5 things to know about the feminist Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir at the opening of the exhibition of paintings by her sister Hélène de Beauvoir in the 1980s (Sygma via Getty / Eric Préau)

We celebrate pioneering feminist author and existentialist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir on her birthday.

Simone Lucie Ernestine Marie Bertrand de Beauvoir was born in Paris on January 9, 1908.

She is best known for her groundbreaking work The second sex, published in 1949, which examined patriarchy, oppression and what it means to be a woman.

She published essays, biographies, autobiographies, monographs and even embarked on fiction, continuing to write until her death in 1986.

Here are five fascinating facts you need to know about the feminist, existentialist, and now LGBT + icon.

1. Simone de Beauvoir once wanted to become a nun

Simone de Beauvoir grew up in a wealthy, strictly Catholic home with her younger sister Hélène, but after World War I her family lost most of their money.

Despite this, his mother was determined to maintain their bourgeois lifestyle and the young de Beauvoir was educated in elite convent schools.

As a child, her Catholic convictions were so strong that she expressed her desire to become a nun. However, with her growing interest in philosophy and her understanding of injustice in the world for women, she suffered a crisis of faith and became an atheist at the age of 14.

After high school, although not enrolled, she attended classes at the prestigious École Normale Supérieure, determined to take the aggregation, a high level examination, in philosophy.

At 21, she became the ninth woman to do so and the youngest person to do so.

2. The philosopher was one of the first intellectuals to differentiate sex and gender

In 1949, Simone de Beauvoir published her most famous work – The Second Sex, Where The second sex.

The nearly 1,000-page book was published in two volumes and deals with the history of the oppression of women, patriarchy and what it means to be a woman.

In The second sex, de Beauvoir became one of the first known intellectuals to discuss the distinction between sex and gender, and wrote the iconic line: “One is not born but becomes a woman.”

She insisted that femininity was not born out of biology, but was a gender identity that had been built over time. Her idea of ​​gender as a historical and social construct has contributed to our modern understanding of gender identity and the trans experience.

3. Simone de Beauvoir was bisexual and spent her life in open relationships

During her studies at the École normale supérieure in 1929, Simone de Beauvoir met the existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre.

The couple had a long-standing company, remaining partners until Sartre’s death in 1980, although they never married. Their relationship was never monogamous, and de Beauvoir experienced many other relationships and lovers during his life.

Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir in their first photo together at a fair in Paris, 1929. (Gamma-Rapho via Getty / JAZZ EDITIONS)

Around the same time that she met Sartre, she also met Elisabeth Lacoin, nicknamed “Zaza”, who is widely regarded as her first love, and the couple had a “passionate and tragic” relationship.

Throughout his life, de Beauvoir had several female lovers and also participated in threesomes.

4. His semi-autobiographical queer love story Inseparable remained unpublished until 2020

In 2020, a novel completed by Simone de Beauvoir in 1954 is finally published.

According to AFP, the literary agency 2Seas which managed foreign rights Inseparable described the book as a “touching and gripping coming-of-age novel,” which tells the love story of Beauvoir and his first love, Zaza.

The novel “exposes Simone de Beauvoir’s personal struggle against conventional expectations”, and sees her doing “everything so that Andrée (a barely disguised Zaza) loves her back”.

The book was considered “too intimate” to be published during Beauvoir’s lifetime.

There she said to Zaza, who died of brain inflammation at the age of 21: “From the day I met you, you were everything to me.”

Portrait Of Simone De Beauvoir
Portrait of the French writer and philosopher Simone de Beauvoir, 1952. (Photo Researchers History / Getty / Gisèle Freund)

4. Her ideas have inspired intersectional feminist academics and queer theory

Its enduring influence on feminist and existentialist theory is well known, but Simone de Beauvoir also laid the groundwork for much of the queer theory we know today.

Feminist scholar Judith Butler studied de Beauvoir’s work in her 1990 book Gender issue, a text that has proven to be fundamental for the development of queer theory.

They developed de Beauvoir’s ideas on gender as a social construct, developing the concept of gender performativity and the changing nature of gender.

In a 2021 interview with The Guardian, Butler reflected on Gender issue 31 years after its publication, and said: “The category of women can and must change, and we need it to be.

“Politically, ensuring greater freedoms for women requires that we review the category of ‘women’ to include these new possibilities.

“The historical significance of gender can change as its norms are re-enacted, denied or re-created. We should therefore not be surprised or opposed when the category of women expands to include trans women. “

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