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I am reading The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir, and there are two quotes from page 92 struck me

A truly socialist ethic—one that seeks justice without restraining liberty, one that imposes responsibilities on individuals but without abolishing individual freedom—will find itself most uncomfortable with problems posed by woman’s condition. It is impossible to simply assimilate gestation to a job or service like military service.

and

In the sexual act and in maternity,

woman engages not only time and energy but also essential values. Rationalist materialism tries in vain to ignore this powerful aspect of sexuality: sexual instinct cannot be regulated; according to Freud, it might even possess an inherent denial of its own satisfaction; what is certain is that it cannot be integrated into the social sphere, because there is in eroticism a revolt of the instant against time, of the individual against the universal: to try to channel and exploit it risks killing it, because live spontaneity cannot be disposed of like inert matter; nor can it be compelled in the way a freedom can be.

An excerpt from the chapter containing the aforementioned quote goes as follows

Engels sidestepped the problem; he limits himself to declaring that the socialist community will abolish the family, quite an abstract solution; everyone knows how often and how radically the U.S.S.R. has had to change its family policy to balance out production needs of the moment with the needs of repopulation; besides, eliminating the family does not necessarily liberate woman: the example of Sparta and that of the Nazi regime prove that notwithstanding her direct attachment to the state, she might still be no less oppressed by males. A truly socialist ethic—one that seeks justice without restraining liberty, one that imposes responsibilities on individuals but without abolishing individual freedom—will find itself most uncomfortable with problems posed by woman’s condition. It is impossible to simply assimilate gestation to a job or service like military service. A deeper breach is created in a woman’s life by requiring her to have children than by regulating citizens’ occupations: no state has ever dared institute compulsory coitus. In the sexual act and in maternity, woman engages not only time and energy but also essential values. Rationalist materialism tries in vain to ignore this powerful aspect of sexuality: sexual instinct cannot be regulated; according to Freud, it might even possess an inherent denial of its own satisfaction; what is certain is that it cannot be integrated into the social sphere, because there is in eroticism a revolt of the instant against time, of the individual against the universal: to try to channel and exploit it risks killing it, because live spontaneity cannot be disposed of like inert matter; nor can it be compelled in the way a freedom can be. There is no way to >directly oblige a woman to give birth: all that can be done is to enclose her in situations where motherhood is her only option: laws or customs impose marriage on her, anticonception measures and abortion are banned, divorce is forbidden.

For the first quote: So, is Simone trying to suggest that it is impossible to create a job just for women because by virtue of her sex, a woman already has a job? Or is that since a woman carries a child in her uterus, she cannot participate in a job like a man can ( because he does not to physically carry the child)?

for the second quote: Is Simone suggesting that sex never achieves the fullfillment that eroticism demands of it? What does she mean by the revolt against time ? Does it refer to the state of orgasm ( like perpetually existing in a state of orgasming )

I am just a standard reader , not a grad student; so please correct me in my assumptions ( as silly as they may appear )

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    The first quote is saying "carrying a child should not be called a job or service", certainly not "women already have a job" nor "women cannot have jobs"
    – Stef
    Dec 1, 2021 at 15:33
  • These quotes are so inspired! Not sure they could be seen as inspiring.
    – Scott Rowe
    Mar 15, 2022 at 21:53

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The simple meaning, or the general point being made by Beauvoir comes directly after the end of the second passage you've quoted:

There is no way to directly oblige a woman to give birth

A socialist system, as Beauvoir explains, must impose responsibilities on individuals. Assuming immigration is not a sufficient means of population growth or maintenance, one responsibility of an individual in a socialist system would be to produce children.

Beauvoir points out that this is a problem. Telling a woman that she must have a child is not the same as telling a woman that she must serve in the army, or pilot a ship, or build semiconductors, or teach a child.

The major problem is that in order to have a child, a woman must first have sexual intercourse - or at least, this was true when The Second Sex was written, in the late 1940s (artificial insemination in humans was first reported in 1943 - Artificial insemination history: hurdles and milestones). And as Beauvoir notes, "no state has ever dared institute compulsory coitus."

The second quotation you've provided is a sort of explanation about why compulsory sex is out of the question. Namely, it's because sex involves erotic impulses and these impulses are individualistic, and concerned with immediate gratification. Beauvoir suggests that certain other desires can be sublimated, or diverted into socially useful activities because they produce benefits for the group (rather than the individual) and in the long-term (rather than in the moment). Sexuality does not work like this. It cannot be channeled or exploited.

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  • It was formerly very unfortunate that sexual activity was so very likely to lead to pregnancy. But now the two things can be separated entirely, which should lead to a lot more choice by individuals. For societies, facing less than replacement fertility, there's an issue to deal with though.
    – Scott Rowe
    Mar 15, 2022 at 21:57

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