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The Second Sex

Simone de Beauvoir

Glossary of Terms

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Aphasia -  Loss or impairment of the power to use or comprehend words usually resulting from brain damage.
Bad faith -  Jean-Paul Sartre’s term for the flight from liberty, for the wish to be a thing rather than a self and all the agonizing choices selfhood entails. De Beauvoir applies “bad faith” to women who opt for the easy, known life, who flee the possibilities of liberty for the asphyxiating safety of Otherness.
Bluestocking -  A reference to eighteenth-century literary clubs of intellectual women and a derogatory term for an intellectual woman. Men find bluestockings sexually unappealing, which is the primary reason women fear the label.
Gynaeceum -  An enclosed, supervised space where women in Ancient Greece were forced to spend their days, an extreme physical example of the immanence forced on women.
Hetaira -  A “kept” woman or courtesan, usually a cultivated woman who serves as a companion for a powerful man. Although hetairas are generally unmarried, they are equally enslaved to their sexual role, for their livelihood depends on the generosity—i.e., sustained sexual interest—of their keeper.
Historical materialism -  A marxist theory of history that perceives society and its institutions as the offshoots of an economic, or material, foundation. De Beauvoir agrees that humanity is not simply an animal species but a “historical reality,” but it supplies no explanation for the sources of female subordination.
Immanence -  Webster’s defines it as “remaining or operating within a domain or reality or realm of discourse . . . having existence or effect only within the mind or consciousness.” De Beauvoir uses this term to designate the woman’s destiny. Unlike men, who are forever reaching outward, imposing their will on the external universe, women are condemned to be closed-off and interior. The female world is circumscribed and small. Men have projects, activities, and accomplishments in the external world; woman has man.
Electra complex -  Articulated by Freud as the inverse of his Oedipus complex. In Greek mythology, Electra despised her treacherous mother, Clytamnestra, and prayed for her demise. De Beauvoir rejects this theory because it ignores the libidinal differences between men and women, as well as the more traumatic genital development of females. It suggests that woman is simply a mutilated version of man.
Existentialism -  The philosophical movement associated with de Beauvoir, Sartre, Albert Camus, and Martin Heidegger, among other mid-twentieth-century intellectuals. Existentialism is a form of radical atheism concerned with the paradoxical nature of the human condition and the problems of living in the world. In the absence of an unfathomable higher power or absolute knowledge of right versus wrong, the individual must assume responsibility for his own acts. The term transcendence, which de Beauvoir employs often in her discussion of gender, is also central to existentialist thought, which posits that man is always transcending himself by interacting with other beings. Existentialist thinkers also try to understand death in light of meaninglessness.
Frigidity -  A term used to describe sexual “coldness” or indifference in women. De Beauvoir investigates the underlying causes of this condition, which include fear of her own body, inexperience, male ineptitude, and the trauma of the wedding night.
Oedipus complex -  Freud’s term for the phenomenon, often sublimated, of the young boy’s urge to murder his father and marry his mother. In Greek mythology, King Oedipus of Thebes did just this early in his career, without knowing that his victim was his father, or his future wife his mother. As with the Electra complex, the Oedipus complex often results in severe psychological disorders in adulthood.
Parthenogenesis -  Webster’s defines it as “reproduction by development of an unfertilized usually female gamete that occurs especially among lower plants and invertebrate animals.” Female reproductive capabilities need not always rely on male intervention, de Beauvoir reminds the reader, while the opposite is not true.
Psychosomatic -  Bodily disorders that stem from a psychological source. Many illnesses experienced by “hysterical” women are psychosomatic in origin.
Transcendence -  Surpassing the limits of ordinary experience. In The Second Sex, de Beauvoir uses this term to describe man’s active role in the world. Man is always reaching outside himself, imposing his will on the external universe, whereas woman is doomed to interiority, or immanence. The difference between transcendence and immanence is a crucial principle in de Beauvoir’s understanding of gender.

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