Rosemarie Tong, Feminist Thought: A More Comprehensive Introduction

Existential Feminism

Summary, Chapter 5, Part II (pp.181-191)

Serene Dussell


The fifth chapter of Rosemary Tong's book, Feminist Thought: A More Comprehensive Introduction, is concentrating on existential feminism. She talks about this topic through an analysis of Simone De Beauvoir's book The Second Sex. In this summary, I will be writing about the second half of the chapter, which includes pages 181-191.

She starts out talking about how De Beauvoir views Freud's explanation for woman having a feeling of "otherness", (feelings of being the other sex, instead of one of the two sexes), as incomplete. De Beauvoir believes that woman's low social status is not only due to a woman's lack of having a penis but because they also lack power.

She goes on mentioning that De Beauvoir also disagrees with the Marxist idea that because woman perform tasks such as cleaning, cooking and child bearing and men perform tasks of hunting and fishing, men represented the class of "bourgeois" and woman represented the "proletariat". She says that a move from capitalism to socialism would not necessarily change the relationship for the better. She continues to say that as a result women are just as likely to remain on the bottom side of society, due to an original aspiration of the male sex to dominate over the female sex.
De Beauvoir also believes that men have created myths about women. In sum, the ideal woman, is a woman who believes it is her duty to sacrifice herself for her man. She believes what makes the myth so horrible is that many women come to internalize this thought as an accurate reflection of what it means to be a woman.

She goes on to talk about how this sense of "otherness" is cemented in the institution of marriage and motherhood. She believes marriage transforms freely given feelings into mandatory duties.
De Beauvoir mentions how she believes three kinds of women role-play the woman to an extreme, the prostitute, narcissist, and the mystic. The worst part about all of these roles played out by women, (mother, wife, prostitute, narcissist and mystic), are constructed by man.
According to Beauvoir, there are four ways that women can overcome this oppression. Women should: go to work, become intellectuals, work towards social reform, and refuse to internalize the "otherness" that has been created.

There are also some critiques mentioned about this idea of Existential Feminism that is presented by De Beauvoir. It was mentioned that the book is not accessible to the majority of women in the world. Also, the difficult words and ideas used in this book aren't lived experiences but they come from abstract thoughts and an educated mind. She is also criticized about the negative attitude she represents of the female body. She was also criticized for celebrating the male norm and referring woman as passive and submissive.

And in conclusion the issues are brought up about whether transcendence or immanence is more important for women to overcome sexism. And also, these ideas create the question: Should feminism be embraced or rejected? She is asking women to cast off the weights impeding their progress toward authentic selfhood.