Human Conditions: ‘The Second Sex’ by Simone de Beauvoir

Judith Butler and Adam Shatz

Judith Butler joins Adam Shatz to discuss a landmark in feminist thought, Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex (1949). Dazzling in its scope, The Second Sex incorporates anthropology, psychology, historiography, mythology and biology to ask an ‘impossible’ question: what is a woman? Focusing on three key chapters, Adam and Judith navigate this dense and dizzying book, exploring the nuances of Beauvoir’s original French phrasing and drawing on Judith’s own experiences teaching and writing about the text. They discuss the book’s startling relevance as well as its stark limitations for contemporary feminism, Beauvoir’s refusal to call herself a philosopher, and the radical possibilities released by her claim that one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.

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