At many different stages in one’s life, our plans might not work out exactly as we wanted. It is even possible that those we hoped would be there for support and encouragement don’t actually agree with what we’re trying to accomplish. This is true in all kinds of situations: cultural, social, political, spiritual. Though our detractors might give great justifications for why or why not, feeling that pressure to align with familial or public consensus often leaves us confused and uncertain.
For Simone de Beauvoir, growing up in Paris way before women had the same rights and freedoms as today, she had to have incredible perseverance to strive through everything that was against her.
Growing up in a relatively traditional family situation, there wasn’t a lot of room for her to pursue the diverse and unique thinking she possessed at a young age. Detailed in her novel ‘Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter’, she describes her whole life process from childhood to adulthood, and even becoming the youngest person ever to pass the agrégation test, finishing second to her classmate Jean-Paul Sartre. Later they had a powerful relationship that has often become a way that Simone de Beauvoir is unfortunately referred to, mistress of Jean-Paul Sartre. Her works and accolades are as great or greater than her lover’s, but what she had to struggle against in order to be the best is incomparable.
Though she was a very strong student, women at the time were not encouraged towards upper education. If they were gifted, the only route for them, or at least the only encouraged route, was towards teaching. Not that there is anything wrong with teaching, but the social considerations were that higher university levels of education, where the pursuit of new thinking and innovation were the goals, were strictly for men. At her time there were only 9 other women to graduate from the Sorbonné. Her own father did not want her to pursue this direction, and as she explained in her memoirs, women were given only two options, marry a rich man or work a menial job.
Never willing to accept the status quo, Simone de Beauvoir wrote what is considered by many one of the greatest examples of feminist literature ‘The Second Sex’. She also became one of the major leading existentialists, helping the new philosophy form in its early stages. The open relationship that she had with Sartre, detailed in ‘She Came to Stay’, shows that both pursued relations outside of their extraordinary way of experiencing partnership. With such a prolific career and her contributions to philosophy and feminism, its weird to think that she was nearly alone as a woman in the ranks of men. If she had just accepted that the safe road in life was marriage or a small income, and she had obeyed her father and the social pressures of the time, the world would be lesser.
Author: Jonathan M. Bessette