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Great Parisian Women of the 20th Century

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Simone de Beauvoir: Piercing Through Gender Assumptions
Simone de Beauvoir in Paris, 1955.

Simone de Beauvoir in Paris, 1955.

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"One is not born a woman, but becomes one." This is arguably the central and most memorable idea in French writer and philosopher's 1949 book The Second Sex, a seminal feminist work that challenged traditional ideas about gender roles during the largely stilted, conservative 1950's. Long before Women's Studies programs emerged on college campuses and western societies began to question assumptions about femininity and masculinity, De Beauvoir argued forcefully against women's status as second-class citizens, and demonstrated that the playing field needed to be leveled by giving women the same opportunities for education and achievement as men.

Born in 1908 to a bourgeois Parisian family, De Beauvoir showed great intellectual promise as a young student, and was encouraged to pursue an education at elite institutions that were at the time scantly occupied by women, including the Ecole Normale Superieure. She prepared an advanced degree in Philosophy there and was the youngest person to win a degree from the prestigious "grande ecole".

She would become most-recognized for her lifelong romantic and working relationship with fellow intellectual (and Ecole Normale Superieure student) Jean-Paul Sartre, but the emphasis on this relationship tends to overshadow De Beavoir's own towering achievements-- a vast body of work that includes novels, biographies, memoirs, and books on politics, social issues, arts or philosophy.

De Beauvoir died in Paris in 1986. She was 78.

Read More: Longer Bio for Simone de Beauvoir at About.com Women's History

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