Criticizing Women: Simone de Beauvoir on Complicity and Bad Faith

In Berislav Marušić & Mark Schroeder (eds.), Analytic Existentialism. Oxford University Press (forthcoming)
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One of the key insights of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex is the idea that gender-based subordination is not just something done to women, but also something women do to themselves. This raises a question about ethical responsibility: if women are complicit, or actively implicated in their own oppression, are they at fault? Recent Beauvoir scholarship remains divided on this point. Here, I argue that Beauvoir did, in fact, ethically criticize many women for their complicity, as a sign of what she called “bad faith”. I challenge recent accounts by Nancy Bauer and Manon Garcia, who both read Beauvoir as exonerating complicit women. According to this reading, women emerge as human “freedoms” within a social world where a “destiny” of inferiority is already prepared for them. Their self-subordination is then an inevitable product of acting in a patriarchal world. I argue, however, that this interpretation generates a crucial tension, leading Bauer and Garcia to call on women to stop being complicit, while also claiming they cannot avoid complicity. I propose instead a different interpretation, on which feminine complicity is often fueled by criticizable ethical attitudes that are far from inevitable. By revisiting Beauvoir’s notion of “bad faith”, I show that this account is compatible with recognizing the limitations imposed on women’s agency and I show that this feminist ethical criticism is itself an important part of a collective project of social transformation.



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Filipa Melo Lopes
University of Edinburgh

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How to Do Things With Pornography.Nancy Bauer - 2015 - Harvard Univeristy Press. Edited by Sanford Shieh & Alice Crary.

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