Study Guide

Simone de Beauvoir Influences

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Pyrrhus and Cineas

In my premier philosophical text, Pyrrhus and Cineas, I look at the human conundrum by way of the story of this Greek general and his pal Cineas.

Here's how it goes down: Pyrrhus of Epirus claims this big victory, and Cineas asks him what he wants to do after he conquers his next empire. It turns into a series of and then what?s, sort of like a conversation with a 5-year-old. After blathering on about all of these empires Pyrrhus wants to conquer, he admits that after all that action he'll finally rest. So Cineas says, "why not take a chill now if you plan to take a break eventually anyway?" which is a fair point.

But it's a bit complicated. If you ask me, Pyrrhus is stuck on the hamster wheel of victory and basically fails to have any imagination. His whole need to endlessly conquer new territories is like the power lust of a bad comic villain.

A Vindication of the Rights of Women

Look, I think Mary Wollstonecraft was a great writer. And her work A Vindication of the Rights of Women was a fabulous feminist work before the "f-word" even existed. We agree on the fact that women are oppressed and treated as inferior to men and so on and so forth. I'm also down with how she got all inflamed about the tradition of women as wifey and her belief that society needs to put on its big boy pants and transform itself so women can finally bust out of traditional roles.

But—and this is a big but—I still think she covertly put men on a pedestal and thought maleness was what women should emulate. I reject that wholeheartedly, thank you very much.

Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality

I just do not have faith in Monsieur Freud and his whole psychoanalysis thang. He actually has the nerve to suggest that there is only one kind of libido—and guess what?—it's a male libido. Feminine libido just does not have "its own original nature," apparently.

Ugh. He's just another one of those male virility worshippers. He doesn't get that masculinity is one big social construction. Look, men aren't born with hammers in their hands any more than women come out of the womb wearing a Deluxe Girls Light-Up Cinderella Costume.

The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State

To be fair, Friedrich Engels had some solid criticism of historical materialism. But I have a major beef with his train of thought: first came copper, tin, bronze, and iron, which led to the plough, and then along came private property and voila—the oppression of women. He called this "the great historical defeat of the feminine sex." But then he won't back up his argument. Evidence, I say! (It can't be that hard to find some.)

Citizen Kane

This Orson Welles film really blew me away. And not because Kane forces his wife to be an opera singer even though she has no talent. I think Wells radically transformed cinema—especially the innovative way he makes the backgrounds as clear as the foregrounds, and shows the ceilings in interior shots. Two thumbs up.


Colette is definitely a member of the sisterhood. I mention her all over The Second Sex. You know, I never had children (how can you have time to write 600-page feminist manifestos when you have to pick up diaper rash ointment at Rite-Aid?). So I really feel a kinship with other thinking ladies who did not have children (you know—the readers vs. breeders debate), like Virginia Woolf. Colette gets a pass because even though she had a daughter, she promptly shipper her off to surrogate parents and just had this right-on idea that motherhood was a menace to her integrity. (Glad I'm not alone in that!)

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