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To her, a ‘feminine’ woman is one who accepts herself as Other; ‘femininity’ is the badge of the unfree. Taken together, Beauvoir’s major insights are the foundation of modern feminism.Whether they acknowledge it or not, all contemporary feminists build on Beauvoir’s achievement.But Beauvoir did not spend all the intervening time on her analysis of women’s condition.In January 1947 she travelled to the United States for the first time, and in 1948 she published thus coincided with her discovery of America and with her passionate affair with Algren.Beauvoir assumes that woman, like man, is a free consciousness.In so far as the status of Other is imposed on her, her situation is unjust and oppressive.
The epigraph to the second volume is ‘Half victims, half accomplices, like everyone else’, a line from Sartre’s 1948 play, .
, which had just been reissued in Paris with a new introduction comparing writing to bullfighting (the torero and the writer need the same kind of courage). Thinking about the project, she realised she had to begin by asking: ‘What has it meant to me to be a woman?
’ At first, she thought of the question as a formality, a preliminary exercise to get her into the real work: ‘I had never had any feeling of inferiority, no one had ever said to me, “You think that way because you are a woman”; my femaleness had never bothered me in any way.
To face the French reception of her book, Beauvoir would need the courage of a bullfighter.
The first volume was an unexpected success, selling 22,000 copies in the first week.