Simone de Beauvoir and Binaries of the Body
Simone de Beauvoir is perhaps the most iconic ﬁgure in the history of feminism. She was both a ‘real’ person (known to people still living and the author of a considerable number of novels and works of non-ﬁction), and a ﬁgure surrounded, and constructed, by myth and a considerable degree of projection. For many women she is a model of all that a female person could be; the woman, it is said at the conclusion to a biography about her, to ‘whom women owe everything’ (Bair, 1991). There is, in the United States, a ‘Simone de Beauvoir Society’ and her work is both widely translated and yet furiously defended against some of those translations (Moi, 2010). The twenty-ﬁrst century has a great deal to gain from accurate translation but translation inevitably involves questions of interpretation. It is the interpretation of the ways in which Beauvoir wrote about the body (and that focus on binaries of male and female which she explored) that is the theme of this essay. In presenting thismaterial I shall explore other binaries in Beauvoir’s work that relate to the body and suggest that Beauvoir, much as she has been considered in her own individual terms and said to represent ‘the intellectual woman’ is also representative of general changes that took place in the twentieth century between women and the body (Moi, 1994). In doing this, I also wish to raise questions about the tension in Beauvoir’s work between the absolute and ambiguity, issues explored in circumstances that were both part of the twentieth-century west and of Beauvoir’s own life, a life that remains a subject of debate.