de Beauvoir and Gilman’s woman

From the moment I began reading The Second Sex, I had the impression that de Beauvoir is a very intelligent woman. Starting her introduction with tactics of rhetoric, she asks questions such as ‘what is a woman?’ ‘why is it that women do not dispute male sovereignty?’ These are provocative questions that we can still ask today without receiving a complete and satisfactory answer. I believe that the answers to these questions are indefinite and are always changing in the progress of time. That said, Simone de Beauvoir was a woman who was well ahead of her time.
In ‘The Data of Biology’, de Beauvoir examines the relationship between men and women in terms of their biological assets. Most extensively, she brings into comparison the female-male relations in numerous species in the animal kingdom, illustrating the sexual behaviour, reproduction and maternity/paternity of species varying from mammals to marine invertebrates. I am impressed at the extent of de Beauvoir’s knowledge and how evidently well-researched her presentation of facts is. Through this information, she underscores the fact that biology has put women in danger or alienation for the greater purpose of perpetuating humanity, yet stating that this “fails to explain why woman is the Other” and how these biological facts do not “establish for her a fixed and inevitable destiny” (34). In the next section, she criticizes Freud for basing his psychoanalytic views on a masculine model and how he “was forced to invent strange fictions” (46-47). In summary, de Beauvoir is pushing forward the argument of the woman being able to choose, as we can see from the fact that biological differences have no significance on their own, but once put into social/economic interpretation by men the woman is at a disadvantage. She defines woman as a human being in quest of knowledge and values that have economic/social consequence, to be able to take the world by storm, so to speak. Overall I’m really in awe of de Beauvoir. I found this Youtube video of an interview of her. It’s long but really insightful: A lot of the times she’s just ‘in your face’ at the interviewer. She’s the grandmother that we all would have liked to have.

In drawing connections between The Second Sex and The Yellow Wallpaper, both argue for the autonomy of women in different forms of writing–non-fiction vs. short story part autobiography and part fiction. The Yellow Wallpaper is about a woman breaking out of her bonds after being confined domestically by the male/husband/doctor figure and having her writing vocation and independence taken away, but in order to break the bonds she had to become or at least appear to others as mad or insane. This makes me wonder how much agency women really had that they did have to be driven mad to at least get out of their psychological confinement.

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