Study Guide

Simone de Beauvoir Buzzwords

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This term refers to an educated and intellectual woman (like me), but its original reference was to a group of 18th-century women led by Elizabeth Montagu. The bummer is that men usually use it as a derogatory term—you know, that whole "boys don't make passes at girls who wear glasses" thing.

Bad Faith

This one's a biggie for us existentialists—especially for my main man Sartre. Here's the gist: we're all free, but that freedom comes with a disturbing heap o' responsibility. (I'm a human, which is great, but now I have to deal with social pressure and the repercussions of my choices, so I'm not really free, but at least I can make the choices in the first place, so being free is good.) Some people can't cope with that responsibility so they decide to act like a thing rather than a person who makes decisions—you know, a grown-up.

That's all JP's idea, but I've applied it to women who get comfortable being objects rather than subjects who have to do the hard work of making choices that have real-life results. I've identified three types of woman acting in "bad faith": narcissists, who chuck freedom out the window by acting like bimbos; mystics, who give up freedom to an absolute (i.e., God); and the woman in love, who only lives for her man. You know—the friend who never calls you back after she gets her guy?


This philosophy can trace its lineage all the way back to heavy hitters like Heidegger, but Sartre, Camus, and I picked up on it and gave it our own spin.

Here's what you need to know about existentialism: it is founded on an extreme brand of atheism that says "hey, life is really hard and being human means making all sorts of high-stakes choices. So with God (or any other higher power) absent from the world, you have to make decisions on your own, and that can be some rough stuff."

We're not talking about "Do I look fat in these jeans?" kinds of questions, but puzzles that entail moral knowledge of right and wrong in the grand scheme. And the only one who can take responsibility is you. On top of that, since there's no higher power, when you die you just die. Game over—no beautiful cupids or jet-puffed clouds with harp-carrying angels. Bummer, dude.

Historical Materialism

Do you know anyone who always talks about money? Well that's sort of what historical materialists did. To this fun gang, history and society can only be seen through the lens of dolla dolla bills, y'all. Social class and even history itself always comes down to economics. That's because whoever has the dough owns the means of making things (materials) that people need. You gotta produce and reproduce, consume, and exchange—and all of those actions dictate our social networks. The dynamic controls who's a have, and who's a have-not.


Immanence = inwardness… basically. But I see a nasty little opposition here: men always reach outward, forcing control on the universe and everything and everyone in it. (Block off that river! Make me a meal! Go to bed! There's gold in them thar hills!) Woman's fate is to be inward, contained, and impotent.

Men do things. They develop, construct, kill, expand, demand, while women just sit around waiting for the phone to ring. In that sense, women are "immanent," while men are "transcendent." They get out of the trap of interiority and stake a claim beyond themselves.

Oedipus Complex

Well this phrase has been beaten to death, wouldn't you say? What does it even mean, and why is it so, well, complex? If you ask me, it's not, really.

Coined by Freud, the Oedipus complex suggests that all boys (whether they know it or not) want to murder Dad and marry Mom. So as not to be seen as psychopaths, most boys hold this feeling deep, deep inside (that's called repressing). The phrase comes from the Greek tragedy in which King Oedipus of Thebes unintentionally kills Dad and marries Mom, Jocasta. Oops!


This one sounds just like what it means. Transcendence is rising above or beyond the ordinariness of life. In The Second Sex, I apply this idea to men, who are always imposing themselves and dictating their own lives and everyone else's—for good or ill. Transcendence happens when one pulls it together and acts on their right to freedom.

The Other = Women

Basically. When I use the term "The Other," I'm referring to the oppositeness of oneself, which often comes with negative undertones. Look at it this way: by calling them "other," you aren't calling them by their name, which can be pretty dehumanizing. Your just saying, "You're not us," sort of like you did in preschool, but with fewer boogers.

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