Existentialism and the Origins of Male Supremacy

“While women demand a new status, says [Simone] de Beauvoir, they are far from achieving it and the institutions of patriarchy are still largely intact. Not only have ‘abstract rights’ not been granted to women everywhere; abstract rights themselves have never sufficed to assure women a definite hold on the world. True equality, she adds, simply does not exist.

[Gender] inequality persists for the following three reasons:

(i) The burdens of marriage weigh much more heavily upon woman than upon man. This is because the burden of maternity has still not been sufficiently alleviated, and because the care of children and the upkeep of the home is still undertaken almost exclusively by women. The result, says de Beauvoir, is that ‘it is more difficult for woman than for man to reconcile her family life with her role as worker. Whenever society demands this effort, her life is much harder than her husband’s.’

(ii) The woman who seeks independence through work has to do so under far less favourable circumstances than her male competitors. To begin with, her wages in most jobs are lower than those of men. Second, because she is a newcomer in the world of males, she has fewer opportunities for success than they have. Men and women alike ‘hate to be under the orders of a woman; they always show more confidence in a man’. Because of this circumstance, de Beauvoir advises that in order to ‘make it’, a woman is well advised to secure masculine backing.

(iii) Society continues to be deeply ambivalent in its expectations of women. On the one hand, the work-world of factories, offices, and educational establishments is opened up to her; but on the other, marriage is still considered to be her appropriate destiny. These values are then transmitted from one generation to another. Parents, observes de Beauvoir,

‘still bring up their daughters with a view to marriage rather than to furthering her personal development; she sees so many advantages in it that she herself wishes for it; the result is that she is often less deeply involved in her profession. In this way she dooms herself to remain in its lower levels, to be inferior; and the vicious circle is formed: this professional inferiority reinforces her desire to find a husband.’

41bsyk4az2l-_sx353_bo1204203200_De Beauvoir concludes that it is natural enough for many women workers and employees to perceive the right to work as merely an obligation from which marriage will deliver them. At the same time, because of the self-awareness which the working woman has achieved, and because she can, in addition, free herself from marriage by means of a job, ‘a woman no longer accepts domestic subjection with docility. What she would hope is that the reconciliation of family life with a job should not require of her an exhausting, difficult performance’.”

Mahon, Joseph. 1997. Existentialism, Feminism and Simone de Beauvoir. London: Palgrave Macmillan. [From chapter 12, “Existentialism and the Origins of Male Supremacy,” pp. 123-128. Emphasis, links, pictures, and italics added.]

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