Your pocket-sized Guide to… French philosophy: Simone de Beauvoir

MyFrenchLife - French philosophy - French philosophers- simone de beauvoir

How well do you know your French philosophers? Test yourself and learn something new with our pocket-sized guide to French philosophy. You’ll be sure to impress at your next dinner party…

Simone de Beauvoir was a French existentialist philosopher whose book ‘The Second Sex’ challenged the accepted role of women in society.

La vie à Paris

    • Born on 9 January 1908 in  Paris
    • Studied Philosophy at the Sorbonne²
    • Lifelong companion of Sartre
    • Won the Prix Goncourt for ‘The Second Sex’ in 1954
    • Died of pneumonia on 14 April 1986 in Paris

MyFrenchLife - French philosophy - French philosophers - simone de beauvoir

La société

Simone de Beauvoir noted that throughout history, humanity had been defined by males, and therefore, from a male perspective. De Beauvoir argued that society was “codified by man”¹ and that women should define themselves rather than conforming to society’s definition of a woman: as a wife, a mother or a domestic goddess.

De Beauvoir also explores how the experience of maternity can be “crushing if the woman is obliged to undergo frequent pregnancies”¹, but can also be enjoyable “if she procreates voluntarily and if society comes to her aid during pregnancy and is concerned with child welfare”.

Therefore, society’s expectation of women to become mothers can be a great burden upon women.

MyFrenchLife - French philosophy - French philosophers - simone de beauvoirLe Deuxième Sexe’ – 1949

In her book ‘The Second Sex’, de Beauvoir describes the differences between males and females in terms of biology, psychology and history. De Beauvoir describes the differences between males and females in animals such as fish and insects as well as humans.

For example, de Beauvoir describes how human gametes differ, noting the immobility of the egg and the mobility of the sperm, the large size of the egg and the comparatively small size of the sperm – yet both are equally important in conception.


De Beauvoir describes how sexual equality was measured by the ways in which women were similar to men.

However, de Beauvoir argued that the only way to truly emancipate women was “to refuse to confine her to the relations she bears to man” and to allow women to have an “independent existence”, because the differences between men and women make it inconceivable to judge them in relation to one another. By doing this, de Beauvoir writes, “the human couple will find its true form”.

What’s your definition of sexual equality? Does society expect too much of women? Share your thoughts in the comments, below. 

Read more from our pocket-sized guide to French philosophy:
1. Jean-Paul Sartre
2. Simone de Beauvoir (this page)
3. René Descartes
4. Voltaire

1. Simone de Beauvoir, on the Philosophy Archive at
2. Simone de Beauvoir – Biography, via The European Graduate School.
3. ‘The Philosophy Book’, by DK Publishing (2010)
Image Credits:
1. Simone de Beauvoir, via Jacket Mechanical
2. Sartre Beauvoir, via Wikimedia Commons
3. Second Sex, via Wikipedia

About the Contributor

Selina Parmar

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  1. Emmanuelle Tremolet Apr 12, 2013 at 3:14 PM - Reply

    Bravo Selina for your article! I love it!

  2. Selina Parmar Apr 13, 2013 at 9:42 PM - Reply

    Thank you very much Emmanuelle! I’m glad you liked it. There will be more to follow so watch this space!

  3. alyslinn Apr 23, 2013 at 5:42 AM - Reply

    Sexual equality? When men and women can have the relationships they choose without being castigated for them.

    And society definitely does expect too much of women–there are so many articles for women talking about work and life balance, and the sacrifices they ‘must’ make for the sake of their children/family…and yet, there’s a dearth of similar articles or expectations for men, who are expected to put work at the forefront and not worry.

    • Selina Parmar May 25, 2013 at 1:23 AM - Reply

      Thank you very much for your comment. Absolutely, but I would go even further by saying that sexual equality is when men and women can do anything without being castigated differently. Thank you for raising such an interesting point about articles aimed at women and men, I never thought about that.

  4. Adele Brookes Apr 29, 2013 at 6:50 AM - Reply

    What an amazing woman! Merci Selina! I look forward to reading the next chapter!

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