Posts Tagged ‘Autonomy and Relational Autonomy’

Wow, this is terrible. It really shows how when we are looking at relational and structural problems an individualistic explanation can just lead you so awry.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Notice how all of the blame is placed on women themselves. At about minute 1:00 we hear that women have “equal opportunities” and “equal rights wherever they go” yet “women choose to opt out” and they squander the “investment” society has made in their education because they choose “not to contribute in equal amounts to society as men do.” Wow women really are pretty terrible and irresponsible, sucking up all that government funded education only to “opt out” because it is too stressful, or they have to raise children and therefore don’t contribute to society as much as men do.

This completely erases the important fact that raising children is contributing to society. In fact, it is one of the most fundamental and ineliminable requirements for a society that lasts longer than a generation (financial speculation, not so much).

Second it erases the fact that in heterosexual relationships women’s choices around raising children are inextricably entwined with men’s choices around raising children. Someone has to raise the children, that responsibility won’t go away. If men choose not to, then there is no one other than women to do so. You can’t fix the problem by shaming women for squandering the social investment we made in educating them and expect that to solve the problem. The problem needs to be solved through negotiations among men and women together considering how they are relationally entwined in this child raising business. Those kinds of negotiations might actually require businesses to change their expectations in order to facilitate work-life balance so it is no longer quite so “stressful.” Pretty much everyone gets stressed out when they are working more than one full-time job.

You really can’t fault someone for wanting only one full-time job. You can, however, fault a system that makes that option impossible. Women might have equal opportunities if we consider paid employment in isolation, but men don’t have equal opportunities if we also consider child care to be something that should accounted for as part of many adult lives. Paid employment and child care should be considered together, not separately. This would go a long way toward improving the adult lives of both men and women.

Dart describes how much business has invested in helping women and other minorities to advance. All of this effort seems wasted because of the problems with women themselves. Maybe it is time we start asking questions about the investment, though… where is it going? How does if affect care-giving responsibilities? How has society invested in this essential aspect of its own perpetuation? Maybe we are not looking in the right places when we are talking about women’s advancement…

So Fuck You Globe and Mail for this terrible piece (I am hesitant to blame Beatrix Dart because the piece is obviously highly edited, and in another video she does mention men and women having a dialogue together–although not about sharing work at home, and instead only about their “stereotypes” and unintentional behaviour–so I feel unsure about whether it acurately reflects her views, but if it does, fuck you Beatrix, too).

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When parents discuss their choices about their children’s education and extracurricular activities they often mention that they want the best for their children:

I just want the best for my kids.

I want my daughter to have all possible advantages.

I want my son to have a head start.

This attitude is usually taken to be unproblematic and perhaps even praiseworthy. Government programs for poor children often echo these types of sentiments in their titles: for example, Head Start. So what could possibly be wrong with this view?

I want the best for my kids: I want them to stand out above yours

I want the best for my kids: I want them to stand out above yours

Well, things like “advantages,” “head starts,” and things that are “the best” are positional goods. This means that in order to have them, others need to be kept from having them. We cannot all be “the best” or have “the best,” otherwise it would stop being the best and would be average. We cannot all have “an advantage,” otherwise it would cease to be “an advantage” and become the average. You can only have a “head start” relative to some baseline that is somewhere behind. So whenever a parent says something like the quotes above, there is an implicit statement about other children:

I want your son to have disadvantages (relative to my daughter).

I want your daughter to start behind my son.

I want what is average for your kids.

I seriously doubt that when parents make statements about wanting “the best” “advantages” or “head starts” for their own children that they are also considering the flip-side of these statements. In fact, I think that if many parents were asked about the implicit statements about other children, they would probably deny them. Nevertheless, the first set of statements does correlate to the implicit second set of statements.

To the extent that we believe in meritocracy (that people should get what they deserve through their hard work and talent) and to the extent that we think people should have equal opportunities (or a level-playing field) then there is something troubling about these often-lauded parental sentiments.


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Mombies Comic

A comic humorously depicting pregnant women as zombies; by Jen Sorensen

Often when people think about issues of autonomy (the right to make decisions for one’s self) for pregnant women, they think about access to abortion. Other than having the decision to keep or terminate a pregnancy constrained by lack of abortion access, there are other ways that pregnant women lose decision-making rights.

In most of the USA people are allowed to make “living wills” or issue “advance directives” in order to indicate what medical treatment they would like to receive (or not receive) under particular circumstances. The point of the advance directives is to allow people to retain decision-making rights (that is, autonomy) even in the event that they are unconscious when they encounter the medical system. These “advance directives” can be very specific, or they can be very general, such as simply appointing someone to make decisions on one’s behalf in the event that one is unconscious or otherwise incompetent to make one’s own decisions.

Well, most people are allowed that right. But in 35 states pregnant women are not allowed that right. A partial list of these states can be found here. In these states if a woman is pregnant her living will is no longer considered valid and her advance directives for how she would like to receive (or refuse) care are ignored. If she has named someone to make decisions on her behalf, this too is ignored. Instead the doctors are required to make decisions about her treatment in the “best interests of the fetus.”

This is just one more example of how women’s autonomy is precarious. It is only respected if women are not pregnant, but if a woman becomes pregnant her rights to autonomy seem to become limited. Doctors will actually administer pregnancy tests to women (of childbearing age) before honouring (or ignoring, depending on the results) their living wills.

What Could be Done?

I have been trying to think of ways that a pregnant woman could retain the right to have her advance directives followed. One idea I had was that perhaps women should include a “no pregnancy test” clause in their advance directives. Alternatively, women could also include detailed instructions about which treatments they would accept or refuse if they were pregnant and unconscious or otherwise incompetent. This might not mean that the directive would be honoured, but I think it might provide the basis for legal action if the directive were ignored.


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About ten years ago I was at a meeting and we were discussing what the policy on female genital cutting (FGC, female genital mutilation (FGM), or female circumcision) should be in the hospitals of the Canadian city where I was living at the time. The woman who was giving the presentation about the facts of FGC said at one point in the presentation that there was “no benefit” to FGC that could be weighted against its harms. Now, I do not support FGC in any way, but I was also quite bothered by this statement because it is one that renders the women who engage in FGC unintelligible and irrational, which makes discussing FGC with women impossible. I have been thinking about this issue again because I recently saw this video about the increasing requests for labiaplasty in Australia (The video is NSFW):


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