source : http://www.time.com/time/europe/
For better and for worse, she set the agenda for the feminist movement
By NAOMI WOLF - Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2006
In the popular imagination, Simone de Beauvoir is best known as the foremother of contemporary feminism, and as the turbaned, chain-smoking, glamorously intellectual companion of Jean-Paul Sartre. Born in 1908, she rejected religion and conformity in her teens, and then turned to philosophy, becoming a professor in 1929. But after 20 years she realized what many women intellectuals have realized since — before she could really know what she thought, she had to examine what it was to "become a woman." She had to understand what had happened to her brilliant mind simply by virtue of its being housed in a female body, in a culture in which to be female was to be second best.
Her landmark book The Second Sex — published in 1949, later translated into at least a dozen languages and, by the time of her death in 1986, selling more than a million copies in the U.S. alone — defines who we are as feminists today. This is for better and for worse. In her massive book, De Beauvoir described marriage as an "obscene bourgeois institution," and set up the opposition of freedom and duty that would come to characterize the sexual revolution. This opposition is so entrenched in the West that we scarcely notice it is nowhere written in stone.
It was De Beauvoir who positioned Western feminism in general as being a discourse of revolutionary freedom and autonomy — leading to 30 years of constructing women's emancipation as being about choice and liberation, about the right to be as promiscuous as men if we chose, or to change from mother to worker with a shake of our hair.
It is only now that leaders of movements that descend from the Western liberal tradition — in which autonomy is everything — are looking at more communitarian cultures and wondering what we may have missed. Only now, with our saturation in De Beauvoir's freedom, are we realizing that it is nicer to live and die surrounded by loved ones — as much fun as the sexual revolution and all that self-directedness has been. But every movement needs a birth and an adolescence, and without the drastic example of The Second Sex we would not have grown up as women. You have to really be free to truly choose connection. That is Simone de Beauvoir's gift to us.