Part II. Section 4. Autonomy Competency: Meyers takes John Rawls to task for giving a superficial account of autonomy. Endorsing deliberative rationality, he furnishes no account of how to achieve it. Meyers argues that her conception of autonomy competency fills the gap in Rawls's theory. Moreover, it is compatible with the emotional bonds of a relational self, and, acknowledging human fallibility, it provides an account of how autonomous people can recognize and correct their missteps. In the context of a critique (...) of Michael Sandel's distinction between the cognitive self and the voluntarist self, Meyers shows that autonomy competency allows for individual control and innovation without denying the social situatedness of the autonomous subject. (shrink)
Part III. Section 3. Autonomy and Feminine Socialization: Having agreed with Beauvoir that narcissism and altruism contribute to women's lack of autonomy, Meyers examines Beauvoir's account of autonomy in light of her own conception of autonomy competency and argues that Beauvoir's conception of autonomy is too stringent. Autonomy competency, in contrast, allows for degrees of autonomy and variations in degree as viewed over a life-time, as well as for a distinction between programmatic and episodic autonomy. Meyers concludes by characterizing minimal, (...) medial, and full autonomy. (shrink)
Part III. Section 5. Autonomy-Enhancing Socialization: Meyers seeks a remedy for gendered inequality with respect to autonomy in processes of socialization. After critically examining proposals offered by Beauvoir, Chodorow, and Radcliffe Richards, Meyers describes a pedagogical model that fosters assertiveness and intimacy while avoiding the inculcation of aggression and that actively nurtures the development of autonomy skills.
Contrasting ontological accounts of autonomy with procedural accounts, Meyers defends the procedural model. For Meyers, the key question for a theory of autonomy is how people make decisions. She introduces the idea of autonomy competency - a repertoire of coordinated skills that make self-discovery, self-definition, and self-direction and hence autonomy possible. The authentic self is a self that has some degree of proficiency with respect to this competency and that emerges and evolves through the exercise of this competency. Meyers distinguishes (...) programmatic autonomy - living an autonomous life - from episodic autonomy - making particular decisions autonomously. (shrink)
Part I. The book begins with literary, cinematic, and historical scenarios that exemplify personal autonomy. Meyers uses these vignettes to distinguish personal autonomy from other, variously related types of autonomy and to show that other kinds of autonomy cannot adequately address the concern people have with their own personal decisions. Noting how profoundly social experience impinges on self-discovery, self-definition, and self-direction, Meyers characterizes autonomous individuals as persons who do what they really want, and she undertakes to supply an account of (...) an authentic self that acknowledges people's enmeshment in social relations as well as their psychological complexity. (shrink)
Part III. Section 2. Feminine and Masculine Socialization: Two main problems are explored: 1) How are girls and boys socialized in contemporary western societies? and 2) What are adult women and men like? Meyers appropriates the main outlines of Simone de Beauvoir's account of feminine socialization in The Second Sex, but she also discusses more recent research.
Part III. Section 4. Full Autonomy - An Attainable Ideal: Maximal or full autonomy is an unrealistic goal for all people. Contrary to a common assumption, however, masculine socialization does not generally result in full autonomy, but rather in medial autonomy. Conformism is as much of an obstacle to the full autonomy of men as it is for women. Still, men in western cultures are more likely to be more autonomous than women, and this discrepancy calls for change.
Part II. Section 5. Interests, Self-Interest and Autonomy: Two questions drive this chapter: 1) What kinds of things can be objects of autonomous choices? and 2) How are these related to an individual's authentic self? If self-interest is construed as securing a set of basic goods for oneself, personal autonomy and self-interest can collide. Still, Meyers holds that autonomy based on exercising autonomy competency is compatible with the dominance principle, which counsels opting for a course of action that satisfies at (...) least one more authentic desire than other available possibilities. (shrink)
The value of autonomy - even personal autonomy - cannot be confined to the private sphere. Because autonomy bears a reciprocal relation to equal opportunity, it must be counted among the cardinal political values.
Part II. Section 1. Recent Accounts of Autonomy: Emphasizing the problematic relationship between autonomy and socialization, Meyers explores prominent views of autonomy, including Robert Young's, Stanley Benn's, Harry Frankfurt's, Gerald Dworkin's, and Gary Watson's. Having identified three main models for "rescuing autonomy from socialization," she identifies a single defect underlying all of them - namely, their assumption that personal autonomy requires transcending socialization through free will.
Part II. Section 6. Responsibility for Self: Meyers criticizes Derek Parfit's arguments against the rationality of temporal neutrality -- in other words, the principle of responsibility to self. She urges that autonomy requires providing for one's future.
Part IV. Section 2. Self-Respect and Autonomy: Meyers's discussion of self-respect takes into account work by Stephen Darwall, Thomas Hill, Jr., and Stephen Massey and proposes a unified triadic account that undermines the distinction between self-respect and self-esteem. After distinguishing compromised respect from unqualified respect, she shows why self-respect is both required for and a product of exercising autonomy competency.
Because it is characteristic of competencies that they have overarching functions, Meyers considers what the overarching function of autonomy competency might be. She defends a view of personal integration that does not entail counterproductive consistency or unity. She rejects several other solutions to this problem, including compartmentalization, sanity, happiness, and eccentric nonconformity.
Part III. Section 1. Theories of Socialization. Autonomy as autonomy competency acknowledges the necessity of socialization for autonomy. Preliminary to considering this claim in relation to gender, Meyers sketches three social scientific models of socialization - psychoanalysis, social learning, and cognitive development.
Part IV. Section 1. The Personal and the Political Value of Autonomy: Disparities in autonomy competency number among the many ways in which women and men in western societies are unequal. Meyers holds that although personal autonomy is not the sole or paramount value, medial autonomy is not only a personal good, but is also a political good.
This paper argues that potential cases of oppression, such as sex trafficking, can sometimes comprise autonomous choices by the trafficked individuals. This issue still divides radical from liberal feminists, with the former wanting to ‘rescue’ the ‘victims’ and the latter insisting that there might be good reasons for ‘hiding from the rescuers.’ This article presents new arguments for the liberal approach and raises two demands: first, help organizations should be run by affected women and be open-minded about whether or not (...) the trafficked individuals should remain in the sex industry. Second, the career choices of trafficked individuals should be expanded by the introduction of an opportunity-extending right to asylum. (shrink)
Jenny Saville is a leading contemporary painter of female nudes. This paper explores her work in light of theories of gender and embodied agency. Recent work on the phenomenology of embodiment draws a distinction between the body image and the body schema. The body image is your representation of your own body, including your visual image of it and your emotional attitudes towards it. The body schema is comprised of your proprioceptive knowledge, your corporeally encoded memories, and your corporeal proficiency (...) with respect to various environments and activities. Saville is concerned with body image issues, and I discuss how she reconfigures representational practices with respect to feminine body images. However, the most exciting potential for feminist analysis of the state of the female nude derives from the concept of the body schema, for this concept endows the human body with subjectivity and agency. My key question, then, is by what pictorial means and to what extent Saville succeeds in representing agentic womanhood. I argue that interpreting Saville’s paintings from the standpoint of the body schema demonstrates the radicality of her remaking of the female nude and the rapport between her imagery and feminist values. (shrink)
It is not uncommon for people to suffer identity crises. Yet, faced with similarly disruptive circumstances, some people plunge into an identity crisis while others do not. How must selfhood be construed given that people are vulnerable to identity crises? And how must agency be construed given that some people skirt potential identity crises and renegotiate the terms of their personal identity without losing their equilibrium -- their sense of self? If an adequate theory of the self and agency must (...) be able to account for this capacity to avert identity crises, I argue that it must include an account of agentic corporeity. After explaining what an identity crisis is, I examine Charles Taylor’s and David Velleman’s accounts of identity and agency and argue that their omission of agentic corporeity makes it impossible for them to convincingly account for the ability to avert an identity crisis. In the spirit of Merleau-Ponty’s account of the intentional arc and J. J. Gibson’s account of the relation between corporeity and affordances, I sketch an account of psychocorporeal practical intelligence that includes three main components – psychocorporeal insight, psychocorporeal values, and psychocorporeal versatility. I conclude by connecting my position to Aristotle’s views about practical understanding and by arguing that both Taylor and Velleman have reason to embrace my position. (shrink)
Philosophers have had surprisingly little to say about the concept of a victim although it is presupposed by the extensive philosophical literature on rights. Proceeding in four stages, I seek to remedy this deficiency and to offer an alternative to the two current paradigms that eliminates the Othering of victims. First, I analyze two victim paradigms that emerged in the late 20th century along with the initial iteration of the international human rights regime – the pathetic victim paradigm and the (...) heroic victim paradigm. Holocaust victims are quintessential instances of the pathetic victim paradigm. They are marked by passivity and innocence in the face of overpowering force and unspeakable humanly inflicted suffering. Aung San Suu Kyi is an exemplar of the heroic victim paradigm – prisoners of conscience, in Amnesty International’s terms. Because heroic victims face off against the repressive power of the state to fight injustice, they are by no means passive, but they must be innocent of wrongdoing – that is, they must use nonviolent means of dissent – to qualify as heroic victims. Second, I problematize the asymmetrical conceptions of innocence that underwrite the two victim paradigms. Whereas the pathetic victim paradigm identifies innocence with passivity, the heroic victim paradigm countenances agentic victims and adverts to a universalist, absolutist stance on the limits of the legitimate use of state power to ascribe innocence to heroic victims. Both conceptions of innocence are out of keeping with well established social and legal practices regarding what constitutes coercive force and innocent victimhood. Consequently, there is reason to be skeptical of the two victim paradigms. Third, I identify two kinds of human rights violations and two categories of victims that AI defends despite their failure to fit the two paradigms – women trafficked into sex work and prisoners on death row. In many cases, women forced to do sex work are not innocent girls who are ignorant of the trafficking system and who helplessly fall prey to smugglers. They are desperately poor women who for that reason are willing to take enormous risks to try to relieve their own and often their families’ deprivation and suffering. Although these women act nonviolently for irreproachable reasons, they lack the public political agendas that characterize heroic victims. Unless non-fulfillment of subsistence rights is recognized as a form of overpowering force that inflicts severe, avoidable suffering, these women do not qualify as pathetic victims either. The victim paradigms pose an even greater obstacle to recognizing that the death penalty is a human rights violation and that death row prisoners are victims. Because a jury concluded that these individuals committed heinous, violent crimes, they are excluded by the heroic victim paradigm. Only if death row prisoners can be proven (usually through DNA evidence) not to have committed the crimes for which they were convicted can these individuals qualify as pathetic victims. In the absence of any reason to believe that they are innocent and especially if they are unrepentant, they are widely regarded as brutal victimizers of others who deserve no sympathy for, let along relief from, the suffering they “brought on themselves.” Finally, I confront the Othering of victims that results from the two victim paradigms, which leads many victims to eschew the label, thereby opting out of human right discourse. I propose revisions in the victim paradigms that eliminate the real-world exclusions they sponsor as well as the Othering of victims of human rights abuses. In particular, I endorse greater attention to what people and the institutions they create do to other people, and I favor a presumption that unnecessary and severe humanly inflicted suffering is a human rights violation. Moreover, I reject the innocence criterion embedded in the two paradigms and urge that it be replaced by a burdened agency criterion. These modifications better align the concept of a victim with a realistic understanding of human subjectivity and agency and allow for a more capacious understanding of who is a bearer of human rights and under what conditions right-holders become victims of rights violations. (shrink)
This paper addresses two related topics: 1. The disanalogies between elective cosmetic practices and sex reassignment surgery. Why does it seem necessary for me – an aging professional woman – to ignore the blandishments of hairdressers wielding dyes and dermatologists wielding acids and scalpels? Why does it not seem equally necessary for a transgendered person to repudiate sex reassignment procedures? 2. The role of the body in identity and agency. How do phenomenological insights regarding the constitution of selfhood in relation (...) to the interplay between the body image and corporeal know-how contribute to an account of the agency of transgendered individuals? Studying several paintings by contemporary feminist artist Jenny Saville has advanced my thinking on these topics. Saville’s imagery is an invaluable aid to reflection on these issues because she uses her painterly technique, which critics often dub “virtuoso,” to represent lived human bodies. In her work, viewers encounter representations of subjectivized, agentic corporeity, as distinct from inert, objectified flesh. Moreover, her sympathetic engagement with nonconformist, devalued bodies helps to reconfigure the standard gestalts of the human body that viewers typically carry with them and thus to convert fear and/or disgust into appreciation and understanding. In this paper, I consider three of Saville’s paintings. Plan, Saville’s self-portrait as a nude female whose body has been prepped for liposuction, conveys the pathos of this procedure. Matrix is a nude portrait of self-described “gender variant visual artist” Del LaGrace Volcano. In the words of one critic Saville’s depiction of Volcano’s nude intersexed body “restores beauty to the primitive [female] genital organ.” Passage, another nude portrait of an intersexed individual, is an image of vibrant sexuality despite the presumptively jarring juxtaposition of breasts and a penis. I argue that conceiving the agentic subject as a rational deliberative capability that uses a conjoined body as the instrument of its will makes it impossible to theorize the agency of transgendered people. In contrast, when agentic subjects are understood as embodied subjects and embodiment is understood as a dimension of practical intelligence, the agency of transgendered individuals is intelligible. (shrink)
This paper explores the relation between victims’ stories and normativity. As a contribution to understanding how the stories of those who have been abused or oppressed can advance moral understanding, catalyze moral innovation, and guide social change, this paper focuses on narrative as a variegated form of representation and asks whether personal narratives of victimization play any distinctive role in human rights discourse. In view of the fact that a number of prominent students of narrative build normativity into their accounts, (...) it might seem obvious that there is a connection between victims’ stories and moral insight. However, the category of victims’ stories spans an enormous variety of texts – private diaries, memoirs written for publication, interviews with journalists or social scientists, depositions prepared by human rights workers, stories shared with like-minded activists or with support groups, stories told to medical professionals, and testimony in courts, truth commissions and asylum hearings, to mention just some of the possibilities. The different contexts of elicitation and the different rules governing expression in these sites should make us wary of ready generalizations about the nature of victims’ narratives. Moreover, I doubt that existing explications of the way in which norms figure in narratives yield satisfactory theories of the contribution victims’ stories can make to discovering and defending just policies and practices. I consider two of the most prominent accounts of the relation between narrative and normativity. For different reasons, the account Anthony Amsterdam and Jerome Bruner present in their work on narrative and law and the account Hayden White presents in his work on narrative and history fail to appreciate the capacity of victims’ stories of abuse to advance understanding of and increase respect for human rights. In defense of the value of victims’ stories, I propose an account of the relation between normativity and a salient type of victim’s narrative that seems especially resistant to integration into human rights discourse. -/- . (shrink)
: J. David Velleman develops a canny, albeit mentalistic, theory of selfhood that furnishes some insights feminist philosophers should heed but that does not adequately heed some of the insights feminist philosophers have developed about the embodiment and relationality of the self. In my view, reflexivity cannot do the whole job of accounting for selfhood, for it rests on an unduly sharp distinction between reflexive loci of understanding and value, on the one hand, and embodiment and relationality, on the other. (...) I conclude that what is missing from Velleman's account is an appreciation of the psycho-corporeal attributes and capabilities embedded in the embodied self and the relational self. (shrink)
The cultural imagery of women is deeply ingrained in our consciousness. So deeply, in fact, that feminists see this as a fundamental threat to female autonomy because it enshrines procreative heterosexuality as well as the relations of domination and subordination between men and women. Diana Meyers' book is about this cultural imagery - and how, once it is internalized, it shapes perception, reflection, judgement, and desire. These intergral images have a deep impact not only on the individual psyche, but also (...) on the social, political, and cultural syntax of society as a whole. Meyer's argues for the necessity of crafting a dissident, empowering, and 'emancipatory counter-imagery' for women. Rigorous, well written, and accessible, the reach of Gender in the mirror is arguably catholic, and addresses the interests or readers across an impressive range of intellectual disciplines. (shrink)
In this paper I shall offer an account of the authentic self that is compatible with human intrapsychic, interpersonal, and social experience. I begin by examiningHarry Frankfurt’s influential treatment of authenticity as a form of personal integration, and argue that his conception of the integrated self is too restrictive. I then offer an alternative processual account that views integration as the intelligibility of the self that emerges when a person exercises autonomy skills.
How is women’s conception of self affected by the caregiving responsibilities traditionally assigned to them and by the personal vulnerabilities imposed on them? If institutions of male dominance profoundly influence women’s lives and minds, how can women form judgments about their own best interests and overcome oppression? Can feminist politics survive in face of the diversity of women’s experience, which is shaped by race, class, ethnicity, and sexual orientation, as well as by gender? Exploring such questions, leading feminist thinkers have (...) reinvigorated work on the concept of self and personal identity, as demonstrated by the discussions in this insightful volume.The concerns that animate feminist scholarship have prompted feminist philosophers to sideline the theme of individualism and to focus on the theme of intersubjectivity. In conceptualizing the self, the contributors to this volume highlight emotional bonds among people, the stories people tell one another, and the systems of categories and behavioral norms that unite and divide groups of people. Topics addressed include sexual violence and the self, the social self and autonomy, the narrative self and integrity, self-ownership and the body, forgetting yourself and your race, group membership and personal identity, grief and gender, sympathy and women’s diversity, emotion and emancipatory epistemology, and dependency and justice. This volume will be important reading for students of feminist theory, ethics, and social and political philosophy. (shrink)
Feminist Social Thought brings together key articles by prominent feminist thinkers, offering students sophisticated treatment of the theoretical topics central to feminist social thought. This reader highlights salient concerns in contemporary feminist scholarship and the advances feminist philosophers have made. The editor's introduction outlines alternative routes through the text, allowing instructors to easily adapt this reader to their particular courses and the interests of their students. Each article is prefaced with a short introduction by the editor placing it in context, (...) highlighting the principle issues and the conclusions reached. Students will find these headnotes helpful when tackling the challenging theoretical issues addressed. Representing a spectrum of feminist thinking, Feminist Social Thought is organized around seven topics constructions of gender; theorizing diversity; figurations of women; subjectivity, agency and feminist critique; social identity, solidarity and political engagement; care and its critics; and women, equality and justice. Students will be exposed to a wide variety of feminist philosophy and encouraged to think critically about challenging questions around pivotal subjects including * How are gender norms instilled, enforced, and perpetuated? * What are the relationships between gender and other socially demarcated positions such as race, class and sexual orientation? * What resources do women have at their disposal for recognizing their subordination and resisting it? * What goals should feminist politics pursue? * How can social and legal equality be reconciled with difference? (shrink)
Subjection and Subjectivity offers an account of moral subjectivity and moral reflection designed to meet the needs of feminism, as well as other emancipatory movements. Diana Tietjens Meyers argues that impartial reason--the appraoch to moral reflection which has dominated 20th century Anglo-American philosophy and judicial reasoning--is inadequate for addressing real world injustices. Dealing with the problems of group-based social exclusion requires empathy with others. But empathy often becomes distorted by prejudicial attitudes which may be publicly condemned but continue to be (...) transmitted through cultural figurations. Meyers uses Julia Kristeva's work on xenophobia and aesthetic practices as a starting point for developing a feminist politics of dissident speech, one that aims to dislodge prejudice. With the goal of offering an empathy-friendly account of moral reflection and judgment, she shows how moral reflection embodies the value of mutual recognition--a value enunciated in the work of Nancy Chodorow and Jessica Benjamin. Meyers argues that it is a mistake to view the moral subject as independent, transparent and rational. Instead, she presents a picture of a heterogeneous and pluralistic subject, one that is defined by ties to other people, liable to misunderstand its own motives and aims, and in need of a repertory of strategies for purposes of moral reflection. (shrink)