Only mostly knowing what I was getting into with this, I was surprised to learn about the translation (into English) history of this book which cut huge parts of the book out, renamed sections into meaningless terms, and worse, because of the translator’s ignorance of philosophy, rendered much of the philosophical language in the book useless through a flattening or approximation of the terms, when precision was almost certainly embedded in the difference. (I am thinking of the various ways in Heidegger that “desire” gets translated into English through his use of a variety of German terms for specific forms of desire, and English’s much more limited use of that emotion in language).
So this fuller text has only existed in the last 10 years, and not reading it when I was in college or grad school, not only bought me the time to be a more conscientious reader and have a more mature and nuanced understanding of the subject here, this was a book for me (if a loss for readers for 60 years).
So the book almost acts like a textbook tackling “the subject of woman” from multiple fields and in multiple disciplines. It’s initially a biological, political, cultural, and literary history similar to the ways that Edward Said’s Orientalism catalogs orientalist literature over the course of hundreds of years. In this first half, the analytical methods sometimes directly match the approaches (philology, historiography) and other times delve into philosophy and psychoanalytic criticism. The second half of the book turns more into a kind of anthropology of women’s life (again in broad terms).
Over all, what you find in this text is a huge database of information of either an accounting of, or the creation of, the architecture of second wave feminist thought in the 50s, 60s, and beyond. Because of the scope and promise of the long text, it’s oddly granular in some moments, and overly broad in others. It does not seek, and seem unable to offer much in ways of intersectional feminism, except in some passages about lesbians. And ultimately this might be a good thing because while I find the history, the cultural analysis, and the philosophy to be pretty sound, the psychological analysis is pretty grounded in mid 20th century (as it would be) and feels almost immediately dated at times.