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De Beauvoir's Views on the Female Body

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 1756 words Published: 27th May 2021

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De Beauvoir position of the body as it was one of the main factors of women becoming an oppressed woman. The root of De Beauvoir view of the body is first rooted in the essentialist view more specifically Sartre view of the freedom, consciousness and the situated body. Daigle begins on Sartre view that a human being is for-itself, this meaning that a human is a consciousness that knows what it ought to be. The human being is for it-self as Sartre describes is something that is temporary and is ever rising as 'It is a project, i.e. a being that has a past as an essence but that is always transcending that past.' (Daigle,2010, pg. 45). As a result of the ever-changing the human being becomes 'fundamentally free' (Daigle, 2010, pg. 43). The human being is free it is situated within the world as it is 'embodied being' (Daigle. 2010, pg. 38). It is embodied by the body, as for the Consciousness to be engaged in the world it must become am embodied consciousness'. Daigle demonstrates Sartre view that there must be a starting point for a human being in the world it is that 'we exist as a body in the world of objects' (Daigle, 2010, pg. 39). It is through the body that we can experience the world. However, Daigle shows that for Sartre that situated body is only an instrument for us to engage in the world, 'my point of insertion in being, as the point of upsurge for my world' (Daigle, 2010, pg. 40). Though the human being is situated and an embodied consciousness it is free to transcend it being and surpass the body.

De Beauvoir the body as the other

The complex argument of De Beauvoir work in the Sex second takes on many interpretations of the body. For this essay, there will be simply focused on the body and the other. Firstly, Stavro suggests that the idea of the body for De Beauvoir and Merleau-Ponty it is that it is ‘historically situated and socially and culturally constituted’( Stavro, 2000, pg. 144).  This interrupts that though De Beauvoir followed the same principles of Sartre that the body was situated and an embodied consciousness. However, the position of a women bodies differ from a men as De Beauvoir suggests that it is from the beginning that a women body has been objectified as ‘A man’s body has meaning by itself, disregarding the body of the women’ (Beauvoir, Borde and Malvoyany-Chevallier, 2011, pg. 6).  A women’s body has no meaning without adhering to the male. The men objectify the body and a woman will only view her body as the men desires. As Tong suggests that ‘De Beauvoir announced that, from the beginning man has named himself the self and women the Other’ (Tong, 1992, pg. 201). 

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Angela Shepard further expands on that Moi opinions on De Beauvoir that her views were generally a feminist position. De Beauvoir argument that interrupts that is from the existentialist view a woman is a human being that is being-for-itself and is free. It is the case that due to the patriarchal ideology and society of men, women are being constructed in a way that men deters women from being in herself, this is followed from the phenomenological perspective. The challenges that exist for women are that at the cost of male ideology as women are oppressed and in sacrifice women cannot achieve her freedom. In a fact, Moi suggests that de behaviour argues that 'from a phenomenological point of view, there are limits to a women's ontological freedom' (Shepherd, 2018, pg. 73) which as an existentialist de Beauvoir is aware. Furthermore, it is from the experience of the body that prevents a woman from achieving that freedom. From the interpretation, De Beauvoir shows that the patriarchal society has created a myth about women in relating to such things as mother nature or nature of women in a way to 'control women' (Tong, 1992, pg. 205). As the nature of women body is identified with immanence and passivity. As a result, the patriarchal society has shown that she an inactive place in the world and women have no place to achieve her individuality. If she aware to achieve her destiny she would have to at the account of her womanhood and femininity. The consequence of this is that the role of women has been reduced to an object and her biological nature has been associated negatively. It is the case that one of the reasons for a women's place in the world is a result of her body.


De Beauvoir views show that the body is also an obstacle to the transcendence and equality of women as to De Beauvoir ‘transcendence and Immanence have a gender orientation’ (Shepherd, 2018, pg. 77). As for a male, he is a free being that is never fixed, moving forward to an unknown future, as he transcends, he is free. The male body is ever associated is always being active, able to become his authentic self to be free. For the case of the women body, it is second nature to the male as her body is inactive, passive and lives in immanence as a result of her situation as she oppressed as the other, denied her liberties and the ability to become her project and be fundamentality free. Tong shows that de Beauvoir ‘insisted that from those of beginning, girls recognize that their bodies are different from those of boys’ (Tong, 1992, pg. 206). As the girl comes to know this, her menstrual comes to the concept than it is shameful, and she is aware of her inferior. For her nature, it becomes second to men as a result of her weak biological to men's. However, Stavro demonstrates that De behaviour is aware of the weakness but argues that the biological differences as fact aren't enough to argue the case for women oppression. It is the case that the weakness that has been abolished is that of a "social context" (Stavro, 2000, pg. 144) that have been created by man to see women as the other. This shows that one of the reasons that a woman isn’t born but it is that she becomes women by the social context created by the patriarchal society.  

Pregnancy and motherhood

This has led to De Beauvoir criticism on the institution of marriage and motherhood. For this case, pregnancy and motherhood will be the focus. Tong understanding of De Beauvoir idea that she was aware that for a mother to raise a child was a natural function. Yet, in the institution such as motherhood more specifically pregnancy is seen as a negative sense as when a woman chooses the happiness of pregnancy, she is giving up her rights and freedom to the notion of ‘”function of the flesh” (Stavro, 2000, pg. 144). Staveo interprets De Beauvoir view that a woman is being compared to an animal, that is merely doing the functions of its nature. By doing this she is disregarding her freedom and delving herself into the sphere of the otherness, this result in women remaining in the realm of immanence. Stavro demonstrates that as the body has been situated socially, historically constructed, it can be reconstructed though women cannot escape the body she can transcend her situation as. A woman can become herself, she can overcome her force circumstance and do what a man come she can become her project achieve her authentic self to achieve absolute freedom.  But, by our society are freedom limited 'If we want to be all that we can be as individuals, we must first clear the society space for this project'  (Tong,1992, pg. 211). 


One of the common criticisms of De Beauvoir existentialist feminist is that the account of how harsh her view his of the body. Tong argues that Jean Elshtain criticism of De Beauvoir was her account of the body, it was negative as the body through the essay the body as been associated with such words of shameful or dirty. This comes from Sartre view of the body as a mere instrument of the embodied consciousness, as in existentialist the view of the body is a representation of death as that is where the freedom begins and ends. it was that the body reminded her that the body is reminding a woman of her ageing. It is the case that De Beauvoir was never in celebration of the body. De Beauvoir case of the body is that for a woman to achieve individuality and womanhood, she must reject her biological nature. If not, she is placed in the sphere of otherness and merely just represents an animal acting in its nature. Elshtain argues that with such harsh account of the body, led to the act on institutions such as motherhood. Elshtain further argues that for a women who values these institutions by choice and find them rewarding she is at risk of being isolated from her individuality and womanhood and Elshtain shows that women who refuse to ‘privilege the mind over the body and who does not believe that being-in-for itself is an inherently defective mode of being’ (Tong, 1992,  pg. 213).

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Tong further expands on Elshtain criticism as by accepting the horror of the women’s body De Beauvoir is celebrating the norms of society which are the views of men. All the negative views of the comments are from the celebration and glorification of a men’s body, as a women’s body is disregarded as it isn’t a man’s body. For women to achieve freedom she must achieve it through the ways of men, which in the eyes of Elstain is flawed. As for women to achieve their authentic self, they must give up any aspect of their femininity, while the men are privileged with both their manhood and identity.

Tong argues that de Beauvoir was cautious of Sartre view of the body as De Beauvoir thought that 'His attitude toward the body and the emotions were too inflexible' (Tang, 1992, pg. 214). De Beauvoir was aware of the situation of the factor of the body and its emotions. Yet, her perception of the body was never changed as De behaviour believed that a woman was more than her body and it was only one of the reasons for women becoming a woman. 


  • Beauvoir, S. de, Borde, C. and Malovany-Chevallier, S. (2011) The second sex. Vintage.
  • Daigle, C. (2010) Jean-Paul Sartre. Routledge (Online access with purchase: Taylor & Francis).
  • Shepherd, A. (2018) ‘De Beauvoir, Existentialism and Marx: A Dialectic on Freedom’, Sartre Studies International, (1), p. 70.
  • Stavro, E. (2000) ‘Re-reading the Second Sex’, Feminist Theory, 1(2), p. 131.
  • Tong, R. (1992) Feminist thought : a comprehensive introduction. Routledge.


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