The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

Readalong: The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

A little while ago, I decided that it would be a good idea for me to reread The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir. Over the last couple of years, I’ve only really read pieces of popular writing on feminism, and I wanted to reacquaint myself with some of its historical literature.

Rather than just sit down on the sofa and read it to myself as I crunch my way through packet after packet of chocolate digestives like I did last time, I’m planning on reading a chapter a week and writing up a personal ‘analysis’ of it afterwards, in the hope that this will make me put a little more thought into what I’m reading, and that my opinions might help promote some further discussion on its contemporary value. One of the things I’ll say now is that I’m not going to force a ‘male’ feminist perspective on my own writing, nor a ‘queer’ one. Yes, it’s true that my writing is going to be informed and influenced by my own personal experience, and it would be foolish to pretend otherwise, but I’m not setting out to create any kind of conscious bias in my analyses.

I welcome participation in this readalong by other people interested in feminism and/or the book itself – just do what I’m going to do:

  1. Get a copy of the book – dig your old copy out, borrow one from a friend or a library, or buy one [aff].
  2. Read one chapter a week* – make notes, talk to yourself about it, talk with others about it, and think about its historical and contemporary significance; what you don’t feel about something you read is equally as important as what you do feel about it, so don’t ignore any thought or feeling you may have. It’ll be interesting to explore the range of people’s experiences as they read.
  3. Write about it – I’m going to aim for around 1,000 words a week, but you can write as little or as much as you’d like. Having said that, it’s about quality rather than quantity (isn’t it always?) and, if your reaction to a particular chapter is but 100 words and a doodle on a Post-It, then that’s fantastic as well.
  4. Share the postsI’m planning to share what I’ve written each Monday throughout the readalong, and make use of social media to encourage as many readers as possible. It’ll be interesting to see how many people unfamiliar with the book connect with this readalong and what others’ opinions are. I’m going to use the hashtag #2ndsexreadalong for my posts and would encourage anyone getting involved to adopt this, too.
  5. Interact with others on the readalong – read others’ posts, share others’ posts and comment on others’ posts each week. I know it might now always be possible, but imagine the depth and breadth of discussion there could be if everyone managed that!

A cautionary tale about commenting on others’ writing – the above said, I should note the following, given the range of opinions on feminism and reactions to writing related to it: I would encourage anyone taking part to remember that as an opinion does not constitute a fact, by their very nature they can be neither right nor wrong and we should attempt to be as accommodating as possible with those whose viewpoints conflict with or contradict our own.

If you don’t have a blog but would like to take part, I’ll be more than happy to post your weekly analysis here. Get in touch with me to talk about it.

I think that’s pretty much it. If you’ve any questions, please comment on this post and I’ll answer them as best I can – that way, everyone can benefit from the discussion.

Happy reading!

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*Hopefully, the various editions of the book that are available will have the same structure. This is the order the chapters appear in mine (numbered sequentially for convenience) and in which they’ll be read. Chapter 10 will be dealt with as six separate chapters, giving a total of 31 chapters over 31 weeks.

If you’re looking for a snazzy bibliographic reference, here you go (it’s Harvard APA 6th edition, if you’re curious): De Beauvoir, S. (1997). The Second Sex (H. M. Parshley, Trans.). London: Vintage. (Original work published 1949)

  1. The Data of Biology
  2. The Psychoanalytic Point of View
  3. The Point of View of Historical Materialism
  4. The Nomads
  5. Early Tillers of the Soil
  6. Patriarchal Times and Classical Antiquity
  7. Through the Middle Ages to Eighteenth-century France
  8. Since the French Revolution: The Job and the Vote
  9. Dreams, Fears, Idols
  10. The Myth of Woman in Five Authors
    1. Monthalant or the Bread of Disgust
    2. D. H. Lawrence or Phallic Pride
    3. Claudel and the Handmaid of the Lord
    4. Breton or Poetry
    5. Stendhal or the Romantic of Reality
    6. Summary
  11. Myth and Reality
  12. Childhood
  13. The Young Girl
  14. Sexual Initiation
  15. The Lesbian
  16. The Married Woman
  17. The Mother
  18. Social Life
  19. Prostitutes and Hetairas
  20. From Maturity to Old Age
  21. Woman’s Situation and Character
  22. The Narcissist
  23. The Woman in Love
  24. The Mystic
  25. The Independent Woman
  26. Conclusion