Born on 9 January 1908, French writer, intellectual, existentialist philosopher, political activist, feminist and social theorist, Simone de Beauvoir. Of all the writing that emerged from the existentialist movement, Simone de Beauvoir’s groundbreaking study of women will probably have the most extensive and enduring impact. It is at once a work of anthropology and sociology, of biology and psychoanalysis, from the pen of a writer and novelist of penetrating imaginative power.

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In 1946, Simone de Beauvoir began to outline what she thought would be an autobiographical essay explaining why, when she had tried to define herself, the first sentence that came to mind was “I am a woman.” That October, my maiden aunt, Beauvoir’s contemporary, came to visit me in the hospital nursery. I was a day old, and she found a little tag on my bassinet that announced, “It’s a Girl!” In the next bassinet was another newborn (“a lot punier,” she recalled), whose little tag announced, “I’m a Boy!” There we lay, innocent of a distinction — between a female object and a male subject — that would shape our destinies. It would also shape Beauvoir’s great treatise on the subject.

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