The Independent Woman

“[L]aw no longer includes obedience among a wife’s duties, and every woman citizen has become a voter; these civil liberties remain abstract if there is no corresponding economic autonomy; the kept woman–wife or mistress–is not freed from the male just because she has a ballot paper in her hands; while today’s customs impose fewer constraints on her than in the past, such negative licenses have not fundamentally changed her situation; she remains a vassal, imprisoned in her condition. It is through work that woman has been able, to a large extent, to close the gap separating her from the male; work alone can guarantee her concrete freedom. The system based on her dependence collapses as soon as she ceases to be a parasite; there is no longer need for a masculine mediator between her and the universe. The curse on the woman vassal is that she is not allowed to do anything; so she stubbornly pursues the impossible quest for being through narcissism, love, or religion; when she is productive and active, she regains her transcendence; she affirms herself concretely as subject in her projects; she senses her responsibility relative to the goals she pursues and to the money and rights she appropriates. Many women are conscious of these advantages, even those with the lowest-level jobs. I heard a cleaning woman as she was washing a hotel lobby floor say, “I never asked anyone for anything. I made it on my own.” She was as proud of being self-sufficient as a Rockefeller. However, one must not think that the simple juxtaposition of the right to vote and a job amounts to total liberation; work today is not freedom. Only in a socialist world would the woman who has one be sure of the other. Today, the majority of workers are exploited. Moreover, social structures have not been deeply modified by he changes in women’s condition. This world has always belonged to men and still retains the form they have imprinted on it. It is important not to lose sight of these facts that make the question of women’s work complex.”

Pg. 721 in Beauvoir, Simone de. [1949] 2009. The Second Sex. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. [Beauvoir pictured above. Bolding not in original.]

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