[T]he whole of feminine history has been man-made. Just as in America there is no Negro problem, but rather a white problem; just as anti-Semitism is not a Jewish problem, it is our problem; so the woman problem has always been a man problem.

History was written by the victors: a truism that rings especially true in the case of women. De Beauvoir demonstrates this principle in the “Facts and Myths” section of The Second Sex, in her discussion of history since the French Revolution. Notions of femininity, almost without exception, originated in man: man defines the “eternal feminine”; man insists on female mediocrity; man chains his wife to the hearth. Women, who have no voice, cannot be the “problem,” just as the “problem” of Jews and blacks is one invented and perpetuated by their oppressors.

De Beauvoir draws this parallel between women and other oppressed classes of society throughout the book. However, she always includes a significant caveat: unlike Black people in America, Jewish people in Europe, or any other oppressed minority group, woman is not a minority. Females constitute roughly half the human population at any given period in history. Another crucial difference: woman has never lived segregated from man, as Jews have been segregated from Christians and Black people from white people. Economically, woman belongs to a lower “caste”—a term de Beauvoir uses often to emphasize the institutionalized quality of female subordination. Despite her lower caste, woman has always lived alongside her master. Man requires woman to survive, and their mutual dependence makes the fact of their inequality confounding.