Feminist philosophy has always paid particular attention to the concepts such as identity, agency and the physical body to conceptualize their idea of self. The most influential work concerning the formation of women’s identity is founded in the book written by Simone De Beauvoir, “The Second Sex,” which, according to K. Vintges is still relevant for contemporary feminist agenda debates on women’s identity.
The first sub-section exposes Beauvoir’s understanding of the origins of women’s condition of oppression to identify and criticize the dominant western view on women’s self-identity. Hence, it is aligned with the theories proposed by Simone de Beauvoir in her book “The Second Sex.” The second sub-section clarifies the notion of Hegel’s dialectical, which is crucial to understanding Beauvoir’s conceptualization of women’s identity
Women’s conceptualization of their identity.
Simone de Beauvoir exposed the situation of women’s oppression and women’s condition of ‘otherness’ throughout her works and she influenced many contemporary feminist activists, philosophers, and theorists. Her disruptive declaration: “He is a subject, he is the Absolute – she is the other,” clearly states her vision on the condition of women. To be the ‘other’ means to be a non-subject, non-person; the identity of the ‘other’ forcefully convey its essentialization to a mere physical body, and this condition produces an alienated self.
This identity, which has been constructed in binary opposition to men’s identity, has served the purposes of women’s oppression. And “the true problem for a woman is to reject these flights from reality and seek self-fulfilment in transcendence.” In general, feminist theories agree that human actions that, throughout time, became social norms have maintained and reproduced the condition of women as the ‘other.’ And men, who have historically held power and dominance in society, have given these social norms and placed the roles of each gender. By doing so, the man identifies himself with a non-corporeal reality (transcendental, rational, soul) and place the woman as the other. In order to explain the origins of the oppression and her idea of ‘other,’ Simone de Beauvoir derives the ‘self – other’ problem from Hegel’s dialectical relationship of master and slave.
Origins of Oppression: Hegel’s Dialectical and ‘The Second Sex.’
The Hegelian notion of the self embraces the idea that the subject can define its identity only in relation to other subjects. Therefore, achieving self-consciousness about one’s own identity is a process of dialectical transformation towards transcendence. Hegel’s dialectical of master and slave relationship describes an ontological situation where the slave – identified as the dependent and oppressed identity – comes to comprehend his own identity as an independent person by overcoming and transcending his fear; while the master realizes its dependency on the slave.
There are two essential points from Hegel’s dialectic from which Simone de Beauvoir traces her conceptualization of a gendered-other. Firstly, Hegel emphasizes the idea that a subject needs recognition of another human being in order to state its identity and its value, thus since men cannot live in isolation, they assert themselves as essential and set up the other as inessential. Secondly, only by transcending fear, there is the chance of freedom for the ‘other.’ Nevertheless, Simone de Beauvoir recognizes that male-female relationship is somehow different from the slave – master relationship because the privileges and protections given by men’s domination mitigate women’s’ oppression and leave them with their identity tangled with their physical body. This means that women have never played this game of recognition, thus there are neither slaves nor masters they are just the ‘other’. Because Hegel’s dialectic assumes that “reciprocity exists between free beings.” Therefore, it is concluded that the reason why “women cannot engage themselves in the process of recognition is because of gender.”
Immanence and Transcendence
The concepts of immanence and transcendence, present in The Second Sex, expand on the idea of the origins of oppression of women. The term transcendence presents an active, creative mode of existence free from biological constraints. While immanence implies a passive and uncreative mode of existence necessary to survive normally biologically constrained. Judith Butler describes this situation as the “masculine disembodiment and feminine enslavement to the body.” Where women are placed to immanence and men are prone to transcendence.” Additionally, Western philosophy has associated and celebrated women’s nature and women’s lives with the physical body, and body’s functions. And differences and similarities between mind and body are tied with how philosophers, have tended to discuss freedom, knowledge, and reality (1982, 110). Feminist theories have often fought and rejected this fixed idea. Indeed, Beauvoir proposes that immanence and transcendence together are inseparable and fundamental aspects of a human being. As a result, the feminist conclusion is that women should liberate themselves, from the imposed ‘self’ and creates their own understanding of themselves. The basic idea of the feminist identity and the feminist cause is to transform women conceptualization of self from object to subject by challenging power-arrangements that assigned fixed roles to women.
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