Radical Woman of the Day: Simone de Beauvoir

On this day in 1908 was born Simone de Beauvoir, author of the seminal second-wave feminist book The Second Sex.

Born and educated in France, she studied mathematics and philosophy, eventually ranking second in a national post-graduate examination on philosophy, being narrowly judged runner-up to the well-known existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, who became her lifelong lover and literary partner. They read each other’s works before publication and co-edited Les Temps Modernes, a political journal Sartre co-founded.

An open bisexual, Beauvoir had a number of younger female lovers, some of whom she shared with Sartre. At least two of these relationships began when the women in question were her students, leading to accusations of exploitation that eventually resulted in the loss of Beauvoir’s license to teach in France.

Despite her moral failings, in 1949 Beauvoir made a significant contribution to the feminist movement when she published the first chapters of what would become The Second Sex. In the book, she argues that men have historically “othered” women, imbuing them with an aura of “mystery” used to stereotype them and place them lower in a societal hierarchy. In this she pre-dated similar concepts found in Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique.

Beauvoir died in 1986 at the age of 78 and was buried next to Sartre.

Via the Radical Women’s History Project.