Simone de Beauvoir's 'The second sex' in the light of the Hegelian master-slave dialectic and Sartrian existentialism
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Part I illustrates de Beauvoir's concept of woman as "the Other." It asserts that the experience of woman has been neglected by conventional theorists and that although The Second Sex is the foremost theoretical work of its kind, it has never been properly discussed. Part II provides the theoretical framework for an understanding of The Second Sex. It begins by outlining the main aspects of the Hegelian master-slave dialectic, as extrapolated by Alexandre Kojève. It then summarises and comments on aspects of Jean-Paul Sartre's work. It traces the development of Sartre's thought from ontology to ethics, and finally to Marxism. The way in which Hegel and Sartre provide the theoretical basis for de Beauvoir's analysis of woman, is illustrated in the subsequent chapter. It develops the concept of woman as "the Other" and explains how de Beauvoirian woman is "alienated" and "oppressed." Part III examines de Beauvoir's theory of the sources of woman's oppression. It begins by assessing the significance de Beauvoir attributes to woman's biology. It argues that the logic of her idea that woman is "alienated" in her reproductive role is the elimination of biological femininity. De Beauvoir's theory of the history of the male-female relationship is then outlined. By using the Hegelian principles of mastery and slavery to explicate de Beauvoir's account of woman's oppression, it shows how man is privileged in her theory because historically he fought and laboured. This account of human development is criticised in the following chapter. It questions the values and assumptions on which de Beauvoir's ideas of human development are based and outlines an alternative theory; a theory which values woman's reproductive role. Finally, the meaning of de Beauvoir's emphasis on such factors as private property is discussed. By way of a comparison with Engels, it shows how de Beauvoir's theory is rooted in idealist philosophy. Part IV illustrates de Beauvoir's theory of the contemporary relations between the sexes. It outlines her theory of the development of a girl's life from birth to maturity, and how it is the girl who ultimately "chooses" her feminine destiny. The way in which woman attempts to justify and compensate for the "mutilated" condition of femininity is the subject of the following chapter. Finally what man wants to attain from his relationship with woman is outlined. It shows how in de Beauvoir's theory it is through woman that man hopes to attain "recognition" and unity with Nature. Part V assesses de Beauvoir's politics. It begins by examining her concept of woman's emancipation. As it is the male revolutionary who is portrayed as woman's liberating hero, de Beauvoir's inability to provide a convincing strategy for change is outlined. This leads to an examination of the socialist nature of de Beauvoir's theory. De Beauvoir claims that she was a "socialist" when she wrote The Second Sex, yet we find few traces of socialism in her theory. The last chapter examines the feminism of The Second Sex. It shows that the major difference between de Beauvoir and modern feminists is that she wants woman to become like man. This male bias in de Beauvoir's theory is rooted in the Hegelian and Sartrian concepts which she employs.