Being Your Best Self: Authenticity, Morality, and Gender Norms

Hypatia (forthcoming)
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Trans and gender-nonconforming people sometimes say that certain gender norms are authentic for them. For example, a trans man might say that abiding by norms of masculinity tracks who he really is. Authenticity is sometimes taken to appeal to an essential, pre-social “inner self.” It is also sometimes understood as a moral notion. Authenticity claims about gender norms therefore appear inimical to two key commitments in feminist philosophy: that all gender norms are socially constructed, and that many domains of gender norms are both morally and prudentially bad. I argue that that this apparent tension is illusory. Concordant with existing trans narratives of authenticity, I articulate an existentialist view that understands authenticity as a socially embedded, constructive project undertaken in a non-ideal social world, rather than a reflective uncovering of a pre-given, essential self. I then show that authenticity and morality can come apart; what is authentic for someone need not be either morally good or good for them. I conclude that the authenticity of gender norms does not cut against the feminist commitments that I identify. This conclusion enables a theoretical space that is both respectful of trans experience and critical of dominant gender norms, an important liberatory goal.



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Rowan Bell
University of Guelph

Citations of this work

Resisting Social Categories.Sara Bernstein - forthcoming - Oxford Studies in Agency and Responsibility.
How to Do Things with Gendered Words.E. M. Hernandez & Archie Crowley - forthcoming - In Luvell Anderson & Ernest Lepore (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Applied Philosophy of Language. New York: Oxford University Press.
Including Transgender Identities in Natural Law.Kurt Blankschaen - 2023 - Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy 10.

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References found in this work

Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny.Kate Manne - 2017 - Oxford University Press.
The Ethics of Authenticity.Charles Taylor - 1991 - Harvard University Press.
The Subject and Power.Michel Foucault - 1982 - Critical Inquiry 8 (4):777-795.

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