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14 - Beauvoir’s Old Age

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 May 2006

Claudia Card
Affiliation:
University of Wisconsin, Madison
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Summary

Surely one of the more off-putting aspects of Simone de Beauvoir's work is her negative depiction of old age in The Second Sex and elsewhere. In the 1940s Beauvoir argued that it was both a woman's “erotic attractiveness and . . . fertility which, in the view of society and in her own, provide the justification of her existence.” For this reason she depicts aging as the deprivation of femininity and value for a woman. She repeatedly describes the experience as une mutilation. Beauvoir suggests that the experience of most women is similar: “Long before the eventual mutilation [la definitive mutilation], woman is haunted by the horror of growing old” (SS 587; DS i i 400), she writes confidently, not distinguishing at this point in her work among the experiences of old age in women of different cultural backgrounds, eras, or life-history.

As is so often the case in her writing, Beauvoir’s rhetoric plays two hands at once. On the one hand, throughout The Second Sex she depicts societal views about femininity and aging that she does not herself support. On the other hand, her writing seems on occasion to abet these views. Her use of the brutal word mutilation is a case in point. Beauvoir uses the term to forcefully remind us that the rejection of older women from the public sphere and the domains of value should be regarded as a violent formof social exclusion.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2003

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