Simone de Beauvoir was one of the most influential French philosophers and feminist thinkers of the 20th century. She was an incredible woman who lived during a time when it was extremely difficult for women to have a career and be independent. Her philosophy and writing were truly groundbreaking.
When I first started reading Simone de Beauvoir in college, I had no idea the profound impact it would have on me. As a young woman just beginning to find my place in the world, Simone’s powerful philosophy and life story really resonated with me in a way no other author had before.
Her 1949 feminist masterpiece The Second Sex completely shifted my perspective and understanding of gender inequality. For the first time, I saw clearly how deeply engrained patriarchal oppression of women is in our societies. Simone gave me the analytical tools to question and think critically about concepts I had previously taken for granted, like sexuality, motherhood and women’s prescribed roles.
Most importantly, Simone helped me realize how strong and capable women truly are – we need not see ourselves as inferior or live according to societal limitations. I could be ambitious, follow my dreams and carve out my own identity regardless of gender norms. Reading about Simone’s incredible life pursuing her career and ideals decades before the women’s movement emboldened me to live boldly too.
Nearly a decade later, Simone de Beauvoir’s wisdom and courage still inspire me daily. I am forever grateful for the profound self-awareness and empowerment I gained from discovering her work. She lit a flame inside me that has only continued to grow brighter over the years.
Here is Simone’s fascinating story.
Change your life today. Don’t gamble on the future, act now, without delay.Simone de Beauvoir
Early Life and Education
Simone was born in Paris in 1908 into a bourgeois family. She came from a lineage of wealth and status, with her father working as a lawyer – he aspired to be an actor in his youth – and her mother descended from a prominent banking family. However, the family lost much of their fortune after World War I, forcing them to adjust to more modest financial circumstances.
Even from a young age, she displayed tremendous intellectual curiosity and talent. Fueled by her father’s encouragement of her sharp mind, she displayed a precocious talent for academics. Her father used to brag that Simone thinks like a man!
As a woman in 1920s France, Simone’s marriage prospects would traditionally depend on receiving a dowry. But without the family fortune, this was no longer a viable path. At the same time, fewer opportunities existed for women’s independence and careers outside the home and higher education for women was not strongly encouraged. But her parents insisted for her to have a proper education, so they invested in sending her to a prestigious convent school to continue her studies.
After passing baccalaureate exams in mathematics and philosophy at the age of 17 in 1925, Simone studied mathematics at the Institut Catholique de Paris and literature/languages at the Institut Sainte-Marie. She then enrolled at the Sorbonne to study philosophy.
Having demonstrated exceptional academic ability by passing her baccalaureate exams early, Simone completed her philosophy degree from the prestigious Sorbonne in 1928 at the age of 21, becoming the youngest person to not only take the philosophy exams but also to pass with flying colors!
Meeting Jean-Paul Sartre
In 1929, Simone met another philosophy student named Jean-Paul Sartre and immediately formed a strong intellectual bond. Both were serious academics but also enjoyed lively intellectual debates.
Simone and Jean-Paul spent decades living together in Paris as life partners, though they never officially married. This was profoundly unconventional for the era. This allowed them both to freely pursue their careers and ideals. They often studied and traveled together, challenging the status quo for relationships.
Furthermore, they practiced open relationships where both pursued romantic and sexual relationships with other people freely without jealousy. This was a radical departure from social norms. Not to mention that Simone also pursued relationships with women.
In itself, homosexuality is as limiting as heterosexuality: the ideal should be to be capable of loving a woman or a man; either, a human being, without feeling fear, restraint, or obligation.Simone de Beauvoir
Despite outside relationships, Simone and Sartre maintained emotional and financial intimacy amid their non-traditional domestic setup. They relied heavily on each other. Philosophy was their great mutual passion. They collaborated and double-published works including the influential journal Les Temps Modernes.
However, their relationship was also complex and had power dynamics according to Simone’s later writing. Sartre was still publicly dominant while she worked more behind the scenes.
Throughout their lives, they provided emotional and intellectual support for each other’s work, though their viewpoints diverged somewhat over time, especially regarding feminism and politics.
Ultimately, Simone and Sartre shared an extremely close bond for over 50 years based on mutual admiration, collaboration and pushing boundaries of what was acceptable socially and philosophically. Their partnership was truly unique.
Groundbreaking Feminist Philosophy
Simone established herself as a leading public figure through her magnum opus, The Second Sex, published in 1949. In this seminal work, she took a philosophical look at how patriarchal societies socialize women differently than men. Simone analyzed concepts like motherhood, sexuality, and women’s overall lack of autonomy. The Second Sex helped start modern feminist movements by outlining how gender roles oppress females. It had a tremendous impact and prompted important discussion.
The writer of originality, unless dead, is always shocking, scandalous; novelty disturbs and repels.Simone de Beauvoir
Activism and Later Life
Throughout her life, Simone remained a tireless advocate for equality between the sexes. She defiantly did not conform to expectations of becoming a wife or mother. Instead, Simone focused on her writing and speaking out on women’s issues. In her later years she vocally supported liberal causes like the women’s liberation movement. Simone proved females could have fulfilling, independent careers just like men. Sadly, she passed away in 1986, but her philosophy continues influencing feminists today.
I wish that every human life might be pure transparent freedom.Simone de Beauvoir
A Woman Ahead of Her Time
Simone de Beauvoir was truly ahead of her era. She shattered societal barriers at a time when it was nearly unheard of for women to have such prominent public roles. Through her groundbreaking work The Second Sex, Simone introduced feminism into the intellectual mainstream. Though the challenges she wrote about still exist today, countless women now have more opportunities and freedoms thanks to her voice. Simone’s fascinating life shows what courage and determination can achieve, even in the face of major adversity.
All oppression creates a state of war; this is no exception.Simone de Beauvoir
Simone de Beauvoir dared to think outside the box and challenge the status quo during a repressive period for women’s rights. Through her brilliant philosophy and activism, she helped fight for equality in spheres typically dominated by men. Simone proved females could pursue prestigious careers like any male scholar or public figure. Though the journey is unfinished, she helped start progress toward a fairer world where gender does not determine one’s opportunities or choices in life. Simone’s story inspires people to courageously advocate for justice in the face of difficult odds.
One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.Simone de Beauvoir
Q: What was Simone de Beauvoir’s most famous work?
A: Simone’s groundbreaking 1949 book The Second Sex is considered her magnum opus. It was highly influential in establishing feminism as an intellectual movement and academic discipline.
Q: What movements did Simone de Beauvoir support later in life?
A: In her later years, Simone vocally backed liberal causes like the emerging women’s liberation movement of the 1960s-70s. She remained a passionate advocate for gender equality throughout her lifetime.
Q: What challenges did Simone face as a female scholar in the early 20th century?
A: As a woman in 1920s France, higher education was discouraged and prestigious fields were typically closed off to Simone due to her gender. She had to work extremely hard to prove herself in male-dominated spheres of philosophy and academia.
Q: What was Simone de Beauvoir’s relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre?
A: They were lifelong intellectual partners and close friends, but maintained an open relationship, refusing to conform to marriage norms. This allowed both to freely pursue their careers and political ideals on their own terms.
Q: How did Simone de Beauvoir’s life and work influence feminism?
A: The Second Sex introduced feminist philosophy to the mainstream and helped launch modern feminist movements by outlining how patriarchal gender roles oppress women. Simone provided a framework to critically examine female socialization that still resonates today.