on the autonomous self

I have to lead class discussion in feminist philosophies on the following article tomorrow morning:

Grimshaw, Jean. “Autonomy and Identity in Feminist Thinking.“ Feminist Perspectives in Philosophy. Ed. Morwenna Griffiths and Margaret Whitford. Bloomington, IN: Indiana UP, 1988. 90-108.

In “Autonomy and Identity in Feminist Thinking,“ Jean Grimshaw deconstructs the feminist assumption that there is a core self if we strip away the way we have been constructed — that underneath our false ideologies is a true autonomous self (93).

She notes that this feminist thought makes four assumptions:
1. There is a potential unitary, rational self that is aware of its interests;
2. Splits in the psyche are caused by the interference of patriarchy;
3. Undoing conditioning is solely a rational process of undoing socialization;
and 4. There is an autonomous self that originates within the self (95).

The consequences of these assumptions are many. First, it provokes a derogatory attitude towards “inauthentic“ people (96). Second, it cannot see value in the ways women currently live their lives; it divides women into two camps, those who have shaken off patriarchy and those who haven’t. Lastly, it presents a normative (emphasis Grimshaw’s) image of “this is what a feminist looks like“ (97).

The feminist view that there is a core self fails in the following ways:
• It does not understand the appeal of romantic “images“ that are criticized by feminist criticism.
• It does not understand that it is possible to disagree with imagines “in one’s head“ but not to change one’s desire (100).

We cannot assume, according to Grimshaw, a “coherent“ self, and people must instead negotiate “contradictory or conflicting conceptions of themselves“ (101-102).

Grimshaw concludes:

It seems to me that there is a sort of dialectic we need to preserve when thinking about autonomy. There is no authentic or unified ‘original’ self which can simply be recovered or discovered as the source of ‘autonomous’ actions. But we are often faced with the experienced need to make ‘sense’ of our lives and our feelings and goals, to relate confused fragments of ourselves into something that seems more coherent and of which we feel more in control. We are often also faced, however, with the need to tolerate contradictions, not to strive for an illusory or impossible ideal, and to avoid self-punishing forms of anxiety, defense and guilt (and feminist guilt can be as punishing as any other kind). The dialectic of autonomy s one in which a constant (but never static or final) search for control and coherence needs balancing against a realism and tolerance born out of efforts to understand ourselves (and others) better. (106)

This entry was posted in Critical Pedagogy, Feminism, Gender, Identity and Identification, Philosophy 516 Feminist Philosophies (Winter 2007). Bookmark the permalink.

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