Reconsidering Forms of Dependence in Simone de Beauvoir's "The Second Sex"

Freeman, Mylène, Government - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Balfour, Lawrie, Politics, University of Virginia
Walsh, Denise, Politics/WGS, University of Virginia


Considered a foundational text in feminist thought, Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex (1949) is read as a call for women's independence. Yet this aspect of her philosophy seems to conflict with her concept of ambiguity, which understands human existence as embodied freedom. My objective is to think through the different ways in which descriptions of dependence are employed in the text to investigate this tension. In particular, I examine the language describing debilitation and handicap on which Beauvoir draws to explain the situation of being woman. I inquire on her use of the concept of dependence, its relation to the importance of authenticity and responsibility in her approach to activity, and ask what it means for her to code the woman in this way. In unpacking her descriptions, I seek to argue that Beauvoir’s nuanced understanding of the moral freedom resulting from responsible interdependence can actually be a helpful source for understanding care as important to human existence free from oppression. Examining how she discusses the woman's dependence, this paper seeks to untangle the ambiguous difference between reliance on others as a "handicap" to freedom rather than as a freeing act. I contend that Beauvoir’s philosophy allows for recognizing all human existents as in need of care. Failing to do so, turning away from this moral activity, is a source of oppression. That is, attempting to avoid the ambiguity of existence is itself creating problematic dependence. It therefore can be argued that Beauvoir’s philosophy in The Second Sex, in articulating different forms of the woman’s dependence, indeed suggests the foundation for an ethics of dependence.

MA (Master of Arts)
Beauvoir, dependence, care, feminist disability theory, feminist thought, ambiguity, moral freedom
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