Simone de Beauvoir

In the popular imagination, Simone de Beauvoir is best known as the foremother of contemporary feminism, and as the turbaned, chain-smoking, glamorously intellectual companion of Jean-Paul Sartre. Born in 1908, she rejected religion and conformity in her teens, and then turned to philosophy, becoming a professor in 1929. But after 20 years she realized what many women intellectuals have realized since — before she could really know what she thought, she had to examine what it was to "become a woman." She had to understand what had happened to her brilliant mind simply by virtue of its being housed in a...