Simone de Beauvoir and Karl Marx

By the claim ‘the second sex’, Simone de Beauvoir tried to explain the view that was placed on women and how members of this gender had been treated throughout the course of history. She claimed that historically, women were viewed differently from the men. The male sex was taken to be the normal sex. Women on the other hand were taken to be the ‘Other’ sex different from the normal sex or the men. She was inspired by existentialist philosophy, which was composed of two entities. These were essentially the ‘Self’ part and the ‘Other’ part. (Appignanes 2005) The self was taken to be the active and the knowing subject and was the male. Simone was of the view that the other subject lived for the self and this was the female. She argued that the female occupied a secondary status in both activities they could perform and in subject consciousness.

She stated that the female represented the opposite traits of the male subject such as submissiveness, obedience and powerlessness (Appignanes, 2005). They only exist because they are conceived of by men. She stated that they have no existence in their own right. She attempted to create a historical model of women’s subjugation. She argued that men had created an inexistent secrecy around themselves and were using this to portray the woman as the ‘Other’. Men used this reason as a justification not to understand women, their lives, their issues and not to assist women in their problems. She stated that men took advantage of this to arrange and systematize society into a patriarchy.

Inspired by her existentialist believes, she claimed that existence will always lead to essence.  Therefore, one is never born a woman but turns into one (Appignanes, 2005). She tries to separate the biological part of a woman from the feminist part. No wonder she concludes her work by stating that a woman is not determined by her hormones or instincts but by the manner in which her body and her relation is regulated through the action of others around her. Due to the view placed on women, it became hard for them to succeed in life. She argued that women could only develop if the believes placed on them were set aside. A new mode and way of analysis women was therefore necessary. This inspired the feminist movements of the 1950’s (Appignanes, 2005).

However, her work can be criticized because of the type of evidence she uses. She over relies on literature and cultural products to authenticate her work. She also heavily criticizes the theoretical streams of biology, psychoanalysis, and historical materialism and decides to adopt historical ethnography as seen through the existentialist eyes. This ends up creating a very weak argument. As a result, she creates a tautology and falls into the same theoretical trap she had previously criticized.

The instructor’s views are line with the views that Mill had on liberty. This because most concepts of liberty were influenced by the issues put across by John Stuart Mill. He contributed to the understanding of liberty. He described ‘liberty’ as the freedom to do ones own will or the lack of compulsion. He was of the view that the situation was that which an individual is protected from oppression. He perceived liberty to be the freedom for one to exercise authority or act as he felt like. He analyzed the nature and extent of power that society can legitimately apply on its members. He used the harm principle to make his analysis. This stated that an individual has the right to do as wishes as long as what he engages in does not harm others. The society cannot intervene even in situations where the individual might harm himself. However, the harm principle prevents the individual from causing permanent harm to both himself and his property. He was of the view that the individual was sovereign thus could anything whether beneficial to himself or not. However, Mills principle did not apply for people living in ‘backward’ states. In his states, the government can interfere with the activities of the people so long as it has the interests of the people at heart. Mills was of the view that power can rightfully be applied against any member of the society only to the individual from hurting other individuals. Mills viewed freedom under a legitimate government whose aim was preserving the greatest good.

Karl Marx counters and provides a different view from what John mill had. Karl Marx was of the view the class relations defined individual liberties and freedoms. He was of the view that societies evolved towards liberty and equality historical stages. He perceived capitalism to be the precursor to true freedom and liberty. It was a critical element in the development of true equality and liberty. Karl Marx described true liberty and equality as the situation in which human beings could fulfill their co-operatives roles in society without the fear of exploitation. This was only possible under conditions of communism. Karl Marx opposed Mill’s view that consciousness of men that formed their being. He was of the view that an individuals social being that made up his consciousness. Marx argued that in the capitalist world, there is little equality. This is because they have some advantage over other societal members. They control and oppress an individual’s freedom. For instance, in the Hindu community, the society is made up of different classes. The different classes form and maintain values and beliefs that only favor their class and oppress the liberties of other classes. This is also seen in the American society where the wealthy Protestants dominate the social institutions. Marx considered religion to be another cause of alienation.

As an American, one should advocate the approach developed by Mills. As a member of a local church, one should advocate for the approach developed by Karl Marx. Karl Marx explained alienation as the separation of things that naturally belong together or the competition of the factors that were formerly on harmony. He explained social alienation as the separation of people from aspects of their human nature. He perceived capitalism to be the major cause of alienation. Marx stated that alienation was experienced in rising industrial production under capitalism. Workers had no control of their lives, selves and or the work they did. In the system, the workers were never independent. They were under the control and influence of the capitalist class. Alienation results because the production system is privately owned. Persons providing the labor are taken to be instruments and commodities of production.

Marx explained different types of alienation that workers experienced. The first type is the alienation of the worker from their fellow workers. This arises because capitalism cuts off the social relationship that exists between human beings. There is also alienation of the worker from the products they produce. This arises because the worker mostly never gets to see the final product. It also arises because most manufacturing is made by machines. Another cause for this alienation is the fact that workers are paid on an hourly basis not on a product basis. Finally, there is alienation of the worker from his work. This arises due to the fact it is the capitalist who decides what the worker will do. This results in the worker deriving minimal pleasure from the performance of his work. The work he does never benefits him in any way. It benefits the capitalist making him richer and more powerful.




Appignanesi, Lisa. Simone De Beauvoir Life & times, London: Haus Publishing, 2005

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