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Double Secret by Rene Magritte (1927)


Prepared by Noelle Leslie dela Cruz, Ph.D. Philosophy Department, De La Salle University

Key points

Beauvoirs framework: Existentialism Woman as Other


by male philosophers about women Gendered dualisms/dichotomies (Illustrative case: Ethic of justice vs. ethic of care)

Four main points of the feminist critique of discourses

Beauvoirs framework: Existentialism

Jean-Paul Sartre & Simone de Beauvoir, c. 1946

Beauvoir was an existentialist thinker and writer. Existentialism, a term coined by Sartre, refers to a 20thcentury philosophical movement which emphasized individual freedom and responsibility

Beauvoirs framework: Existentialism

Existence precedes essence!

Since the human being is pure nothingness, I do not have a fixed or pre-given nature or essence Rather, I continually create my own essence through my actions and choices

Beauvoirs framework: Existentialism

Based on an existentialist framework, Beauvoirs The Second Sex (1949) is a comprehensive account of womens situation, ranging from a discussion of biology, history, and myths to the specific formative years, situations and justifications

Beauvoirs framework: Existentialism

Due to her philosophical analysis of otherness/Woman as Other, Beauvoirs views marked the beginning of the Second Wave of feminist thought

Beauvoirs framework: Existentialism

Whereas First Wave feminism (18th-19th century) was about equality, Second Wave feminism (20th century onwards) focused on a critique of gender roles

Woman as Other
But first we must ask: what is a woman?.... To state the question is, to me, to suggest, at once, a preliminary answer. The fact that I ask it is in itself significant. A man would never get the notion of writing a book on the peculiar situation of the human male. But if I wish to define myself, I must first of all say: I am a woman; on this truth must be based all further discussion. A man never begins by presenting himself as an individual of a certain sex; it goes without saying that he is a man. --Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (1949)

Woman as Other
Thus, humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him; she is not regarded as an autonomous being.... She is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her; she is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absoluteshe is the Other. --Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (1949)

Woman as Other
If woman seems to be the inessential which never becomes the essential, it is because she herself fails to bring about this change.... The reason for this is that women lack concrete means for organizing themselves into a unit.... They have no past, no history, no religion of their own; and they have no solidarity of work and interest.... They live dispersed among the males, attached through residence, housework, economic condition, and social standing to certain menfathers or husbandsmore firmly than they are to other women. --Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (1949)

Male philosophers on women

There is a good principle which created order, light, and man, and an evil principle which created chaos, darkness, and woman.


Of those who were born as men, all that were cowardly and spent their life in wrongdoing were transformed at the second birth into women.... Such is the origin of women and of all that is female. Plato

Male philosophers on women

As between male and female, the former is by nature superior and ruler, the latter inferior and subject.

The husband hath by law power and dominion over his wife, and may keep her by force, within the bounds of duty, and may beat her, but not in a violent or cruel manner.


Francis Bacon

Male philosophers on women

The husband and wife, though they have but one common concern, yet having different understandings, will unavoidably sometimes have different wills too. It therefore being necessary that the last determination (i.e., the rule) should be placed somewhere, it naturally falls to the mans share as the abler and the stronger.

Women have, in general, no love of any art; they have no proper knowledge of any; and they have no genius.

Jean Jacques Rousseau

John Locke

Male philosophers on women

Women will avoid the wicked not because it is unright, but only because it is ugly.... Nothing of duty, nothing of obligation!.... They do something only because it pleases them.... I hardly believe that the fair sex is capable of principles.

Immanuel Kant In an uncorrupted woman the sexual impulse does not manifest at all, but only love; and this love is the natural impulse of a woman to satisfy a man.... Johann Gottlieb Fichte

Male philosophers on women

Women are directly fitted for acting as the nurses and teachers of our early childhood by the fact that they are themselves childish, frivolous and shortsighted; in a word, they are big children all their life long.

Arthur Schopenhauer

With regard to sexual relations, we should note that in giving herself to intercourse, the [unmarried] girl renounces her honour.... Girls have their essential destiny in marriage and there only.
GWF Hegel

Male philosophers on women

The obscenity of the feminine sex is that of everything which gapes open.

Jean-Paul Sartre The being of woman.... is rightly described as charm, an expression which suggests plant life; she is a flower, the poets like to say, and even the spiritual in her is present in a vegetative manner.

Sren Kierkegaard

Male philosophers on women

Man should be trained for war and woman for the recreation of the warrior; all else is folly.

Woman [should be conceived] as a possession, as property that can be locked, as something predestined for service and achieving her perfection in that.

Everything in woman is a riddle, and everything in woman has one solutionit is called pregnancy. Guess who?

Some gendered dualisms*

man/woman culture/nature mind/body rational/irrational public sphere/private sphere political/personal justice/care civilized/uncivilized (savage) white (race)/black (race) * The terms on the left are privileged, while the terms on the right are othered or devalued

Illustrative case: Ethic of justice vs. ethic of care

Feminist Carol Gilligan, in her book In a Different Voice (1980), critiqued psychologist Lawrence Kohlbergs findings about childrens moral development as biased against girls

Kohlbergs levels of moral reasoning

Illustrative case: Ethic of justice vs. ethic of care

Gilligan argued that girls scored low in Kolhbergs scale not because they were morally deficient, but that the moral paradigm (the ethics of justice) was biased for males Thus she suggested an alternative, the ethics of care

Illustrative case: Ethic of justice vs. ethic of care

Four main points in the feminist critique of discourses

The predominance of men and the general absence of women The application of male standards in universal accounts of life and human nature The denigration of womens nature and experience by male writers, historians, philosophers, scientists, psychologists, etc. The persistence of gendered dualisms wherein the masculine-identified terms are privileged at the expense of the feminine-identified terms