Reception of The Second Sex in Europe

Cover of "Le Deuxième Sexe" (The Second Sex) of Simone de Beauvoir, first edition, Gallimard editions, 1949.


From the date of its publication in France in May 1949 to the 2000s, the European reception of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex—of which the French component is well known—gave rise to many debates and critiques in literary and political circles as well as among feminists. Its contents indeed challenged the dominant sexual order, and served as an invitation for the liberation of morals and gender equality. Neither the work nor its reception can be separated from the rest of the author’s work, or from her life, travels, and political commitments. Until the mid-1960s, the critical reception was closely linked to the international diffusion of French existentialism as well as the political and cultural logic of the Cold War. Feminist debates dominated from the 1960s to the 1980s, before the development of Beauvoirian studies led to a scholarly reevaluation of the book.