The Second Sex


“....Then from woman’s point of view I shall describe the world in which women must live; and thus we shall be able to envisage the difficulties in their way as, endeavouring to make their escape from the sphere hitherto assigned them, they aspire to full membership in the human race.” Simone de Beauvoir

This series of 16 photographs is a tribute to the book “Le deuxième sexe” written in 1949 by Frenchwoman Simone de Beauvoir (1908 - 1986), a tremendously important work for the women’s liberation movement since it analyses the different reasons for women’s historical inferiority in society. The images in the series represent different women as contemporary paradigms of the inferior position women have endured throughout mankind’s history.
Simone de Beauvoir analyses the historical definition of the man-woman couple as the basic unit, wherein man is One and woman is the Other.
She maintains that it is men who have run the world, while women were forced to take on the role of devoting themselves entirely to marriage and children, at the risk of limiting their freedom and denying their human rights.
Society, family, religion and the law have historically reasserted woman’s inferiority to man. Whereas the One is virile, energy, light, combat, power and intelligence, the Other is passivity, disarray, contradiction, opaqueness and the source of evils. It is Eve who causes man’s perdition, and, with him, that of all humanity. It is the curious Pandora who, through her disobedience, unleashes Earth’s miseries. Pandora is born after man, unfinished, secondary and inferior.
“A woman isn’t born as such; she becomes one” writes de Beauvoir, in reference to the different roles society imposes depending on one’s gender.
In their personal tragedies, the heroines of the series The Second Sex represent that vulnerability which remains untranscended well into the 20th century. Many women, despite their daily struggle against mediocrity and having to face social atavisms, have been unable to achieve the corresponding emancipation and personal recognition. Others are not even the Other; rather, they are “nothing” because it was their unfortunate lot to be born into profoundly misogynistic societies.
Our selection, neither exhaustive nor exclusive, presents different situations related to the feminine condition as represented by 16 women:

Like Mohammed’s youthful wife, Aicha married very young; and total (though unrequited) devotion to her spouse was demanded of her. In many families today, women still risk being disowned and repudiated by society should they engage in “conduct unbecoming”.

Inspired by the great Elienor of Aquitaine, she represents the cultivated woman who, despite her enormous intellectual capacity, is unable to rise in social circles.

Like Angela of Foligno —who in her day relinquished all her possessions for the good of her fellow men, receiving nothing in return— this woman disregards her own happiness.

A high-ranking courtesan and procurer of enormous political influence, this poet of ancient Greece exploited her womanhood for the sake of social advancement. She was charged and prosecuted by a jury of 1500 men and was not permitted to speak in her name.

Heroine from Greek mythology. Abandoned at birth by her father, who only wanted sons, she developed boundless physical agility and intelligence, defeating men in both footraces and hunting, and rebelling against the patriarchal frameworks.

She is the gypsy tobacco seller of Georges Bizet’s opera, murdered by a jealous man.

The virtuous and venerated daughter of the prophet Mohammed, who called her “the noblest woman in Paradise”. Today, she lives on the street and has lost society’s respect and recognition.

Goddess of light and darkness in Mesopotamian mythology, she descends into Hell to save her sister and has no choice but to remain there. Stripped of garments, jewels, crowns, sceptre, she finds herself alone, confronting ghosts and fears. We can find today’s Inana in the hell of poverty, her feminine condition making it even more difficult to find a way out.

This queen of Israel mentioned in the Old Testament is accused of adoring her own god and punished for it. She represents the woman who by herself imposes her convictions in a hostile society.

A figure belonging to the history of ancient Rome, portrayed countless times in art, she is the woman who, ill-treated as regards her person and character, self-destructs.

Unjustly accused of being a prostitute and forgiven by Christ, in contemporary society she is the woman who becomes intoxicated to forget her misfortunes, and who, far from being saved, loses herself in her loneliness.

In Greek mythology, this liberated and intelligent woman elicits mistrust and rejection because she is foreign; unjustly accused of being a sorceress, she is blamed for the plague unleashed upon the city. She represents the difficult social ascent of the woman who emigrates to wealthy societies.

According to Greek mythology, this woman is accused of releasing all the evils of mankind (illness, insanity, vice, passion, sadness, poverty, crime, etc.). She is an example of the myth of a patriarchal society imposed upon a formerly matriarchal society.

According to the Hebrew Bible, this woman bemoans her banished sons in the face of universal indifference. In Judaism, Raquel weeps for an end to the exile and suffering of her descendants.

Saint Rita of Cassia, who lived in the 14th century, was the patron saint of lost causes. She is the woman who today continues to personally endure macho violence.

As the patron saint of Palermo, Sicily, she represents the woman deprived of her freedom and condemned to live in eternal captivity.