Simone De Beauvoir, the historical perspective that inspired the feminist struggle

On January 9, 1908, Simone de Beauvoir was born, French writer, philosopher, and feminist, a fighter for women's rights. Her book "The Second Sex", published in 1949, is the most important feminist essay of the 20th century.

Simone De Beauvoir, the historical perspective that inspired the feminist struggle
Simone de Beauvoir and works such as The Second Sex are foundational elements of feminism. Image: Public domain

Today marks the birthday of the French feminist philosopher and writer Simone de Beauvoir. She was born in Paris on January 9, 1908, and died on April 14, 1986. Her legacy left profound thoughts and theories on feminism, politics, and homosexuality, among many other topics. Her reflections were very disruptive in the '50s and even today, they are the flags of feminism in growing construction.

She graduated as a philosopher at the Sorbonne University, also known as the University of Paris, where she met Jean-Paul Sartre, when she was 21 years old and he was 24 years old, a philosopher with whom she shared the rest of her life, in addition to her link to existentialism. Both devoted themselves to philosophy, literature, and political activism. They became controversial figures for the society of their time. Their relationship broke paradigms, they did not live together, they refused to marry and have children, thus breaking with the family model of the bourgeois tradition.

"You are not born a woman, you become one."

With the words "One is not born, but becomes a woman", Simone de Beauvoir (1949) scandalized and generated tremendous controversy in French society and the world by postulating that there is no biological feminine destiny. These words, so provocative, question those theories that sustain the biological determination of the human characteristics considered feminine, giving an account of the eminently social and cultural character of these.

Thus, the condition of women that was supposed to be a natural being is thought of as cultural, constructed, and legitimized by social institutions that assign to women arbitrary roles and roles. In the determination of these roles, subordination to the male gender has had a decisive influence, since it has been a constant throughout history and in all parts of the world. This persistence has made it possible to install and naturalize the idea that this subordination comes from "female nature/biology" instead of questioning the power relations within a society.

There is nothing in nature that says that women possess characteristics that enable them to do or not to do certain things, or that for other tasks, professions or trades they are more or less qualified than men. All these ways of thinking about women come from the relationship of subordination described above, sustained by the status quo of each era, and are expressed in roles assigned according to this relationship. The new way of thinking about the feminine problem posed by Simone de Beauvoir, which gets rid of the determination of biological destiny, requires differentiating the words sex and gender in language.

"Being a woman is not a natural character, it is the result of a history, there is no biological destiny that defines a woman as a woman, it is a history that has created her, to begin with, the history of civilization that she has had as a result of her current status," explained De Beauvoir in an interview.

In this sense, she pointed out that it is not a biological condition that determines the historical becoming of women, but rather this is a historical construction that has been intended to be naturalized through the dominance of patriarchy in societies. "From the time she is a baby girl her behavior is indoctrinated, from how to breastfeed to how to raise an infant."

Simone de Beauvoir reasoned that women are free to choose the path by which they will constitute their lives, but at the same time they have to question "the stupidities of this last century", to become women through the construction of referents that are oriented to the development of a dignified life.

From those days until today, women have fought and continue to fight for real equality in the public and private spheres, in the field of education and work, for the right to sexual and reproductive health, for their physical integrity, for non-violence, and the protection of their children. The educational task must consider gender equality as a central axis on which disciplinary issues and school coexistence are structured. In this sense, denaturalizing arbitrarily imposed roles is an emancipating task that produces real improvements in the opportunities for women, men, and other possible identities.