Simone de Beauvoir, On Her Tipping Point

A special message to subscribers from Simone de Beauvoir

I was nearing my forties when I undertook to write The Second Sex. I had never, personally, suffered on account of my feminine condition. The men whom I most respected had always considered me their equal. I had passed my aggregation exams quite easily, which qualified me for a career in which I met with no male rivalry: professor in a girls’ lyceée.

Unmarried and childless, I did not have the responsibilities incumbent on motherhood. Yet, when I decided to write a book about myself, I realized that my childhood and adolescence were unlike those boys. This was also true of my first experiences as an independent adult. So, in order to talk of myself, I first had to deal with the myths prevalent among men. I then realized I had to reveal the realities they hid. With that in mind, I studied the physiology of woman and her historical background. This formed the first volume of The Second Sex, which I called “Facts and Myths.”

Then I wanted to give an account of the actual experience of women from birth to old age and death. At that period it was bold to talk of feminine sexuality, and the chapters dealing with it created a furor in France. Fortunately, nothing of the kind happened in the United States when it was subsequently published in translation there.

From then on I saw women from a fresh point of view. I understood how different their status was from that of men, a difference that was not the result of a specific nature inherent in them but a cultural context wherein what is called femininity is defined.

Even though my interest in women was profound, I hadn’t yet contemplated fighting for their cause. I imagined, with excessive optimism, that social change would suffice to liberate them. But I realized gradually that the patriarchy was just as oppressive in the so-called socialist regimes as in the capitalist countries. In the past few years many women in the United States as well as France have acquired this awareness. So, to the best of my ability, I began to militate for contraception and freedom of abortion, and in defense of women against rape and brutality.

To say The Second Sex is not a militant book is not at all to disavow it. Judging from the vast correspondence received from all over the world since its publication, it has helped many women. And if, on several points, there has been an evolution, it still represents the initial source of this same evolution.

I hope that the readers of this book will find in it ample food for thought.

S. de B.

Paris, France, 1979


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