Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2012
In her groundbreaking study of gender, The Second Sex (1949), Simone de Beauvoir evokes the story of the creation of woman in Genesis 2 as a primary text whose impact on Western perceptions of gender relations cannot be overlooked. Beauvoir writes:
Eve was not fashioned at the same time as the man; she was not fabricated from a different substance, nor of the same clay as was used to model Adam: she was taken from the flank of the first male. Not even her birth was independent; God did not spontaneously choose to create her as an end in herself.…She was destined by Him for man; it was to rescue Adam from loneliness that He gave her to him, in her mate was her origin and her purpose; she was his complement on the order of the inessential.
Beauvoir's renowned claim that “one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman” – the formulation that became the very base for the definition of “gender” as a social construct – turns out to be particularly relevant to the “birth” of the first woman. Eve's birth is by no means a natural event, innocent of cultural presuppositions regarding the role of woman. She is subjected to God and to Adam, shaped as the perfect Other whose very purpose is to serve as “dream incarnate,” to enable the first man to define himself as Subject within the realm of the essential.