Analyse & Kritik Issue 2 – The Continuing Relevance of Beauvoir
In 2023, the Center for Critical Democracy Studies began a partnership with the philosophy and social theory journal Analyse & Kritik. Here, Editor Anton Leist presents the second issue of the journal, which focuses on the work of Simone de Beauvoir and its enduring impact.
The Continuing Relevance of Beauvoir
Beauvoir was one of the first to make clear that gender, race, and ability are not innate or fixed features of bodies, much less corporeal indicators of physical, social, psychic, and even moral inferiority, but are themselves dynamic phenomena that have the potential to overturn accepted notions of normalcy, naturalness, and normativity. Working with both a conceptual background of ambiguous social relations and an existential idea of freedom, Beauvoir launched a radical attack on the cultural formation of both, femininity and masculinity, that is, on ‘gender’, as poststructuralist thinkers like Judith Butler stated later. Beauvoir made us sensitive to how an individual’s or group’s gender, race, and bodily abilities differentially affect how their bodies are responded to by other bodies, or how suppression and emancipation play out at the level of largely unconsciously formed and bargained for psychosocial identities.
Intriguing as such radical reflections are, they also bring along a bag of normative and empirical ambiguities. If gender roles have to be reconstructed critically under conditions of freedom and equality, how to state these conditions more explicitly? Are freedom and equality, and which kind of freedom and equality, the sole and uncontested normative basis from which to reconstruct, construct or negotiate feminine and masculine psychologies? Are there tensions between equality and freedom in feminist concerns? What are they and how can they be reconciled? Are the most recent turns in feminism – neoliberal and post-feminism – helpful in dealing with these tensions? If we can assume that freedom and equality are widely accepted normative principles for gender relations, how can we explain the persistence of gender hierarchy? And is a recourse to the existentialism of Beauvoir fruitful in the present situation, or, if not, what has changed meanwhile?