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Feminism is one of the philosophical concepts that has raised a lot of controversies in all human societies. It is a theory, ideology and a humanistic philosophy that incorporate men and women for the upliftment and development of the society. To this end, Simone De Beauvoir, a French existentialist philosopher, applied existentialists’ ideas to the situation of the contemporary women. For ages, the woman is seen as a second class citizen, the “other”, an object who is lost and is losing her way, as such, this has doomed her to immanence since her transcendence has been overshadowed and forever transcended by another ego. To her, a woman is a free and autonomous being like all human creatures who finds herself living in a world where men compel her to the status of the “other”. This work is therefore a critical analysis of feminism in the philosophy of Simone De Beauvoir using her Second Sex. With the analysis of feminism, some of the possible findings include that De Beauvoir’s feminism is misogynic, anti-naturalistic and confrontational. This thesis therefore concludes that her feminism is inauthentic, unnaturalistic and is opposed to African feminism.
1.1. BACKGROUND OF STUDY
Feminism is one of the philosophical concepts that have raised a lot of hackles among philosophers. “It is not a new phenomenon. It is as old as
the human desire to be treated fairly and judged equally.”1 This concept therefore dates back to the very beginning of patriarchic domination.
Simone De Beauvoir, a French existentialist Philosopher, in her book, The Second Sex, recognized the problems and oppression of women which she approached from the continental traditions of existentialism and phenomenology. “Her approach focused on the cultural mechanisms of the oppression that left women in the role of the “other”. Her examination encompassed Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, the evidence of the body,
evidence of history and evidence of sociology and representative novelist.”2
She raised the question of what it meant to be a woman. According to her, the category of womanhood is imposed by civilization and the fundamental social meaning of the woman is “other”, which is mysterious. In other
words, the woman is dominated and this domination is caused by men who
have both political and social powers.”3
She therefore denied the existence of any universal human essence, like Jean Paul Sartre and claims that the concept of femininity like the concept of humanity is socially and historically determined.
This thesis is therefore, a critical analysis of Simone De Beauvoir’s philosophy of feminism. The big questions are: what is feminism? What is a woman? Is it that a man makes a woman worthwhile or is she worthwhile in her nature? What are the limitations of feminism? Does a woman not have a right as a human being? All these questions and many of their kinds are the consequences of the problems emanating from such a virilocal society, which has relegated women to the position of the “other”.
1.2. STATEMENT OF PROBLEM
The “woman” question is one of the philosophical questions that have existed for ages and it still exists. The woman is conceived by different scholars from different perspectives. Most conceptions of the woman are vitriolic; that is, she has a lower social and economic status, as such she is viewed as primarily ornamental and nurturing. These problems of the
woman can therefore be compared to African predicament: the woman is like Africa, the way the woman is regarded is also the way Africa is perceived; as an inferior and a second class citizen.
Simone De Beauvoir identified religion (Christianity) and male domination (patriarchy) as the main causes of the problems of women. These factors (christianity and patriarchy) regard the woman as the other who becomes alienated from herself. She therefore asserts that one is not born, but becomes a woman, that is to say that, a woman is nothing but what she makes of herself; it is neither nature nor biology that defines her.
1.3. PURPOSE OF STUDY
The purpose of this study is to inquire, discover and criticize the concept of feminism in the philosophy of Simone De Beauvoir. It would also improve our knowledge of philosophical anthropology and existentialism, especially on feminism, by pointing some flaws in Simone’s feminism, using African feminism.
1.4. SIGNIFICANCE OF STUDY
The significance of this thesis is to investigate, discover, criticize and discuss Simone De Beauvoir’s concept of feminism and feminism in
general. We shall give a comprehensive knowledge of the nature of a woman, general concept of feminism as well as Simone’s conception of feminism. It shall also encourage women not to rely on societal views about them nor see men as the origin and end of their salvation. They should struggle, for they are nothing but what they make of themselves, since the dignity of a woman is to contribute both to her family and society at large. It shall also add to our knowledge of existentialism, and as well criticize Simone De Beauvoir’s existential approach to feminism.
1.5. SCOPE OF STUDY
The scope of this thesis is solely on Simone De Beauvoir’s philosophy of feminism. Although the concept of feminism and African feminism will be analyzed but it will be limited to Simone De Beauvoir’s philosophy of feminism.
The method of this thesis is a critical analysis of feminism in the philosophy of Simone De Beauvoir. It is a philosophical, existential, anthropological and cultural examination of the conception of feminism in the philosophy of De Beauvoir. Works on feminism especially, De Beauvoir’s The Second
Sex is paramount for this research. Journals, Magazines, Textbooks, Newspapers, Encyclopedia etc are also used in the writing of this thesis.
This thesis is divided into five chapters for easy reading and clarity. Chapter one contains the general introduction as well as the general structure of the work. Chapter two takes care of the literature review while chapter three focuses on feminism in the philosophy of Simone De Beauvoir. Chapter four concentrates on a critical analysis of De Beauvoir’s philosophy of feminism, targeting African feminism. This is followed by chapter five, which is evaluation and conclusion.
1.7 DEFINITION OF TERMS
1.7.1. A Woman
A woman is an adult of the human race. As a child, a woman belongs to the group of girls and as an adult; she belongs to the women-folk. “A woman is
the opposite of a man; sex therefore distinguishes a man from a woman”.4
A woman is a female biologically. “Menstruation, defloration, pregnancy, child birth, lactation and biological preparedness differentiate a woman from a man. A woman therefore is an entity distinct from a mere object that
is, an end in itself and a source of value in her own right”.5
The term feminism is derived from the Latin word Femina which simply means woman. The Dictionaries have the definitional idea of feminism. Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy defines feminism as the approach to social life, philosophy and ethics that commits itself to correcting bias leading to
the subordination of women….6 Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of English Language defines feminism as the belief and aim that women
should have the same rights and opportunities as men.7 Encyclopedia Britannica defines feminism as the belief, largely originating in the west, in the social, economic and political equality of the sexes, represented worldwide by various institutions committed to the activity on behalf of
women’s right and interest.8
Feminism also “stands for the thinking, theory, philosophy or ideology, which has to do with the changing conditions of women (and men) in the
historical evolution of the human race”.9 “Feminism therefore is the advocacy of social equality for men and women, in opposition to patriarchy
However, feminism views the personal experiences of women and men through the lens of gender, that is how we think of ourselves (gender
identity), how we act (gender roles), and how our sex social standing (gender stratification) are all rooted in the operation of the society. Feminism is another “contemporary movement that is seeking to rethink
philosophy”.11 It is a humanistic philosophy that incorporate as well as unite men and women for upliftment and development of the society. They not only describe the society but change it, recognize men and women as different and equal. In other words, it questions some of the underlying assumptions of the western tradition in philosophy and seeks to develop a new model for doing philosophy. “Feminism is sometimes, caricatured as a movement of political reaction, but from a feminist’s perspective, this constitutes a rather transparent strategy to undermine the philosophical
authenticity of feminist thinking”.12
Historically, Feminism is divided into three categories namely:
1. Equity, Liberal or First Wave Feminism.
2. Gender, Radical or Second Wave Feminism.
3. Socialist or Marxist Feminism
Finally, it is “a socio-political orientation that seeks to eliminate bias based on gender and to value women’s achievement, experience and
perspective”.13 A school of thought that attempts to describe, explain and
analyze the conditions of women’s lives; that is, a way of viewing the world and proposes strategies for activism and action to ameliorate the conditions in which women live and work.
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