Spotlight: Simone de Beauvoir




Simone de Beauvoir, a distinguished French existentialist philosopher and writer, is credited as having laid the foundation for the modern feminist movement. De Beauvoir produced a rich myriad of works on ethics, feminism, fiction, autobiography, and politics. Her literary, political, and philosophical contributions helped spur the feminist revolution. Furthermore, her works remain a foundation in the understanding of women’s oppression and liberation today.


Born in 1908 to a strictly Catholic, bourgeois family in Paris, de Beauvoir was so devoutly religious that she considered nunnery. However, by the age of 14, she declared herself an atheist and dedicated herself to the life of an intellectual, choosing to study math, literature, and philosophy. At 21 years old, de Beauvoir earned admission to the prestigious College of Sorbonne, where she studied philosophy, and earned distinction for her studies. De Beauvoir taught philosophy and literature through the 1930s, and later worked for the French Resistance to combat Nazi rule during World War II.


De Beauvoir’s work emphasized freedom, responsibility, and ambiguity. De Beauvoir’s magnum opus, The Second Sex (1949), is a critique of patriarchy and the second class status women have held in history. She vehemently opposed the “doctrine of immanence,” which maintains that women are inferior, passive, and static. De Beauvoir also critiqued women’s acceptance of subservient roles assigned to them by society. The Second Sex, de Beauvoir’s magnum opus, was received with great controversy at the time of its publication because it was viewed as a pornographic text. Now, it is regarded as one of the most important and earliest works of feminism.


In addition to her feminist work and successful literary career, Simone de Beauvoir was also involved in political activism. She contributed to the independence movements in Algeria and Hungary during the 1950s; the students’ movement in France in the late 1960s; and was outspoken in her condemnation of American foreign policy during the Vietnam War. During the 1970s, de Beauvoir’s work garnered staunch support from the feminist movement. She became a lecturer and an essayist, often participating in demonstrations for abortion rights and women's equality.


Though Simone de Beauvoir passed away in 1986, her legacy and influence still lives on through the feminist movement today.

Source: Mussett, Shannon. “Simone de Beauvoir (1908—1986).” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, https://iep.utm.edu/beauvoir/. Accessed January 2021.

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