Simone De Beauvoir

Honored by:The Philosophy Department
Brick location:PAVER:22  map

SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR, writer, philosopher and social critic, was arguably the most influential feminist thinker of the 20th century. She was born in Paris to a middle-class Catholic family and studied philosophy at the Ecole Normale Superieure and the Sorbonne. Among her fellow students were Claude Levi Strauss, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Jean Paul Sartre. de Beauvoir's close and well-documented relationship with Sartre was important to both personally and intellectually, and it lasted until his death in 1980. Simone de Beauvoir published many novels, short stories and philosophical essays, an autobiography, and a number of pieces about Sartre. But it was her two-volume book The Second Sex published in 1949 to great controversy that guaranteed de Beauvoir's reputation. Although The Second Sex is rightly seen as an attempt to understand the plight of women throughout history in terms of an existentialist ethics, many of de Beauvoir's deepest insights - about the myths values and circumstances that subjugate women the nature of sexuality and the avenues toward liberation - transcend specific theoretical frameworks. Simone de Beauvoir was not only a first-rate intellectual. She participated actively in many social and political movements. During the Nazi occupation, de Beauvoir took part in the French Resistance and after the war she founded along with Sartre and others the political and literary journal Les Temps Modernes. She publicly deplored the French involvement in Indo-China and she organized meetings banned by the authorities protesting French torture of Algerians during the Algerian war. Her participation with Sartre in these protests led to death threats against her and to the repeated bombing of Sartre's flat. de Beauvoir deplored the Soviet occupations of Hungary and Czechoslovakia and she spoke out strongly against U.S. involvement in Vietnam. In 1967, she took part in the Bertrand Russell International War Crimes Tribunal in Stockholm. In the 1970's, de Beauvoir's struggle for the rights of women intensified: she renounced her belief that socialism alone would resolve the subordination of women; she signed on to the Manifesto of 343 admitting to an illegal abortion in a campaign for free contraception and greater access to abortion; she began a regular feature in Les Temps Modernes focusing on examples of sexist statements about women in public speeches or in print; and she supported--often spearheading--many organizations and rallies that fought laws discriminating against women. The combination of Simone de Beauvoir's achievements in arts and letters with her tireless pursuit of peace justice and equality is as rare in human history as it is admirable.


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