Saturday, 21 June 2008

Friday Feminist - Iris Marion Young (again)

Cross posted on In a Strange Land

I found this piece while searching for what my favourite feminist philosopher (along with Marilyn Waring, that is) might have said about abortion, and liked it so much that I stopped searching, and just posted this instead.

And I know it's now Saturday in New Zealand. But my brother called, so I spent a pleasant hour talking to him, instead of getting this typed up and posted. Oh well...


Mothers, Citizenship, and Independence

In the tradition of modern political theory, independence is the citizen virtue of the male head of household and property owner. The bourgeois citizen meets his own needs and desires, and those of his dependents, by means of self-sufficient production on his property and by means of independent contract to buy and sell goods. This social organization depends on a distinction between private and public. Productive activity of meeting needs and desires is organized privately, with dependent wives overseeing their day-to-day provision, and the raising of children. This frees the male head of household to conduct the contract business that will enlarge his property and to meet with other independent citizens to discuss affairs of state.

Independence is an important citizen virtue in the modern democratic republic, because it enables citizens to come together in public on relatively free and equal terms. If every citizen meets the needs of himself and his dependents through his own property, then citizens are immune to threats or particularist influence by others on whom they depend for their livelihoods. With independence in this sense they may deliberate on equal terms and consider the merits of issues in terms of the general good.

Thus the citizen virtue of independence also entails personal autonomy, a sense of self-confidence, and inner direction, as well as the ability to be reflective, not swayed by immediate impulse or blind emotion in the making of political argument. Paradoxically, such autonomy and personal independence is through to require the loving attention of particularist mothers who devote themselves to fostering this sense of self in their children. Attentive love disqualifies the nurturers of the individuality and autonomy of citizens from the exercise of citizenship, however, because the character of mothers tends to be emotional and oriented to particular needs and interests instead of to the general good. A sexual division of labor is thus appropriate and fitting, between noncitizen women who are emotionally attached to men and children whose autonomy they foster by nurturing their particular individuality, and citizen men who have become autonomous and independent thinkers thanks to the loving care of mothers, who exercise autonomous political judgment for the general good.


Iris Marion Young, "Mothers, Citizenship, and Independence: A Critique of Pure Family Values", in Intersecting Voices: Dilemmas of Gender, Political Philosophy, and Policy, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991

1 comment:

Anna McM said...

I love Iris Marion Young. This quote is what my thesis is about - except set in the 1990s, and looking at the way neoliberal social policy at once required women to be loving and selfless mothers as well as calculating self-interested rational individuals. It's not as boring as it sounds, or so I tell myself.