Title page for ETD etd-04192011-120345

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Szymanski, Scott
URN etd-04192011-120345
Title Neutralizing Gender: Autonomy's Role in Disarming Gender Bias
Degree Master of Arts (M.A.)
Department Philosophy & Religious Studies
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Rocha, James Committee Chair
Raffoul, Francois Committee Member
Song, Edward Committee Member
  • Susan Wolf
  • Mark Okrent
  • Marilyn Friedman
  • Judith Butler
  • relational autonomy
  • social concepts
  • social structure
  • sexism
  • gender theory
  • gender
  • autonomy
Date of Defense 2011-04-11
Availability unrestricted
Figuring out what one’s identity means has always been an essential task of human life. Decidedly, our values, commitments, aspirations, and experiences all contribute to this identity. I submit that individuals have control over who they are and what they become by way of these attributes. As such, control over these characteristics gives us the power to define ourselves as we wish. In my thesis, I attempt to express how autonomy is imperative for this control. I take issue with traditional notions of autonomy, concluding that they do not take into account all that is necessary to ensure a person is self-legislating. I also state some of them allow oppressive belief systems such as sexism to count as autonomous. I replace these conceptions with my version of autonomy called the “Four C’s.” These, I claim, are at least necessary for an autonomous life.

Alongside this analysis, I examine our common conception of gender. I recognize it as being based on the false notion that gender is a social manifestation of sex, that it mimics our biological characteristics. I illustrate that, when we look for explanations of gender in nature, we do not actually find them—rather, we create them in what I term gendered biology, the idea that we merely appropriate to nature our ideas of gender in order to justify why gender, in its current form, is valid. I explain that this view leads to sexism, a necessarily inhibiting system of values that falsely makes claims about the abilities of people. I offer the theory that gender is a social concept, that it is an entirely socially constructed idea that is only held in place by a common consensus of its definition. In this way, gender is hollow and is always available for manipulation and revision.

Ultimately, I conclude that: other theories of autonomy allow sexism to count as autonomous; our current conception of gender provides unnecessary support for sexism; my reconception of autonomy precludes sexism from counting as autonomous; and a proper thinking of gender illustrates the malleability of its content.

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