Glossary of Terms
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
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
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