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Simone de Beauvoir and the feminist revolution
Simone de Beauvoir and the feminist revolution

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In this course, you have learned some of the main ideas of existential philosophy, particularly those of Simone de Beauvoir. You have learned that, from the assumption that there is no God who has created human beings, existentialists including Sartre and Beauvoir conclude that human beings have no essence, unlike objects. Since they have no pre-determined nature, human beings are free, and they create themselves through their choices and actions. For existentialists, to deny that we are free means to be in ‘bad faith’. You learned that Sartre believed the ‘Other’ makes a person aware that other people see him as a determined being, an object.

Simone de Beauvoir shares with Sartre this general picture, but also shows that women in current society are always the ‘Other’. They are seen, and often see themselves, as having a pre-determined nature, that is as being ‘feminine’ and having fixed characteristics. Beauvoir criticises this state of affairs, but also emphasises that women find themselves in a situation which often prevents them from being free to create themselves. Beauvoir intended her philosophy as means and justification of revolutionary changes in the conditions of human beings in general, but also thought that women and black people in white majority societies experience specific constraints to their freedom and self-creation.

Figure 8 Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris, c.1955.

This free course is an adapted extract from the Open University course A113 Revolutions [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] and is also one of four OpenLearn courses exploring the notion of the Sixties as a ‘revolutionary’ period. Learn more about these OpenLearn courses.