Simone Ernestine Lucie Marie Bertrand de Beauvoir was born on 9 January 1908, in Paris and was reading and writing by the tender age of three. She inherited her passion for reading and theatre from her father.
Within the ‘proper’ norms of the traditional French society that Beauvoir lived in, a good woman was supposed to get married and dedicate her life to raising her children. Beauvoir, however, had other plans and decided to pursue a career of teaching and writing. Philosophical exploration, especially that of the choice of an individual, was Simone’s academic passion. In ‘All Men are Mortal’, the author strived to explain the ethics of morality: about how it affected human relationships and ethical systems.
It was with the publication of ‘The Second Sex’ that Beauvoir came to be recognized as a philosophical, political and feminist leader. Her book gave rise to an entire world of ‘gender studies’, studied the oppression faced by women and lay down the roots for modern day feminism. “This has always been a man’s world, and none of the reasons that have been offered in explanation have seemed adequate.” At the time of the book’s release, sexuality was becoming an academic topic in the United States- no longer something confined to quiet whispers. However, there were many campaigns held against Beauvoir’s book with people accusing it of being “pornography” and her, a “nymphomaniac”. The hype and controversy that surrounded ‘The Second Sex’ only helped it achieve further fame.
With the acceptance of a leftist political ideology and harsh criticism of French Colonialism, Beauvoir started losing her star status in the society. She supported communist regimes, and even visited the erstwhile USSR and China to reinforce her admiration for the political structures there.
There are some thinkers who are, from the start, unmistakably acknowledged as philosophers (e.g., Aristotle). There are some whose philosophical place is forever challenged (e.g., Nietzsche); and there are some who have steadily won the privilege to be admitted into the philosophical fold. Simone de Beauvoir is one of these belatedly acknowledged philosophers. Whether one would agree of disagree with Simone de Beauvoir’s views, it is certain that she was a woman ahead of her times.
By Sanjana Ahuja