Simone de Beauvoir and the Left
French philosophers, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre are seen together. | Photo: WikiCommons
Today marks the 110th birth anniversary of Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986), the acclaimed French feminist theorist, who was born this day on January 9th. She is most known for her groundbreaking work, "The Second Sex" (1949) along with her book, Mandarins, which received France’s highest literary award in 1954.
Her phenomenal work on gender and her formulation, "one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman" became the basis for understanding gender as a construct, a core idea for modern-day feminism.
At 21, the French philosopher became the ninth woman, the youngest person ever to obtain the prestigious agrégation in philosophy from the École Normale Supérieur. Some critics have argued that the lack of perspective on race in her work contributed to avoiding discussion about white privilege among second-wave feminists.
De Beauvoir along with her partner, Jean-Paul Sartre, the French philosopher, known for his work on the theory of existentialism, were invited to visit Cuba's capital Havana to meet the Argentine revolutionary, Che Guevara, and Cuban revolutionary, Fidel Castro after the Cuban revolution.
Sartre who is known to have spent copious amounts of time in conversation with Castro later published a series of journalistic articles entitled "Hurricane over the Sugar" with France-Soir, a French publication in 1961.
The articles depicting the Cuban revolutionaries have a poetic quality to them as they contain beauteous descriptions of the Cuban landscapes. The pieces were translated into many other languages including Spanish for Latin American audiences as "Huracan Sobre El Azucar."
In a 1976 interview with John "Tito" Gerassi, a French journalist and scholar, de Beauvoir, elucidated on why a feminist, by default, was a leftist.
"A feminist, whether she calls herself leftist or not, is a leftist by definition. She is struggling for total equality, for the right to be as important, as relevant, as any man. Therefore, embodied in her revolt for sexual equality is the demand for class equality," de Beauvoir wrote.
"In a society where each person’s experiences are equivalent to any other, you have automatically set up equality, which means economic and political equality and much more. Thus, the sex struggle embodies the class struggle, but the class struggle does not embody the sex struggle."
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