Sunday, November 15, 2009

In class we briefly discussed Simone de Beauvoir's book The Second Sex, about women being seen as the “other” sex, coming second to the male norm. This is a concept that has developed throughout the years in all societies, thus a stereotype of woman has been produced. There is the question of how exactly does one “become” a woman. It was explained that women, in society, are understood to act a certain way, to be a certain way, that "one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman." Thus, biology does not determine one’s identity, but it is the social construction that is at the core of identity. However, this attaches certain meaning to the word woman, almost objectifying the woman herself. It has become simply a word, a stereotype: she cooks, she cleans, she wears dresses, she takes care of the children, etc. Society has made meaning for being a woman, yet this meaning is generalized and ambiguous—it almost seems as if the “they” is responsible for constructing this image of what a woman should be and how she should act. So what happens when this idealized image of a woman is gone against? What if a woman should “become” someone who does not fulfill this identity? As we discussed, society then has to make sense of this and form again their own meaning—is she accepted? I think society has developed stereotypes as certain guidelines for certain idealizations. Some woman grow up and “become women” based on these guidelines and might follow this structure and the ones who do not still become women, though it might be that society never accepts them as such, based on their meaning when figuring out their place in the world—every experience is different for an individual and even when following society’s stereotype, no two experiences are alike.


  1. It seems to me that when society tries to fit people into stereotypes, in this case with gender, the outliers almost get a new stereotype themselves, like "tomboy" and "butch" that we mentioned in class. Maybe society doesn't accept them as the first, more common stereotype by creating the second one, and making them mutually exclusive

  2. "Every experience is different for an individual and even when following society’s stereotype, no two experiences are alike."

    I suppose literally speaking, no two experiences are perfectly identical, but two experiences can definitely be alike. If experiences were not alike, then I don't see how we possibly could relate with or empathize with other people, and I don't see how we could meaningfully talk about things like "What is like to a woman, african-american, native american, etc." Yet, we do do these things, and often do so in ways that make perfectly good sense, which others can relate to. I mean if our experiences were not, on some important levels, alike, then how could things like The Feminine Mystique or the Invisible Man have been possible, let alone so influential?

    I think one of our biggest mistake when discussing socially constructed societal cateogies like race and gender, in addition to not recognizing that they are fluid instead of static, is thinking of them as monolithic designators (even if we do often try to use them in this way). Yes, there is definitely the category "woman" but often there are many differing conceptions of womanhood contained under that general heading. Erin, I thought your point about tomboy and butch was a really good example of this. Another one that leaps to mind--albeit one that we don't usually think of as a negative stereotype--is the image of the independent, successful superwoman (e.g. beyonce).

    Another parallel example using the category of race also helps to illustrate this point about how many social categories are not neat or particularly uniform. While I assume we would all agree that Powell is black and Eminem is white, we may still apply different labels to them by saying things like "Colin Powell acts white" or "Eminem acts black."

    Really nice summary of Beauvoir's Second Sex btw.


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