Autonomy, Gender, Politics

Autonomy, Gender, Politics

Autonomy, Gender, Politics

Autonomy, Gender, Politics

Synopsis

Women have historically been prevented from living autonomously by systematic injustice, subordination, and oppression. The lingering effects of these practices have prompted many feminists to view autonomy with suspicion. Here, Marilyn Friedman defends the ideal of feminist autonomy. In her eyes, behavior is autonomous if it accords with the wants, cares, values, or commitments that the actor has reaffirmed and is able to sustain in the face of opposition. By her account, autonomy is socially grounded yet also individualizing and sometimes socially disruptive, qualities that can be ultimately advantageous for women. Friedman applies the concept of autonomy to domains of special interest to women. She defends the importance of autonomy in romantic love, considers how social institutions should respond to women who choose to remain in abusive relationships, and argues that liberal societies should tolerate minority cultural practices that violate women's rights so long as the women in question have chosen autonomously to live according to those practices.

Excerpt

People are everywhere “reinventing” themselves. Social commentaries overflow with optimistic tales of creative self-reformation and self-renewal. Reinventing oneself is only the latest of many pop cultural tropes evoking the philosophical concept of personal autonomy. This resilient ideal reaches back to the origins of liberalism and shows no signs of an impending demise.

Traditionally, of course, autonomy has not been idealized for everyone. It has been emphasized much more for certain groups of men than for other groups of men or for any women. in Western liberal societies where the ideal has flourished, white men with middle- or upper-class pedigrees or ambitions have been more able than other social actors to lead autonomous lives. Canonical philosophers doubted that women had the requisite capacities for autonomy. Many social groups were prevented from living autonomously by systematic injustice, subordination, and oppression, conditions that have scarcely disappeared. the lingering force of these practices has prompted many feminists to view autonomy with suspicion and to challenge it as (white) male-biased. There is good reason when theorizing about autonomy to focus especially on a group for whom it has been historically inaccessible. This book focuses on women. If the case for the importance of autonomy can be made out with women in mind, it should be easier to make the case for others not so similarly dogged by past suppression.

Despite, or perhaps because of, those not-so-distant obstacles, autonomy, under various labels and in various guises, has long engrossed my attention. the ideas of living a life of “my own, ” being “true to my heart, ” standing up for “what I believe, ” and doing it “my way, ” have possessed an alluring plausibility. the usual provisos, of course, must apply: one should do others no harm and remain appropriately caring of them. Given those constraints, there is profound value, I believe, in the opportunity and the capacity to live according to one's own sense of a life worth living. Recent philosophical criticisms of autonomy by detractors who regard it as antithetical to important values have . . .

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