, social issues and politics.

Her 1949 treatise The Second Sex remains fundamental reading because it was the first time anyone had clearly articulated the separation of gender from gender-conditioning; the first time anyone had stressed women are born female but are conditioned or even groomed to become socially acceptable daughters, wives and mothers, rather than simply female people.

Her quote, “You aren’t born a woman, you become one,” remains pivotal to feminist theory.

It said female children are conditioned by society to accept a lower, secondary status – to become ‘women’.

In a 1975 TV interview with French journalist Jean-Louis Servan-Schreiber (watch interview below - english subtitles), she explained ‘femininity’ is not innate, but taught from infancy.

The fact women produce children is used by society as a pretext to oppress and exploit women, she said. Their lowly status is not a biological fact.

The title of her seminal 1949 work refers to women being defined by their ...

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