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Otherness (Feminism)

AQA, Edexcel, IB

Last updated 26 May 2019

The concept of otherness derives from the pioneering work of the second-wave feminist Simone de Beauvoir. Otherness seeks to examine how majority and minority identities are constructed.

Otherness claims that the representation of different social groups is controlled by those who hold a greater level of political power. Whilst identities are often thought to be natural and innate, de Beauvoir claims that this is not true. Instead, the identity of females is constructed by men to serve their own interests. Women are thereby presented as the other sex. This sense of otherness is a highly effective form of patriarchal rule and a major obstacle towards female emancipation. In her succinct words, “he is the subject, he is the absolute – she is the other.”

To combat the problem, Simone de Beauvoir prescribed a socialist system built upon gender equality and liberation from the inherent exploitation of the capitalist system. In addressing the question ‘What is a woman?’ she claimed that there is no eternal feminine or essence that defines a woman. Women are not born, they are made. Patriarchy imposes limitations upon women, and once told they are inferior, women are made to feel inferior throughout their entire lives. In contrast, non-exploitative work within a socialist system would liberate both men and women and generate a sense of solidarity among all people. It is for such insights that Simone de Beauvoir remains the most important theorist within socialist feminism and one of the most prominent feminists of the second-wave.

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