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Simone de Beauvoir: Philosophy and Feminism

Lecturer: Sameema Zahra

Originally Taught: Evening Sem 2 2020

Simone de Beauvoir is probably the most famous as well as the most neglected feminist of our times. Her magnum opus, The Second Sex, is seen as androcentric, phallocentric and outdated while simultaneously being considered the feminist bible. This course attempts to engage with this enigma by reading The Second Sex closely and along with other feminist writings. Each lecture is planned to offer an in depth reading of a different section of The Second Sex and elaborate its philosophical underpinnings. We begin sequentially from the earliest sections of the book, as this is how Beauvoir intended us to read this book. Each section is seen in the light of both Beauvoir’s philosophical predecessors and her feminist contemporaries and successors. We examine the ideas of masculinity, femininity, love, desire, motherhood, Age, Race and freedom as they emerge in the context of her work. By situating her in the context of her philosophical predecessors we examine how far the charges of phallogocentrism are justified and by reading her along with her contemporary and succeeding feminists we inquire whether her work is outdated. The aim of the course is to get closer to the Beauvoir we deserve: Beauvoir the philosopher and the feminist.

Week 1: Introduction

Objectives

If philosophy begins with wonder what sort of wonder does feminist philosophy introduce us to? In the first lecture we raise the general question of the relationship between feminism and philosophy. We will discuss whether Western philosophical tradition is inherently misogynist and if so whether we should discard it altogether or is there any possibility of salvaging the tradition of philosophy?

Questions

Is Feminist philosophy a misnomer?

Is Western Philosophy essentially phallocentric and misogynist?

Why study feminism?

Why is Beauvoir relevant and significant today?

Readings

Required:

  • Beauvoir, S. de, 2011. The Second Sex. Translated by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. “Introduction”  (3-17)
  • Le Doeuff, Michèle 1989. “Long Hair, Short Dresses” The Philosophical Imaginary,  trans. Colin Gordon. Stanford : Stanford University Press: Columbia University Press (100-128).

Recommended Readings:

  • Alison Stone, “Introduction: What is Feminist Theory?” in An Introduction to Feminist Theory (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007: 1- 29).
  • Bauer, Nancy 2004. “Must we Read Simone de Beauvoir?” in The Legacy of Simone De Beauvoir. Edited by Emily R. Grosholz. 115-135. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Le Doeuff, Michèle 2007. Hipparchia's Choice: An Essay Concerning Women, Philosophy, etc., trans. Trista Selous. New York: Columbia University Press (27-32).
  • Gross, Elizabeth. 1986. "What is feminist theory?" in Feminist Challenges editd by C. Pateman and E. Gross, 190-204. Sydney: Allen and Unwin.

Week 2: Beauvoir’s Philosophical Commitments

Objectives.

We continue engaging with the significance of Beauvoir’s work by setting up her philosophical background. We will examine Beauvoir’s philosophical commitments by engaging with her phenomenology and existentialism. In this regard we discuss her in relation to Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre and Merleau-Ponty. We examine how Beauvoir carries forward the tradition while rupturing its misogyny. We also examine Beauvoir’s ethics and its indebtedness to Kant.

Questions.

What is Phenomenology? Is there something like feminist Phenomenology?

What is the role of freedom in existentialist philosophy?

Can existentialism give us an ethics?

Reading

Required:

  • Beauvoir, S. de. 1949. The Ethics of Ambiguity. Translated by Bernard Frechtman. New York: Philosophical Library (selection)
  • Heinämaa, S. 1999. “Simone de Beauvoir's phenomenology of sexual difference.” Hypatia, 14(4), 114-132.
  • Le Doeuff, M. 1980, ‘Simone De Beauvoir and Existentialism’ Feminist Studies 6, no. 2, 277-89.

Recommended Readings:

  • Kruks, Sonia. 1987. "Simone De Beauvoir and the Limits to Freedom." Social Text, no. 17 : 111-22.
  • Lundgren-Gothin, Eva 2003. “Reading Beauvoir with Martin Heidegger” in The Cambridge Companion to Simone deBeauvoir edited by Claudia Caed 45-65. Cambridge; Cambridge University Press.
  • Pillardi, Jo-Ann1995. “Feminist Read The Second Sex” in Feminist Interpretations of Simone de Beauvoir edited by Margaret A. Simons, 29-44. Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania State University Press.
  • McWeeny, Jennifer 2017 " Beauvoir and Merleau-Ponty" In A Companion to Simone De Beauvoir, edited by Hengehold, Laura 211-233. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons.

Week 3: The Body

Objectives.

We begin reading The Second Sex with the chapter on “Biological Data”. This chapter has often lead thinkers to argue that Beauvoir believes in some sort of biological determinism; that according to her, women’s bodies puts them in a disadvantageous position compared to men. We examine these accusations and ask what Beauvoir actually wants to do by discussing the data of biology. We examine further how her work on the body contributed to the development of post-structuralist feminism.

Questions.

What is the significance of the biological data?

Sex and gender, are these two clearly demarcated?

Readings

Required:

  • Beauvoir, S. de, 2011. The Second Sex. Translated by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. “Biological Data”  (21-49)
  • Butler, Judith. 2011. Bodies That Matter on the Discursive Limits of "sex". “Part 1- chapter-Bodies that matter” p (3-27) Routledge Classics. Abingdon, Oxon ; New York, NY: Routledge.

Recommended readings

  • Fallaize, E. 2001 "A Saraband of Imagery: The Uses of Biological Science in Le Deuxième Sexe." In The Existential Phenomenology of Simone De Beauvoir, Edited by Wendy O’Brien and Lester Embree, 67-84. Dordrecht: Springer.
  • Heinamaa, Sara. 1997. "What Is a Woman? Butler and Beauvoir on the Foundations of the Sexual Difference." Hypatia 12, no. 1 : 20-39.
  • Gatens, Moira, 2003, “Beauvoir and biology: a second look” In The Cambridge companion to Simone de Beauvoir, Edited by Claudia Card, 266-285. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 
  • Walsh, Mary. "Twenty Years since 'a Critique of the Sex/gender Distinction': A Conversation with Moira Gatens." Australian Feminist Studies 19, no. 44 (2004): 213-24.
  • Vintges, Karen 1995. “The Second Sex and Philosophy” in Feminist Interpretations of Simone de Beauvoir edited by Margaret A. Simons, 45-58. Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania State University Press.

Week 4: History

Objectives.

Week four engages with Beauvoir’s views on the historical development of the hierarchy of the sexes. Here we also examine why she believes that historical materialism is unable to explain the oppression of woman.

Questions.

What history can tell us about the oppression of woman?

Is there a single factor that gave rise to the hierarchy?

Is the history of class oppression also the history of sexual oppression?

Readings

Required:

  • Beauvoir, S. de, 2011. The Second Sex. Translated by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. “The Point of view of Historical Materialism63-69 and “History-1” 70-77
  • Heinamaa, Sara. 2003. Toward a Phenomenology of Sexual Difference: Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, Beauvoir. Lanham, Md. ; Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield. Chapter Five

Recommended Readings

  • Beauvoir, S. de, 2011. The Second Sex. Translated by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ““History 2-5” 78-159.
  • Engels, Friedrich, 2010 Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State. Project Gutenberg. “Family” (35-101)
  • Simons, Margaret 1995. “The Second Sex: From Marxism to Radical Feminism” in Feminist Interpretations of Simone de Beauvoir edited by Margaret A. Simons, 243-262. Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania State University Press.
  • Kail, Michel 2017 "Simone De Beauvoir: Women and Philosophy of History" In A Companion to Simone De Beauvoir, edited by Hengehold, Laura 418-28. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Kruks, Sonia. 2017. “Beauvoir and the Question of Marxism” in A Companion to Simone de Beauvoir, Edited by Laura Hengehold and Nancy Bauer, 236-248. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Week 5: Myths

Objectives.

Volume one of The Second Sex is entitled “facts and Myths” as Beauvoir finds the myths of femininity equally constitutive of woman’s oppression.  In week five we engage with the myths of femininity and masculinity and examine not only how they emerge as a result of the inequality of the sexes but also how they maintain the oppression of woman. We also look at Beauvoir’s Hegelian legacy and ask whether Beauvoir places Hegel’s dialectic into the category of myth told by patriarchy to maintain the hierarchy.

Questions.

Are myths merely figments of imagination? If so, why they hold such important role in our common imaginary?

What these myths tell us?

Is Beauvoir’s woman Hegel’s slave?

Readings

Required:

  • Beauvoir, S. de, 2011. The Second Sex. Translated by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.  “Myths” Chapter 1 163-220 (selected pages) and “Chapter 3” 275-284
  • Heinamaa, Sara. 2003 Toward a Phenomenology of Sexual Difference: Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, Beauvoir. Lanham, Md. ; Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield. Chapter Four

Recommended Readings

  • Beauvoir, S. de, 2011. The Second Sex. Translated by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.  “Myths Chapter 2”  221-274
  • Hegel, G. W. F. 1977. Phenomenology of Spirit, Translated by A.V Miller and J.N. Findlay. Clarendon Press: Oxford. (The master-slave Dialectic)
  • Green, K., and Roffey, N. 2010, ‘Women, Hegel, and Recognition in The Second Sex.’ Hypatia, 25(2), 376-393.
  • Altman, M. 2007, ‘Beauvoir, Hegel, War.’ Hypatia, 22(3), 66-91

Week 6: Formative Years

Objective

In week six we begin reading the second volume of The Second Sex that examines the lived experience of women. Beauvoir begins her study from the early formative years of a girl’s life and this lecture focuses on the first two chapters of those formative years. Here we also examine Beauvoir’s engagement with psychoanalysis as well as her criticism of the limited explanation they provide to describe the complexity of woman’s experience.

Questions

What do the formative years tell us about woman’s world?

Readings

Required:

  • Beauvoir, S. de, 2011. The Second Sex. Translated by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.  Childhood” and “Girlhood” 293-393 (selection).
  • Gatens, Moira. 1991 “Psychoanalysis and French Feminism” in Feminism and Philosophy : Perspectives on Difference and Equality. Cambridge, England: Polity Press.

Recommended Readings

  • Beauvoir, S. de, 2011. The Second Sex. Translated by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. “The Psychoanalytical Point of View” (50-62)
  • Zakin, Emily. 2017. “The Drama of Independence: Narcissism, Childhood, and the Family Complexes” in A Companion to Simone de Beauvoir, Edited by Laura Hengehold and Nancy Bauer, 99-110. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Grosz, Elizabeth. 1990 “ The Ego and the Imaginary” in Jacques Lacan : A Feminist Introduction. London ; New York: Routledge. (24-49)

Week 7: Sexuality

Objectives

Moving forward into woman’s formative years we look at her sexual life and how the girl is initiated into it. We examine the role of sexuality and also Beauvoir’s take on lesbianism. This also opens up into Beauvoir’s discussion on the female bond where Irigaray’s work gives an interesting insight.

Questions:

What role does sexuality play in one’s subjectivity?

What is meant by the feminine bond?

Readings

Required:

  • Beauvoir, S. de, 2011. The Second Sex. Translated by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. “Sexual Initiation and The Lesbian ” (394-448)
  • Irigaray, Luce. 1985 “Female Hom(m)osexuality” in Speculum of the Other Woman. 98-103. Trans.Gillian C. Gill. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.

Recommended Readings:

  • Heinämaa, Sara. 2018. “Ambiguity and Difference” in Differences : Rereading Beauvoir and Irigaray. Edited by Emily Anne Parker and Van Leeuwen, 138-177. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Week 8: Family Life

Objectives

Beauvoir has criticized the traditional marriage and its detrimental effects on women as it encloses woman into immanence. In this lecture we read her criticism of married life and ask whether she finds matrimony in itself an evil. We also examine her description of the female world of “the home” and examine whether she finds the duties of housework as essentially unproductive and repetitive.

Questions:

Is there a possibility of marriage built on freedom and equality?

Whether housework is essentially enclosed in immanence?

Readings

Required:

  • Beauvoir, S. de, 2011. The Second Sex. Translated by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. “The Married Woman” and “Woman’s Situation and Character ” (451-536, 653-680)
  • Young, Iris Marion. 2005 “House and Home” in On Female Body Experience "Throwing like a Girl" and Other Essays. Studies in Feminist Philosophy. New York: Oxford University Press. (Housework)

Recommended Readings

  • Veltman, Andrea. 2004. "The Sisyphean Torture of Housework: Simone De Beauvoir and Inequitable Divisions of Domestic Work in Marriage." Hypatia 19, no. 3: 121-43.
  • Bergoffen, Debra B. "Marriage, Autonomy, and the Feminine Protest." Hypatia 14, no. 4 (1999): 18-35.

Week 9: The Mother

Beauvoir traces woman’s oppression to the fact that she is the sex that gives lives and not the sex that risks it. This week we examine the role of motherhood in woman’s oppression and whether Beauvoir finds any way in which motherhood can be lived as an authentic experience without the shackles of oppression. We also contrast her work on motherhood to Julia Kristeva’s.

Question

What is the institution of motherhood and how is it oppressive?

Can there be authentic mothers?

Readings

Required:

  • Beauvoir, S. de, 2011. The Second Sex. Translated by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. “The Mother ” (537-584)
  • Kristeva, Julia 1986. "Stabat Mater" in The Female Body in Western Culture: contemporary perspectives, edited bySusan Rubin Suileman 99-118. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Recommended Readings:

  • Kristeva, Julia, Alice Jardine, and Harry Blake. 1981. "Women's Time." Signs 7, no. 1 : 13-35.
  • Bauer, Nancy 2017. “Simone de Beauvoir on Motherhood and Destiny” in A Companion to Simone De Beauvoir. Edited by Laura Hengehold 146-159. Blackwell Companions to Philosophy. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley Blackwell.
  • Stone, Allison. 2017. “Beauvoir and the Ambiguities of Motherhood” in A Companion to Simone De Beauvoir. Edited by Laura Hengehold 122-133. Blackwell Companions to Philosophy. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley Blackwell.
  • Zerilli, Linda. 1992 "A Process without a Subject: Simone De Beauvoir and Julia Kristeva on Maternity." Signs 18, no. 1: 111-135.

Week 10: Justifications

Objectives

We examine Beauvoir’s views on how women attempt to give meaning to their inessential existence in the man’s world. We examine Beauvoir’s views on romantic love and ask whether love can offer another possibility. We compare her work on love and sexual desire to Sartre and Merleau-Ponty’s views.

Questions:

What is the relationship between one and the other in sexual encounter?

Is love always doomed to failure?

Readings

Required:

  • Beauvoir, S. de, 2011. The Second Sex. Translated by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. “The Narcissist and The Woman in Love” (683-725)

Recommended Readings:

  • Diprose, Rosalyn. 1998. "Generosity: Between Love and Desire." Hypatia 13, no. 1: 1-20.
  • Sartre, J. 1989. Being and Nothingness : An essay on phenomenological ontology  translated by Hazel E. Barnes ; introduction by Mary Warnock. London: Routledge. “Concrete Relations with Others”
  • Beauvoir, S. de, 2011. The Second Sex. Translated by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. “The Independent Woman” (737-768)
  • Eleanor Kaufman. "Beauvoir, Merleau-Ponty, and the Phenomenology of Relation." Bulletin De La Société Américaine De Philosophie De Langue Française 13, no. 1 (2003): 68-77.

Week 11: Beyond The Second Sex - Age

Objectives

In these final lectures we engage with Beauvoir’s works beyond The Second Sex and examine how these later works carry the legacy of TSS. We first look at her book old Age and examine how she finds age limiting and oppressive. In this work age becomes a lens like gender through which the disenfranchisement of a group on grounds of their age is examined.

Questions

Is age a natural phenomenon or a social one?

Are questions of age and gender interconnected?

Readings

Required:

  • Beauvoir, Simone de, 1972 Old Age translated by Patrick O’Brian London; Cox and Wyman Limited. (Selection)

Recommended Readings:

  • Duetscher, Penelope 2017. "Afterlives: Beauvoir’s Old Age and the Intersections of The Second Sex” In A Companion to Simone De Beauvoir, Edited by Laura Hengehold 438-448. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons, 2017.
  • Stoller, Silvia 2014. “Beauvoir’s the Coming of Age” in Simone de Beuavoir’s Philosophy of Age: Gender, Ethics and Time edited by Silvia Stoller, 1-26. De Gruyter.
  • Miller, S. "The Lived Experience of Doubling: Simone De Beauvoir's Phenomenology of Old Age." In The Existential Phenomenology of Simone De Beauvoir 2001.

Week 12: Beyond The Second Sex - Race and Colonisation

Objectives

In this final lecture we examine Beauvoir’s views on politics with a special focus on the questions of racism and colonization. We divide this lecture in two parts first we look at the problem of colonization and especially France’s role in it with reference to Algeria. Next we look at Beauvoir’s writing on the problems of Racism and compare it to Fanon’s views on the issue.

Readings

Required:

  • Beauvoir, Simone De 1952 America Day by Day translated by Patrick Dudley London: Duckworth, 1952. (Selection)
  • Fanon, Frantz. 2008 Black Skin, White Masks. Translated by Charles Lam Markman. London: Pluto. (Selection)

Recommended Reading

  • Marso, Lori Jo. 2017 “Violence Pathologies and Resistence in Franz Fanon” in Politics with Beauvoir : Freedom in the Encounter. Durham: Duke University Press.
  • Marso, Lori Jo. 2017  “In Solidarity with Richard Wright” in Politics with Beauvoir : Freedom in the Encounter. Durham: Duke University Press.
  • Beauvoir, Simone De, and Gisèle. Halimi. 1962. Djamila Boupacha : The Story of the Torture of a Young Algerian Girl Which Shocked Liberal French Opinion. London: Deutsch and Weidenfeld and Nicolson. (Introduction).
  • Sullivan, Shannon 2017 "Race After Beauvoir." In A Companion to Simone De Beauvoir edited by Laura Hengehold 449-62. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Alfonso, D. "TRANSATLANTIC PERSPECTIVES ON RACE: Simone De Beauvoir's Phenomenology of "Race" in America Day by Day." Philosophy Today 49 (2005): 89-99.