The Second Sex
Simone de Beauvoir
Contributed by Fernande Huls
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Symbols are objects or figures that artists use to represent an idea.

Throughout The Second Sex, de Beauvoir refers to the phallus as a symbol of masculine superiority and virility. Because a phallus is a more obvious and active element of the body than is the female reproductive organ, it is easier for men to identify with it than it is for women to identify with theirs. Thanks to thinkers like Freud, the phallus symbolizes man’s dominant position in society and woman’s envy of this position. It allows a man to be more active in his sexual life, and symbolizes what woman lacks in her own life.


For de Beauvoir, nature functions as a symbol for men’s approach to women. Nature is often equated with woman throughout the text; either women are depicted as a natural force in myths, or they are associated with nature through their appearance and function in society. de Beauvoir discusses nature as a force that men both respect and fear. It is the basis of life, but is also unpredictable and occasionally deadly. In the same way, men approach women with ambivalence because they exist outside of social life and contribute to reproduction in important ways, but can hinder man’s progress in civilization.

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