Simone de Beauvoir is lauded as the exemplary feminist (indeed, as the
“mother” of feminism) or lamented as typical of everything that is wrong
with feminism.1 She is celebrated or condemned for advancing a liberal in-
dividualist form of feminism.2 She is denounced for thinking that socialism
will automatically liberate women.3 She is taken to task for not saying she was
a feminist soon enough.4 Her work was ignored by philosophy departments
for decades on the grounds that she merely applied Sartre’s framework to
women, but feminist philosophers have rehabilitated her as the real brain be-
hind Sartre’s pen.5 She is reprimanded for not paying attention to racial and
class divisions among women and for caring only about middle- class white
women.6 She is rebuked for disavowing the body or, contrarily, for magnify-
ing the importance of unseemly bodily functions.7 She is admired for disdain-
ing motherhood, housework, and other “feminine” activities or reviled for
the same.8 She is chastised for advancing gender as an essentialist category or
for not paying enough attention to l’écriture féminine.9 Although her famous
insight, “One is not born but rather becomes a woman,” has been taken up by
trans and queer feminists as a rallying cry for the plasticity and hybridity of
gender, she is considered by many to be thoroughly passé.10
These readings each claim Beauvoir as their own: to be loved, lamented, or
disavowed. But they tend to miss what I will argue is at the heart of her femi-
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