Meyers examines the question of personal autonomy. She observes the effects of childrearing practices and sexual biases, and reflects upon the results in women. Annotation copyrighted by Book News, Inc., Portland, OR.
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)
Diana Tietjens Meyers examines the political underpinnings of psychoanalytic feminism, analyzing the relation between the nature of the self and the structure of good societies. She argues that impartial reason--the approach to moral reflection which has dominated 20th-century Anglo-American philosophy--is inadequate for addressing real world injustices. ____Subjection and Subjectivity__ is central to feminist thought across a wide range of disciplines.
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)
Ever since Freud pioneered the “talking cure,” psychologists of various stripes have explored how autobiographical narrative bears on self-understanding and psychic wellbeing. Recently, there has been a wave of philosophical speculation as to whether autobiographical narrative plays an essential or important role in the constitution of agentic selves. However, embodiment has received little attention from philosophers who defend some version of the narrative self. Catriona Mackenzie is an important exception to this pattern of neglect, and this paper explores Mackenzie’s work (...) on embodiment and self-narrative with the aim of better understanding the adequacy of autobiographical narrative as an account of the agentic self. I argue that Mackenzie’s narrative account of embodied subjectivity and agency is incomplete, for it over-estimates the reach of narrative and underestimates the cognitive and agentic powers of the lived body. (shrink)
The idea that the self is in need of rethinking, as the title to this collection of essays suggests, presupposes that the self has already been “thought.” And indeed it has—both explicitly, by philosophers, and implicitly, in the practices of everyday life. For philosophers, this thinking about the self has taken place largely in abstract terms; persons have been treated as metaphysical-cum-moral subjects, disembodied minds that could plausibly be split from or melded with other such minds, or as rational agents, (...) capable of choosing a plan in terms of which to live their lives. In everyday life, in contrast, we “think” one another as selves by making assumptions about how the people we encounter fit into the social landscape and about how we ourselves have a place in the world. As the essays in this collection demonstrate, feminists have challenged both ways of thinking of selfhood in various, sometimes contradictory, ways. (shrink)
Victim's Stories and the Advancement of Human Rights takes on a set of questions suggested by the worldwide persistence of human rights abuse and the prevalence of victims' stories in human rights campaigns, truth commissions, and international criminal tribunals: What conceptions of victims are presumed in contemporary human rights discourse? How do conventional narrative templates fail victims of human rights abuse and resist raising novel human rights issues? What is empathy, and how can victims frame their stories to overcome empathetic (...) obstacles and promote commitment to human rights? How can victims' stories be used ethically in the service of human rights? The book addresses these concerns by analyzing the rhetorical resources for and constraints on victims' ability to articulate their stories and by clarifying how their stories can contribute to enlarged understandings of human rights protections and deepened commitments to realizing human rights. It theorizes the normative content that victims' stories can convey and the bearing of that normative content on human rights. Throughout the book, published victims' stories-including stories of torture, slavery, genocide, rape in wartime, and child soldiering-are analyzed in conjunction with philosophical arguments. This book mobilizes philosophical theory to illuminate victims' stories and appeals to victims' stories to enrich the philosophy of human rights. (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)
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)
It is often said that human rights are the rights that people possess simply in virtue of being human – that is, in virtue of their intrinsic, dignity-defining common humanity. Yet, on closer inspection the human rights landscape doesn’t look so even. Once we bring perpetrators of human rights abuse and their victims into the picture, attributions of humanity to persons become unstable. In this essay, I trace the ways in which rights discourse ascribes variable humanity to certain categories of (...) people. I set the stage for my discussion of the human in relation to human rights by examining John Locke’s account of the justification for punishment. For Locke, in committing a crime one abrogates one’s humanity and forfeits one’s rights. Likewise, I argue, human rights discourse takes a scalar view of humanity. I consider victims of genocide who are dehumanized as helpless and passive, victims of state persecution who are super-humanized as righteously agentic, and perpetrators of genocide who are dehumanized as out-of-control beasts. In each case I use relevant testimony to argue that the scalar view of humanity is factually incorrect and morally deplorable. For genocide victims, I discuss testimony that Selma Leydesdorff gathered from women who survived the Srebrenica massacre. For a victim of persecution, I discuss Liao Yiwu’s memoire of his detention and imprisonment in China because of his artwork protesting the Tiananmen Square massacre. For perpetrators of genocide, I discuss testimony Jean Hatzfeld gathered from Hutu men who systematically murdered Tutsis in the Rwandan genocide. Finally, I apply my critique of dehumanized and super-humanized victims and dehumanized perpetrators to the problem of transnational trafficking in persons and argue that the view I advocate necessitates reforming immigration policy with respect to persons trafficked into forced labor. (shrink)
This paper addresses three commentaries on Victims' Stories and the Advancement of Human Rights. In response to Vittorio Bufacchi, it argues that asking victims to tell their stories needn't be coercive or unjust and that victims are entitled to decide whether and under what conditions to tell their stories. In response to Serene Khader, it argues that empathy with victims' stories can contribute to building a culture of human rights provided that measures are taken to overcome the implicit biases and (...) colonialist interpellations she identifies. In response to Andrea Westlund, it proposes a taxonomy of types of narrative closure and offers some arguments to strengthen her view that empathy with victims' stories endows audience members with a new reason and new motivation to support human rights. (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 book examines in great detail the different aspects of dominant individualistic ideas about persons. It tries to argue that an alternative conception of persons, favored by many feminist thinkers, is more complicated than is often thought but can be shown to be a reasonable and plausible conception.
Recent liberal moral and political philosophy has placed great emphasis on the good of self-respect. But it is not always evident what is involved in self-respect, nor is it evident how societies can promote it. Assuming that self-respect is highly desirable, I begin by considering how people can live in a self-respecting fashion, and I argue that autonomous envisaging and fulfillment of one's own life plans is necessary for self-respect. I next turn to the question of how societal implementation of (...) rights may affect self-respect, and I urge that discretionary rights, which allow people to decline the benefits they confer, support self-respect more effectively than mandatory rights, which forbid people to refuse the benefits they confer. I conclude by examining the import of these contentions for feminist theory. I believe that my arguments are of particular concern to women because women have traditionally been victimized by a mandatory right to play a distinctively "feminine" role which has undermined their self-respect. (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)
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)
Poverty, Agency, and Human Rights collects thirteen new essays that analyze how human agency relates to poverty and human rights respectively as well as how agency mediates issues concerning poverty and social and economic human rights. No other collection of philosophical papers focuses on the diverse ways poverty impacts the agency of the poor, the reasons why poverty alleviation schemes should also promote the agency of beneficiaries, and the fitness of the human rights regime to secure both economic development and (...) free agency. The book is divided into four parts. Part 1 considers the diverse meanings of poverty both from the standpoint of the poor and from that of the relatively well-off. Part 2 examines morally appropriate responses to poverty on the part of persons who are better-off and powerful institutions. Part 3 identifies economic development strategies that secure the agency of the beneficiaries. Part 4 addresses the constraints poverty imposes on agency in the context of biomedical research, migration for work, and trafficking in persons. (shrink)
My aim is to extend and complement the arguments that others have already made for the claim that women who are citizens of economically disadvantaged states and who have been trafficked into sex work in economically advantaged states should be considered candidates for asylum. Familiar arguments cite the sexual violence and forced labor that trafficked women are subjected to along with their well-founded fear of persecution if they’re repatriated. What hasn’t been considered is that reproductive rights are also at stake. (...) I explain how reproductive rights are implicated in sex trafficking. Moreover, I contend that sex traffickers’ abuse of women’s reproductive rights is persecutory and that that this persecutory abuse obliges destination states to offer asylum to transnational sex trafficking victims. I start by sketching reproductive human rights doctrine. I then examine studies of women who are in post-trafficking recovery programs in order to ascertain the impact of their past experience of forced sex work on their reproductive freedom and health. On the basis of these findings, I maintain that, among other outrages, sex trafficking systematically violates victims’ reproductive human rights. In view of this abuse, women trafficked into sex work might seem to be prime candidates for asylum in destination states. Yet, economically well-off destination states are not particularly receptive to this idea, and international law provides some justification for their chilliness. Preliminary to challenging them, I explicate four ways in which international anti-trafficking law and international refugee law interfere with viewing women trafficked into sex work as refugees and approving their applications for asylum. The second half of my paper aims to overcome those legal obstacles. In the interest of parsimony and because there are many continuities between U.S. refugee law and anti-trafficking law and the policies of similar destination states, I focus mainly on the U.S. in this part of the paper. To anchor my argument, I spotlight two precedents in refugee law for taking reproductive human rights seriously and several precedents for treating trafficked women as members of a distinct social group as required by refugee law. I then urge that a law enforcement gestalt has gained undue influence over U.S. legal practices where anti-trafficking law intersects with refugee protection law. A human rights gestalt is needed as a counterweight, for otherwise victims of sex trafficking and the reproductive abuse they’ve suffered are erased. Taking up a human rights perspective and mobilizing the precedents I’ve identified, I show that respecting the reproductive human rights of women who have been trafficked into sex work entails that affluent destination states must recognize their right to asylum. (shrink)
A response to Susan Hekman's article "Reconstituting the Subject: Feminism, Modernism, and Postmodernism" and to her review of Diana T. Meyers' book Self, Society, and Personal Choice both of which appeared in Hypatia 6.
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 essay examines ‘The Mapping Journey Project’, an installation artwork by Bouchra Khalili. It consists of eight large video screens and headsets. In each video, a migrant draws a map of her/his journey to and in Europe and narrates her/his route. In collaboration with Khalili, I argue, these storyteller/draftspersons create a dissident cartography that superimposes their lived geography on the background of legal geography. Thus, ‘The Mapping Journey Project’ is a work of art that is also a work of advocacy (...) and provocation. Rather than advocating particular policies, however, it advocates in the sense of affirming the dignity of the subjects of the videos and their right to speak the truth of their lives. Moreover, it provokes by elucidating the moral stakes of the current political and economic order and by issuing a pointed demand for humane solutions. So long as vast global disparities of wealth and political power persist, it is no wonder that people who are excluded from the elite privilege of belonging to a prosperous society are burning the borders that protect this unjust regime. (shrink)
Twenty distinguished philosophers and social theorists have contributed original papers to this stimulating investigation into the nature of the economically just society. Collectively, and in a remarkably coherent fashion, these papers set out the problems of contemporary social theory within the context of the distributive justice vs. property rights debate initiated by the works of John Rawls and Robert Nozick.
: 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)
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.