Ilse Aichinger, 1948
Lilly Axster
Katherine Klinger
Hannah Arendt, 1950
Hannah Fröhlich
Nicola Lauré al-Samarai
Simone de Beauvoir, 1949
Dagmar Fink
Long version
Short version
Reference text Beauvoir
Tom Holert
Billie Holiday, 1939
Jamika Ajalon
Rúbia Salgado
Adrian Piper, 1983
Belinda Kazeem
Anna Kowalska
Yvonne Rainer, 1990
Monika Bernold
Shirley Tate
Le deuxième sexe
Simone de Beauvoir, 1949

Volume I: Introduction

[W]hat is a woman?
Are there even women?

[N]ot every female human being is necessarily a woman; she must take part in this mysterious and endangered reality known as femininity. Is femininity secreted by the ovaries? Is it enshrined in a Platonic heaven? Is a frilly petticoat enough to bring it down to earth? Although some women zealously strive to embody it, the model has never been patented. It is typically described in vague and shimmering terms borrowed from a clairvoyant’s vocabulary.

Certainly woman like man is a human being; but such an assertion is abstract; the fact is that every concrete human being is always uniquely situated. To reject the notions of the eternal feminine, the black soul, or the Jewish character is not to deny that there are today Jews, blacks, or women: this denial is not a liberation for those concerned but an inauthentic flight. Clearly, no woman can claim without bad faith to be situated beyond her sex.

[A]s far back as history can be traced, [women] have always been subordinate to men; their dependence is not the consequence of an event or a becoming, it did not happen. Alterity here appears to be an absolute, partly because it falls outside the accidental nature of historical fact. A situation created over time can come undone at another time—blacks in Haiti for one are a good example; on the contrary, a natural condition seems to defy change. In truth, nature is no more an immutable given than is historical reality. If woman discovers herself as the inessential and never turns into the essential, it is because she does not bring about this transformation herself. […] Women—except in certain abstract gatherings such as conferences—do not use “we”. […] It is that they lack the concrete means to organize themselves into a unit that could posit itself in opposition. They have no past, no history, no religion of their own; and unlike the proletariat, they have no solidarity of labor or interests; they even lack their own space that makes communities of American blacks, the Jews in ghettos, or the workers in Saint-Denis or Renault factories. […] As bourgeois women, they are in solidarity with bourgeois men and not with women proletarians; as white women, they are in solidarity with white men and not with black women. […] The tie that binds her to her oppressors is unlike any other. The division of the sexes is a biological given, not a moment in human history. Their opposition took shape within an original Mitsein, and she has not broken it. The couple is a fundamental unit with the two halves riveted to each other: cleavage of society by sex is not possible. This is the fundamental characteristic of woman: she is the Other at the heart of a whole whose two components are necessary to each other.

Volume I: Myths

Perhaps the myth of woman will be phased out one day: the more women assert themselves as human beings, the more the marvelous quality of Other dies in them. […] Any myth implies a Subject who projects its hopes and fears of a transcendent heaven. Not positing themselves as Subject, women have not created the virile myth that would reflect their projects; they have neither religion nor poetry that belongs to them alone: they still dream through men’s dreams.

Volume II: Formative Years

The great misunderstanding upon which this system of interpretation rests is to hold that it is natural for the human female to make a feminine woman of herself: being a heterosexual or even a mother is not enough to realize this ideal; the “real woman” is an artificial product that civilization produces the way eunuchs were produced in the past.

It is very important to emphasize this: the refusal to make oneself an object is not always what leads a woman to homosexuality; most lesbians, on the contrary, seek to claim the treasures of their femininity. Consenting to metamorphose oneself into a passive thing does not mean renouncing all claims to subjectivity: the woman thereby hopes to realize herself as the in-itself; but she will then seek to grasp herself in alterity. Alone, she does not succeed in separating herself in reality; she might caress her breasts, but she does not know how they would seem to a foreign hand, nor how they would come to life under the foreign hand; a man can reveal to her the existence for itself of her flesh, but not what it is for an other. It is only when her fingers caress a woman’s body whose fingers in turn caress her body that the miracle of the mirror takes place. Between man and woman love is an act; each one torn from self becomes other: what delights the woman in love is that the passive listlessness of her flesh is reflected in the man’s ardor; but the narcissistic woman is clearly baffled by the charms of the erect sex. Between women, love is contemplation; caresses are meant less to appropriate the other than to re-create oneself slowly through her.


Le deuxième sexe, © 1949 by Editions Gallimard, Paris: The Second Sex, © 2009 by Random House, London. © 2010 and 2011 by Random House, New York. Translation © 2009 by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier. Quotes (from the 2011 edition): pp. 3, 4, 8-9, 162, 420-421, 428-429.