37 Feminist Quotes from The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir (1908 – 1986) was a French author, existential philosopher, political activist, feminist, and social theorist. Her most enduring work, The Second Sex (1949) is still read and studied as an essential manifesto on women’s oppression and liberation. The sampling of quotes from The Second Sex that follow will make you question how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go.

Always curious and academically inclined, de Beauvoir studied philosophy Sorbonne. There, she also studied Greek, logic, ethics, sociology, and psychology. She was accepted into Jean-Paul Sartres intellectual circle which included other noted existentialists including Albert Camus and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Famously, she and Sarte had a committed open relationship that lasted until his death.

Filled with ideas considered radical at the time it was published, The Second Sex made Simone de Beauvoir an intellectual force to be reckoned with, and inspired a generation of women to shake up the status quo. In addition to this nonfiction masterwork, she was also the author of memoirs, essay collections, and novels, all drawing on her sharp observations of human nature and reflecting her particular philosophical views.

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“It is perfectly natural for the future woman to feel indignant at the limitations posed upon her by her sex. The real question is not why she should reject them: the problem is rather to understand why she accepts them.” 

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“If I want to define myself, I first have to say, “I am a woman”; all other assertions will arise from this basic truth. A man never begins by positing himself as an individual of a certain sex: that he is a man is obvious.”

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“But women do not say ‘We’, except at some congress of feminists or similar formal demonstration; men say ‘women’, and women use the same word in referring to themselves.” 

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“If the feminine issue is so absurd, is because the male’s arrogance made it “a discussion” 

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“Representation of the world, like the world itself, is the work of men; they describe it from their own point of view, which they confuse with absolute truth.”    

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Jean-Paul Sartre & Simone de Beauvoir

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“That the child is the supreme aim of woman is a statement having precisely the value of an advertising slogan.” 

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“Few tasks are more like the torture of Sisyphus than housework, with its endless repetition: the clean becomes soiled, the soiled is made clean, over and over, day after day.”

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“The whole of feminine history has been man-made. Just as in America there is no Negro problem, but rather a white problem; just as anti-Semitism is not a Jewish problem, it is our problem; so the woman problem has always been a man problem.”

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“Her wings are cut and then she is blamed for not knowing how to fly.” 

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“The truth is that just as – biologically – males and females are never victims of one another but both victims of the species, so man and wife together undergo the oppression of an institution they did not create. If it is asserted that men oppress women, the husband is indignant; he feels that he is the one who is oppressed – and he is; but the fact is that it is the masculine code, it is the society developed by the males and in their interest, that has established woman’s situation in a form that is at present a source of torment for both sexes.” 

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“In itself, homosexuality is as limiting as heterosexuality: the ideal should be to be capable of loving a woman or a man; either, a human being, without feeling fear, restraint, or obligation.”  

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The second sex by Simone de Beauvoir

The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir on Amazon

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“When we abolish the slavery of half of humanity, together with the whole system of hypocrisy that it implies, then the ‘division’ of humanity will reveal its genuine significance and the human couple will find its true form.”

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“To be feminine is to show oneself as weak, futile, passive, and docile. The girl is supposed not only to primp and dress herself up but also to repress her spontaneity and substitute for it the grace and charm she has been taught by her elder sisters. Any self-assertion will take away from her femininity and her seductiveness.”

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“All oppression creates a state of war. And this is no exception.”

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“If they want to flirt or initiate a friendship, they should carefully avoid giving the impression they are taking the initiative; men do not like tomboys, nor bluestockings, nor thinking women; too much audacity, culture, intelligence, or character frightens them.”

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“Self-knowledge is no guarantee of happiness, but it is on the side of happiness and can supply the courage to fight for it.” 

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“What would Prince Charming have for occupation if he had not to awaken the Sleeping beauty?” 

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“The curse which lies upon marriage is that too often the individuals are joined in their weakness rather than in their strength, each asking from the other instead of finding pleasure in giving.”

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“A man never begins by presenting himself as an individual of a certain sex; it goes without saying that he is a man.” 

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“Weakness’ is weakness only in light of the aims man sets for himself, the instruments at his disposal and the laws he imposes.”

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“It is not in giving life but in risking life that man is raised above the animal; that is why superiority has been accorded in humanity no to the sex that brings forth but to that which kills.” 

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“Men do not like tomboys, nor bluestockings, nor thinking women; too much audacity, culture, intelligence, or character frightens them.”    

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The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir — a review

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“One is not born a genius, one becomes a genius; and the feminine situation has up to the present rendered this becoming practically impossible.”

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“One of the benefits that oppression secures for the oppressor is that the humblest among them feels superior.” 

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“…counselling man to treat her as a slave while persuading her that she is a queen.” 

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“To catch a husband is an art; to hold him is a job.”

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“The body is not a thing, it is a situation: it is our grasp on the world and our sketch of our project”

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“Change your life today. Don’t gamble on the future, act now, without delay.”

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“On the day when it will be possible for woman to love not in her weakness but in strength, not to escape herself but to find herself, not to abase herself but to assert herself — on that day love will become for her, as for man, a source of life and not of mortal danger.”  

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Simone de Beauvoir quote

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“No one is more arrogant toward women, more aggressive or scornful, than the man who is anxious about his virility.”

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“Two separate beings, in different circumstances, face to face in freedom and seeking justification of their existence through one another, will always live an adventure full of risk and promise.”

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“Woman is shut up in a kitchen or in a boudoir, and astonishment is expressed that her horizon is limited. Her wings are clipped, and it is found deplorable that she cannot fly. Let but the future be opened to her, and she will no longer be compelled to linger in the present.” 

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“Women’s mutual understanding comes from the fact that they identify themselves with each other; but for the same reason each is against the others.” 

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“Man is defined as a human being and woman as a female – whenever she behaves as a human being she is said to imitate the male.”

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“The body is the instrument of our hold on the world.”

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“Without a doubt it is more comfortable to endure blind bondage than to work for one’s liberation; the dead, too, are better suited to the earth than the living.” 

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“I am too intelligent, too demanding, and too resourceful for anyone to be able to take charge of me entirely. No one knows me or loves me completely. I have only myself.” 

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Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter by Simone de Beauvoir

See also: Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter by Simone de Beauvoir

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3 Responses to “37 Feminist Quotes from The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir”

  1. Simone’s writing is just as relevant today as it ever was, spanning across time and nations. Everyone, male and female, needs to be exposed to her work. Because no matter how far you think we’ve come, it’s not far enough.

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