The Woman in Love is the chapter from Simone de Beauvoir’s book The Second Sex. The book is the research into the position of women at different periods of our history. According to the author, woman’s subjection dooms her to suffering and makes genuine love impossible for her. The main objective of the chapter is to study behavioral patterns of a woman in love, explore the difference in the men’s and women’s perception of love; and find the ways of reconciling both inner and intersex contradictions.
The primary reason for misunderstanding between a man and a woman is the difference in the perception of love. While it is just a part of his life for a male, for female love is everything (Beauvoir, p.683, para. 1). Byron and Nietzsche support the theory about woman’s absolute devotion to the object of her love, and man’s inability to give the same in return (Beauvoir, p.683, para. 1-2). Cecil Sauvage complements this theory with the idea about natural submissiveness of women (Beauvoir, p.683, para 4). Simon Beauvoir agrees with them on the difference between men’ and women’s behavior in relationships, but argues that woman’s dependence in love is caused by their social position but not by the natural peculiarities of their personalities (p.684, para 1). A woman is raised to be dependent both morally and economically. She is imposed the idea of necessity to have a man to protect her, take care of her, provide for her and be a center of her life. Everything around her, from family to customs, promote the idea that she has to rely on a man rather than try to find her own way in life (p.685, para. 2). A woman yields to the illusion of a man who will rescue her from all the problems and show the meaning of life. She does not know how to exist by herself, because during all her life she is told that the only way to become a personality is to find a man and serve him. Such mentality creates a feeling of inferiority and insecurity. To overcome this emptiness, she devotes her life to finding and then serving a man who “represents male superiority to her” (p.684 para. 2, line 12). Colette Vagabond supports the theory by admitting that woman’s fate is “living in the presence of someone else” (p.687, para. 4). A woman can justify her existence only through love.
Beauvoir also explains the phenomenon of women’s attraction to men who resemble their fathers. Women do not seek fathers’ image in their lovers, but rather want to return to her childhood, when they did not have to decide anything, they were loved and taken care of (p.685, para. 3). Thus, love becomes the escapement from undesired freedom, loneliness and uncertainty. They search for men that will dominate and save them from the necessity to confront reality and make decisions. Katherine Mansfield (p.687, para. 5) and Isadora Duncan (p.688, para. 4) agree with each other on the following thesis: a woman cannot exist by herself; she needs to be elevated by her man. Only he can give her the life purpose and let her feel worthy; without him, she is lost and empty.
Women’s eroticism is another complex and controversial phenomenon. According to Steckel, many women need animal passion or even abasement to achieve sexual satisfaction. This abasement can be compensated by men’s love, loyalty and tenderness (p.689, para. 2). Sometimes sexuality contradicts women’s narcissism, and they chose frigidity to escape from the humiliation of the act of lovemaking. Others separate lust and romantics (p.688, para. 5). Irrespective of a women’s position concerning sex and love, sexual act makes them passive and vulnerable. The magic disappears with the end of the lovemaking when a man no longer needs and wants her, and a woman feels lonely and rejected. She can only survive it if she knows for sure that he loves her (p.690 para.1). Then sex becomes a mystical and holy act that allows a woman to unite with her beloved one; to feel ecstasy rather than abandonment.
A woman desires to merge with the transcend reality through the sexual act with a man she loves. She wants to “go beyond her limits and become infinite thanks to the intervention of another” (p. 691, para.1 line 3). Georgette Leblanc agrees with that saying that there is no thing that is more important than becoming the united soul and body with her beloved one (p.691, para. 1, lines 13-15). However, very soon a woman becomes a dependent partner in the relationships. Her need to serve her man in the attempt at achieving this unity, and self-fulfillment makes her willing to satisfy all his demands (p.691, para. 2, lines 16-17). She is ready to change her appearances, outlook, and a circle of friends, and sacrifice any other occupation to loving him. That is the moment where masochistic self-mutilation starts. If she fails to satisfy his demands, she begins punishing and hating herself, feeling guilty that she is not able to please him (p.692, lines 23-25). Instead of protecting her integrity, she turns against herself. If he leaves, a woman has nothing and nobody – only emptiness in her soul and self-hatred.
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The author stresses that such kind of love is not selfless, because servitude is another form of manipulation. According to Benjamin Constant, the woman starts to demand that man should accept her sacrifices in order to tie him. She also expects he should correspond to the ideal she imagines. Thus, a man feels burdened and even does not have the freedom to be what he wants (p.696, para. 3, lines 18-23). She begins to smother him with her devotion and constant presence in his life and irritate him with her constant whims, jealousy, and importunity. Very soon man starts losing interest in her, because she is no longer passionate and tender woman she was at the beginning, but becomes a real custodian. A man wants his woman to be faithful, but not clingy, insecure and dull. Apart from burdening her man, she subjects herself to suffering, because it is always painful to realize the delusiveness of one’s illusions after the fall of an imaginary idol.
According to Nietzsche, with whom the author sides, woman’s contradicting demands make her miserable in love (p.698, para. 3). She wants her man to belong only to hers and imprisons him; yet, she needs him to be active in the outer world, to be a hero whose life is not centered only on her (p.698, para.2). The solution may be found in woman’s wisdom and ability to find pleasure in being useful and not expecting her man to love her the same way she does. (p.700, para. 2). A woman should not restrict her life to serving her man’s needs or wait for the return from him all the time. She should also have other occupations and responsibilities as a person, a mother, a friend, and a professional not to lose herself.
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Beauvoir argues that man’s and woman’s needs in love are not the same. She agrees with Georges Gusdorf that love should help us to explore ourselves and the Universe through others; but disagrees that men and women are in equal position nowadays (p. 707, para. 1-2). In most cases love relationships is still a form of dependence, escapement or salvation for a woman that will inevitably result in solitude, disappointment and loss (p.707, para. 2). She also disagrees with Nietzsche and Balzac, who claim that devotion and servitude to a man is a woman’s main mission in life. (p.707 -708, para. 3). Instead, she suggests a new form of meaningful relationships – “authentic love” (p.706, para.2, line 26). “One day it will become possible for a woman to love in her strength but not in her weakness, not to escape herself but find herself, not out of resignation but to affirm herself; love will become for her as for man the source of life but not mortal danger” (p. 708, lines 9-12). In other words, she upholds the idea of love as a form of the relationships between two equal personalities, each of whom has his/her values, goals and ways of interaction with the world. Such love will not mutilate, but complement and enrich people. Women should be morally and economically independent personalities with their goals and occupations in order to be able to experience such love.
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Simon Beauvoir’s position on love and sex is challenging. It makes us wonder about our motives and needs in love, and pushes to be honest with ourselves and people we love. It will be useful for women to listen to her advice, and not seek life purpose and self-fulfillment solely in men. Love should be the relationships between two equal individuals who accept each other completely, and do not torture the partner with expectations, demands or whims. In such relationships, people do not live under illusions or in constant fear; they make conscious choices and assume responsibility for them. Only such true and unconditional love can give us happiness and open new ways to explore the world.