The Ideas Live On
A remarkable chapter in French intellectual life and the world feminist movement was sketched out in the writers’ Parisian haunts of Montparnasse and the Left Bank in heady debates among Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and their friends. With De Beauvoir’s death Monday at 78, the chapter closes but the ideas live on.
For more than 50 years Sartre and De Beauvoir helped shape and keep alive existential thought--the philosophy that people create their own values and control their own lives quite apart from any divine force. On her own, De Beauvoir was the most influential writer on feminist themes in the 1940s and 1950s, perhaps ever. Her book, “The Second Sex,” published in French in 1949 and in English in 1953, argued for sexual equality and against women living their lives solely through men. More than any other single work,it started the questioning of instinctive discrimination.
Knowing that she would have to support herself after her father’s financial ruin and rebelling against marriage as “an alienating institution,” De Beauvoir was the model of an independent woman who cared about the advancement of other women. Her writing and her willingness to crusade for women opened doors that must never be closed again.