, Volume 53, Issue 2, pp 275–287 | Cite as

Past her Prime? Simone de Beauvoir on Motherhood and Old Age



Despite her reputation as the ‘Mother’ of second-wave feminism, Simone de Beauvoir is not usually heralded as a mother-friendly feminist. In The Second Sex, the passages dedicated to the female body—and especially the pregnant female body—have been dismissed as unfortunate expressions of internalized patriarchy or personal idiosyncrasy. By comparing Beauvoir’s later analysis of old age to aspects of the experience of pregnancy and early motherhood, this essay suggests that Beauvoir’s later work Old Age offers a rich untapped resource for understanding her thinking on maternity.


Beauvoir Old age Ageing Motherhood Maternity Mothering Ethics The Second Sex Pregnancy 



Beauvoir (1976) Ethics of Ambiguity, trans. B. Frechtman. New York: Citadel Press


Beauvoir (2012 [1949]) The Second Sex, trans. Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier. New York: Vintage. Pagination references are to the Vintage e-book edition


Beauvoir (1977 [1970]) Old Age, trans. Patrick O’Brian. Harmondsworth: Penguin


  1. Friedan, B. (1963). The feminine mystique. New York: Dell.Google Scholar
  2. Hansen, E. T. (1997). Mother without child: contemporary fiction and the crisis of motherhood. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  3. Hartsock, N. (1985). Money, sex, and power: toward a feminist historical materialism. Boston: Northeastern University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Jeremiah, E. (2006). Motherhood to mothering and beyond: maternity in recent feminist thought. Journal of the Association for Research on Mothering, 8(1–2), 21–33.Google Scholar
  5. Kitzinger, Sheila. (1987). The experience of childbirth. London: Penguin.Google Scholar
  6. Kruks, S. (1992). Gender and subjectivity: Simone de Beauvoir and contemporary feminism. Signs, 18(1), 89–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Maushart, S. (1999). The mask of motherhood. New York: The New Press.Google Scholar
  8. Nelson, Katherine S., Kostadin Kushlev, Tammy English, Elizabeth W. Dunn, Sonja Lyubomirsk. (2013). ‘In defense of parenthood: children are associated with more joy than misery’, Psychological Science, 30:
  9. Rossiter, A. (1988). From private to public: a feminist exploration of early mothering. Toronto: The Women’s Press.Google Scholar
  10. Russell, C. S. (1974). Transition to parenthood: problems and gratifications. Journal of Marriage and Family, 36, 294–302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Walters, M. (2005). Feminism: a very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Whitmarsh, A. (1981). Simone de Beauvoir and the limits of commitment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Zerilli, L. M. G. (1992). A process without a subject: Simone de Beauvoir and Julia Kristeva on maternity. Signs, 18(1), 111–135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of OxfordOxfordUK

Personalised recommendations