Is Gender a Political Topic?

Through the course of human history struggles between peoples- oppressors and the oppressed, class between classless, race against racists- have marred the chronicles of the past and have risen groups of people to greater heights. Yet, from these struggles another has remained tangential to the equality of the larger half of people until the recent 20th century- the fight for women’s rights and equality. Like the struggles of others segment of society, the mid-century philosopher and feminist, Simone De Beauvoir, asserts that gender issues are inherently political dialogues and endeavors for societal impartiality. The struggles of blacks, Jews, and the proletariat have all been distinctly political in nature, owing to the communal strides towards civil liberties, economic rights, collective advancement in society, social respect and parity, and for political opportunities in governance. These aspirations are markedly political; they have been purposeful movements for the empowerment of a particular group of people in whatever area of society. What these groups have wrestled with is their own perceived “sub-existence” in the eyes of society but progress has been made in these arenas. Likewise, women too have had a sub-existence as the “second sex” and have travailed to be equals to men and De Beauvoir sheds light on this ever-to-be-won struggle.

When looking at the state of women in society, De Beauvoir points out that the plight of women has effectively been “lost” and that “women are in wombs.” These pessimistic perspectives on women’s place in society are buttressed by her notions and assertions that women have contentedly been thought of as the second sex, or the Other, by men. De Beauvoir writes “A man is in the right in being a man; it is the woman who is in the wrong” stressing an inequitable pattern in society. Moreover, she asserts they are viewed as “sexual beings,” carrying with it other manifestly negative connotations. One of her strongest points however, is her suggestion that women are routinely regarded as an imperfect form of man, citing Aristotle, St. Thomas and the Genesis in the bible, as historical examples of uneven standards towards women in history and even remarking that “man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him.” As Man is looked upon as a positive, complete, and sometimes even neutral being, women conversely have reluctantly clung to negative assertions such as their inability to be autonomous and self-serving. De Beauvoir diverges from this outlook, instead viewing sex in existentialist terms with “existence preceding essence” and believing what one does with her or his own existence can eventually decide their essence. Nevertheless, the characteristically negative views of women have been the origins of political, social, and economic inequality between men and women and have spurred the struggles of women.

In comparing the plight of women to the struggles of similar groups-Jews, Blacks, and the proletariat- De Beauvoir asserts that for women, there are no strong linkages between women of different backgrounds and places. For De Beauvoir the absence of a unified history or story, religion or race, common class or education has stemmed the essential conditions for an oppressed people to rise up. While Jews, blacks, and the proletariat share a common religion, tradition and economic and class background, respectively, women suffer from the disadvantages of a disjointed relationship with one another. There are no bonds, no rapport or strong mutual understanding for the conditions that affect women globally. According to de Beauvoir, although blacks in Haiti can describe themselves with the pronoun “We” although that does not occur with women. These universal differences in financial backgrounds, class, religion, tradition act as latent barriers and inhibit the progressive political development for women in their homes, at their churches, on the street, or in society at-large. It becomes harder to fight a social and political struggle without this preconditioned “We” and commonality in resolve and spirit. Further, while the oppression of blacks in Haiti can change, de Beauvoir points out, a change in the state of women all over is harder to come by. To her, women’s state in societies are much more immutable, but they are nevertheless achievable.

Lastly, adding to the second-rate position of women in society is their bondage to men. Nearly all women are tied to men and these relationships, as mothers, daughters, sisters, or as “Mrs.” Changes in the status quo are precluded by an unchanging cycle in the reliance of women on men. In the familial context, women are customarily tied to men financially, and if Engel’s belief that economic freedom leads to all other freedoms, de Beauvoir might believe that personal constraints on women become societal constraints on all- that these economic conditions give rise to many more iniquitous conditions. If one were to believe that any economic power is essentially political power, defined in terms of who gets what, where, when and why, then the issue of gender in relation to the topic of financial dependence becomes one of political independence. Subsequently, it becomes clear that gender parity, as seen by the works of de Beauvoir, is a political struggle tied to the economic, social, and familial troubles of women.


Beauvoir, Simone De. The Second Sex;. New York: Knopf, 1953. Print.

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