For Brennan, affects name socio-historical forces into which we are born, and in and through which we must interpret. Have you ever thought about writing not for a present-day audience but for the future? What do I learn from looking through these typewriter pages, email correspondences, research plans, calendars, all this personal stuff?
I wonder about my relationship to these files. The intimacy of my access to them feels at times undeserved, or more precisely like it risks the hubris of over-identifying or projecting my own ideas into what Brennan wrote. How can I do justice to the unfinished possibility of these papers, interpreting their significance without thereby smoothing over their open-ended dynamism?
Anyone who signs up for a free Aeon account can search through and request on-site and increasingly digital access to an impressive list of available collected papers. Scott, and Hortense Spillers. This groundbreaking collection of feminist writings is maintained foremost by Mary Murphy, Nancy L. The effort that went into generating a stable archive for over four decades of organizing work is a good example of what Hirsch hopes to see maintained and explored in the future, and similarly, what this blog post hopes to promote today.
Following an inquiry on the listserv from Marilyn Frye as to the preservation of SWIP papers, Callahan proposed that junior scholars might collaborate with herself, Ann Garry, and Alison Jaggar to preserve these documents in a prestigious archive. As Rawls and Noll recount, FPAP reflected on the purpose and the future audience of this archive in the process of constructing it.
For these archivist-activists, the institutional archives of feminist philosophy present a material legacy of challenges to epistemic oppression in the field. The preservation of this work is uncontroversial in its value, arguably even the records of discord between members, insofar as these disputes remind us that we can organize through moments where our perspectives differ. My hopes in writing this blogpost are 1 to spread the word about public access to the Feminist Theory Archive and 2 to encourage new research and activist efforts along the lines described above, as well as lines not yet named or conceived.
Many feminists working to transform the Anglo-American tradition seek to rebalance autonomy with care rather than do away with autonomy altogether. Although some feminists dismiss autonomy as an androcentric relic of modernism Jaggar ; Addelson ; Hekman ; Card , others assert women's need for self-determination Lugones and Spelman ; de Lauretis ; King ; Govier In light of the history of figuring women as driven by their reproductive biology and in need of rational male guidance, as well as the history of women's enforced economic dependence on men or relegation to poorly paid or abject forms of labor, feminists can hardly ignore the topic of self-determination.
Thus, a number of feminist philosophers take up this challenge and present accounts of autonomy that do not devalue the interpersonal capacities and social contributions that are conventionally coded feminine Nedelsky ; Meyers and ; Benhabib and ; Weir In feminist accounts, autonomy is not conflated with self-sufficiency and free will, but rather it is seen to be facilitated by supportive relationships and also to be a matter of degree.
The self has a degree of autonomy but, once we pursue the implications of care ethics for the nature of the self, it can no longer be considered as radically independent. Whereas standard modernist accounts of autonomy stress rational decision making and valorize a respect for rights, feminist accounts accent the role of feelings in autonomous lives Nedelsky ; Meyers ; Weir and focus on the way that subordination constrains autonomy Meyers ; Babbitt ; Benhabib ; Cudd Feminist accounts stress the autonomous individual's need for constructive feedback, advice, and encouragement from others Meyers ; Brison A feminist view opens the space for considering autonomy an ongoing and improvisational process of exercising self-discovery, self-definition, and self-direction, rather than endorsing a set of desires and goals chosen exclusively by the individual Meyers and While standard accounts see autonomy as an all-or-nothing achievement, feminist accounts note how autonomy skills piggyback on seemingly unrelated ancillary skills, how autonomy skills may be exercised in certain contexts yet deactivated in others, and how different degrees of skillfulness yield varying degrees of autonomy Meyers ; Friedman Such feminist versions of autonomy strike a balance between recognizing the injury that subordination does to women's sense of self and agency and respecting the measure of autonomy women gain despite this subjugation Cudd Subordination endangers women's autonomy in a number of ways.
Not only does internalized oppression mold women's desires and alienate them from themselves; it also offers those in subordinate positions all sorts of incentives to minimize friction and ease their lot by placating those with power Card Likewise, well-meaning friends are all too likely to counsel the course of least resistance: namely, compliance with convention regardless of one's personal values and aspirations.
Another effect of systematic subordination is that women's autonomy skills may be poorly developed or poorly coordinated, and exercising them is more often discouraged than rewarded Meyers Deficient autonomy skills compound the threat internalized oppression poses.
Still, feminist accounts of autonomy enable us to understand why women do not completely lack autonomy and how women's autonomy can be augmented. The self-discovery, self-definition, and self-direction skills that secure autonomy are commonplace Meyers Indeed, some of them, such as introspective attunement to feelings and receptiveness to others' feedback, are gender-compatible for and often promoted in women. Although others, such as rational planning and self-assertion, are coded masculine, many women in fact have considerable proficiency in these areas. All too often, however, they exercise these skills only in narrowly restricted, gender-appropriate contexts.
For example, a homemaker may demonstrate remarkable instrumental reasoning skills in running her household, or a mother may exhibit effective self-assertion skills in dealing with a teacher who has mistreated her child. Yet, these women may come off as inept, helpless, and meek in other situations. Thus, augmenting women's autonomy is often a matter of emboldening women to extend the range of application of their existing autonomy skills and fostering the development of weak skills.
It is evident, then, why separatist practices of various kinds are conducive to women's autonomy. By inviting women to marshall their autonomy skills and reinforcing women's determination to carry out their decisions, they function as autonomy workshops. An early feminist who aimed to revise traditional, implicitly masculinist, autonomy with a conception of freedom that incorporated women's experience was Beauvoir.
Along with fellow existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre, Beauvoir characterized human experience in terms of 'immanence,' or one's embeddedness within one's historico-cultural, as well as personal, situation, and 'transcendence,' or one's radical freedom with respect to one's choices and future. This dual nature of the human condition contests the radical independence of the rational subject of Kantian autonomy or homo economicus by placing ambiguity at the heart of human experience.
While both men and women are immanent and transcendent on an existentialist view, Beauvoir claims that women have been overwhelmingly associated with immanence and thus have not been encouraged to claim their own freedom Beauvoir Their selves are determined by their situations and contexts--what biology and others claim them to be--and they have been prevented from taking up their own lives as projects.
Beauvoir, then, is in line with feminists' reclamation of autonomy something for which other feminists have often critiqued her, associating this reclamation with a reversion to the masculine ideal of independence , although this reclamation is not at the expense of acknowledging women's determination by their socio-cultural and personal landscape. For Beauvoir, 'women' is a category imposed by society; women's selves, then, are also in large part imposed on them by society, and on her view women would do well to take hold of their claims to freedom and choice and thus reclaim their freedom and selfhood.
Feminist Perspectives in Philosophy
Nkiru Uwechia Nzegwu emphasizes the value of dialogue over monologic styles of narrative self-understanding and alternative non-Western models of thinking and selfhood Nzegwu She develops one such alternative model by staging a fictional conversation between Beauvoir and Nigerian Igbo thinkers on the maternal ethos of the consanguineal, woman-woman, matrilineal, and dual-descent families with striking implications.
If a sense of self does not develop in a Western gendered system, issues of justice in the context of sexual and cultural differences may require a more substantial conception of equality than the formal rights rooted in early modern liberalism, and drawing instead from postcolonial, ecofeminist, and socialist transformations of liberal conceptions of rights Willett Moreover, in these alternative and often emancipatory accounts of an erotic self, the trajectory of self-development may vary from prevalent Western views.
The latter conceptions of self-identity commonly invoke a tale of early dependency upon the family and the eventual achievement of autonomy through narratives of separation and virtues of independence and self-determination. Alternative traditions of maturation may feature instead a multiplicity of social roles, practices, and connections. For this tradition, she cites Audre Lorde's distinct rendering of the term 'eros'. The erotic charge of the self is not primarily sexual nor narrowly maternal, but is the energy and drive that oppressive systems attempt to appropriate and that creative, life-giving social practices regenerate.
Rather than striving for autonomy from these practices, these thinkers seek ways to grow in their sense of power through counter-traditions and alternative, emancipatory cultures and communities.
Some feminist thinkers of eros, most notably Luce Irigaray, draw on the imagery of the female body to reconsider the nature of selfhood and to provide a robust critique of implicitly masculine models of autonomy. Irigaray demonstrates that the feminine has typically been identified with space, or a localizable place of inertia, while the masculine has been identified with time, especially ecstatic projection toward the future.
While the feminine represents touch, the masculine represents vision, and the connotations of independent observation and distance that go along with it Irigaray a, , and Playing off of these typical connotations, Irigaray uses the image of the 'lips' to figure a mode of selfhood in which the body is self-touching, not independent or 'one' but rather always already 'two,' or even 'four,'in a multiplication that takes into account the labia as well as the lips of the mouth Irigaray b and Through this gesture, Irigaray reclaims the association of the feminine with the body in the face of masculine dreams of autonomy, separation, and independence.
Her style of writing transmutes the way that the feminine has typically been denied the subject-position in a way that contests the traditional view of the self as autonomous subject and instead offers a fundamentally disjointed subject that, precisely because of its self-distance, is able to relate to others through wonder and an enveloping that preserves the other as other Irigaray Through self-touching and a love of self that is a genuine eros rather than mere narcissism, we are able to acknowledge the alterity within us and thereby genuinely connect with others in their difference from us.
To understanding what Irigaray offers for a feminist philosophy of the self, it is important to dispel the specter of 'essentialism' that beset feminist debates in the s and continues to have effects today. Is she inscribing her thought within traditional notions of women's 'essence'? Her writing is influenced by the psychoanalytic distinction between three orders--the symbolic, the imaginary, and the real--that are layered and interwoven. Because language occurs within the symbolic order, Irigaray's writing is symbolic in this particular sense, and clearly is not a return to a reinscription of anti-feminist 'essential' sexual differences based purely on biology or anatomy.
Through her strategic writing style of 'mimesis', which utilizes the very stereotypes that have been used against women in order to undermine them, Irigaray plays on the traditional conception of woman as the 'other' to the male subject who has no agency or identity of her own. She reclaims the very modes that have denigrated women for millennia--relegation to the body, denial of the subject-position; woman as the 'mirror' of the male subject--through a subversive, symbolic writing style that turns the traditional view of selfhood on its head and opens new routes of relationality within difference and offers a model of subjectivity marked by self-differentiation rather than identity.
These and other reclamations of female identities have prompted a number of significant reconceptualizations of the nature of the self as relational and multilayered. As we have seen, many feminist philosophers argue that it is a mistake to hold that rationality alone is essential to the self and that the ideal self is transparent, unified, coherent, and independent, for they discern misogynist subtexts in the atomistic individualism of the Kantian ethical subject and homo economicus see Section 1.
While some feminists argue for a relational model of autonomy, others reject the narrative of separation from the maternal sphere as an overarching framing device for maturation. In this section, we take up new conceptions of relational autonomy, and then turn to the more transformative views of relationality. Both approaches agree that it is incumbent on feminist philosophers to develop more satisfactory accounts of the self as dynamic and relational—accounts that are compatible with respect for women.
Thus, a number of feminist philosophers have proposed reconstructions of alternative traditions of the nature of the self. For both relational autonomy and more transformative views, three traditions have been especially influential for thinking a dynamic, relationality in recent, European and Anglo-American feminist thought—classical psychoanalysis, object relations theory, and poststructuralism.
Feminist philosophers gravitate toward these approaches to understanding selfhood because they do not share the drawbacks that prompt feminist critiques of the Kantian ethical subject and homo economicus. None of these approaches regards the self as homogeneous or transparent; none supposes that a self should be coherent and speak in a single voice; none removes the self from its cultural or interpersonal setting; none sidelines the body.
In appropriating these views, feminists bring out their implications in regard to gender, incorporate feminist insights into these theories, and modify the theories to address feminist concerns. While Kristeva maintains the separation narrative, she complicates it by transposing the classical Freudian conception of the self and the distinction between consciousness and the unconscious into an explicitly gendered discursive framework Kristeva ; Oliver ; McAfee ; Miller But speakers are neither unitary nor fully in control of what they say, because discourse is bifurcated.
The symbolic dimension of language, which is characterized by referential signs and linear logic, corresponds to consciousness and control. The clear, dry prose of scientific research reports epitomizes symbolic discourse. The semiotic dimension of language, which is characterized by figurative language, cadences, and intonations, corresponds to the unruly, passion-fueled unconscious.
The ambiguities and nonstandard usages of poetry epitomize semiotic discourse. These paradigms notwithstanding, Kristeva maintains that all discourse combines elements of both registers.
What is feminist philosophy? | Eurozine
Every intelligible utterance relies on semantic conventions, and every utterance has a tone, even if it is a dull monotone. This contention connects Kristeva's account to feminist concerns about gender and the self. Since the rational orderliness of the symbolic is culturally coded masculine while the affect-laden allure of the semiotic is culturally coded feminine, it follows that no discourse is purely masculine or purely feminine.
The masculine symbolic and the feminine semiotic are equally indispensable to the speaking subject, whatever this individual's socially assigned gender may be. It is not possible, then, to be a purely masculine self or a purely feminine self. Every subject of enunciation—every self—amalgamates masculine and feminine discursive modalities. Separation from the semiotic maternal realm is never complete. Like the unconscious in classical psychoanalytic theory, the semiotic decenters the self. One may try to express one's thoughts in definite, straightforward language, yet because of the semiotic aspects of one's utterances, what one says carries no single meaning and is amenable to being interpreted in more than one way.
In Kristeva's view, this is all to the good, for accessing the semiotic—that which is conveyed, often inadvertently, by the style of an utterance—kindles social critique. The semiotic gives expression to repressed, unconscious material. According to Kristeva, what society systematically represses provides clues to what is oppressive about society and how society needs to be changed.
Thus, she discerns a vital ethical potential in the semiotic Kristeva In one respect, Nancy Chodorow's appropriation of object relations theory parallels Kristeva's project of reclaiming and revaluing femininity, for Chodorow's account of the relational self reclaims and revalues feminine mothering capacities. But whereas Kristeva focuses on challenging the homogeneous self and the bright line between reason, on the one hand, and emotion and desire, on the other, Chodorow focuses on challenging the self-subsisting self with its sharp self-other boundaries.
Chodorow's claim that the self is inextricable from interpersonal relationships calls into question the decontextualized individualism of the Kantian ethical subject and homo economicus. Chodorow sees the self as relational in several respects Chodorow Every child is cared for by an adult or adults, and every individual is shaped for better or worse by this emotionally charged interaction. As a result of feelings of need and moments of frustration, the infant becomes differentiated from its primary caregiver and develops a sense of separate identity. Concomitantly, a distinctive personality emerges.
By selectively internalizing and recombining elements of their experience with other people, children develop characteristic traits and dispositions. Moreover, Chodorow attributes the development of a key interpersonal capacity to nurturance. Children gain a sense of their worthiness by internalizing the nurturance they receive and directing it toward themselves, and they learn to respect and respond to other people by internalizing their experience of nurturance and projecting it toward others.
Whereas Kristeva understands the self as a dynamic interplay between the feminine semiotic and the masculine symbolic, Chodorow understands the self as linked to cultural norms of feminine interpersonal responsiveness. For Chodorow, the rigidly differentiated, compulsively rational, stubbornly independent self is a masculine defensive formation—a warped form of the relational self—that develops as a result of fathers' negligible involvement in childcare.
Feminist philosophers have noted strengths and weaknesses in both of these views. For example, Kristeva's questionable-subject-in-process seems to enshrine and endorse the very gender dichotomy that causes women so much grief. The association of the mother with the unruly and ambiguous semiotic may obscure the rich affect attunement and preverbal dialogues between male and female caregivers and their already socially-oriented infants Willett Still, Kristeva's analyses of the psychic, social, and political potency of gender figurations underscore the need for feminist counter-imagery to offset culturally entrenched, patriarchal images of womanhood and the unconscious desires and fantasies that these images buttress.
And Chodorow's appreciation of the relational self together with her diagnosis of the damage wrought by hyperindividuation advances feminist demands for equitable parenting practices and stronger relational conceptions of the self. These contributions notwithstanding, both of these views have come under attack for heterosexist biases as well as for inattention to other forms of difference among women.
Poststructuralists and critical race theorists have been particularly vocal about this failure to come to grips with the diversity of gender, and they have offered accounts of the self designed to accommodate difference. For Butler, psychodynamic accounts of the self, including Kristeva's and Chodorow's, camouflage the performative nature of the self and collaborate in the cultural conspiracy that maintains the illusion that one has an emotionally anchored, interior identity that is derived from one's biological nature, which is manifest in one's genitalia.
Such accounts are pernicious. The solution, in Butler's view, is to question the categories of biological sex, polarized gender, and determinate sexuality that serve as markers of personal identity, to treat the construction of identity as a site of political contestation, and to embrace the subversive potential of unorthodox performances and parodic identities.
Her later work continues to emphasize the relationality of the self through its dispossession by the very discursive structures that call the self into existence. To become a transsexual with a diagnosis of Gender Identity Disorder and gain access to therapeutic and medical techniques can for some provide a meaningful narrative and a liberating experience. At the same time, the new norms for a transsexual identity may generate their own exclusionary politics. Heyes addresses the exclusionary processes of identity politics by returning to Foucault's incomplete thoughts on care of the self, arguing that attentiveness to the body and its capacities to resist norms opens possibilities for new forms of becoming McWhorter ; Heyes By and large, much of recent feminist philosophy of the self troubles the autonomy model, typically by introducing psychodynamic and relational features.
Kelly Oliver's post-Levinasian approach emphasizes the radical exteriority of the other to the self, locating the origin or prompt for the self from this radical exteriority. Oliver uses the motif of witnessing to explore the ways in which the othering can be acknowledged but not known. On the other hand, some contemporary feminist philosophers express concern that the sorts of conceptions sketched above are detrimental to feminist aims Benhabib Still, feminists have moved psychoanalytic theories, object relations theories, and poststructuralism forward to introduce new conceptions of the relational self as not only embodied, psycho-dynamic, and social, but also intersectional and multilayered.
Increasingly, over the past several decades, biological, biosocial, and intersectional layers of the relational self have gained more prominence. Intersectional theories of the self brought forward by African American feminists adapt aspects of poststructuralist theory to the purposes of critical race theory Williams ; Crenshaw Noting that gender, race, and class stratification do not operate in isolation from one another but rather interact to produce compound effects, these theorists conceive of the individual as an intersectional subject—a site where structures of domination and subordination but also agency converge Moraga and Anzaldua ; King ; Crenshaw ; Willett Intersectional theory does not purport to offer a comprehensive theory of the self; rather, its aim is to capture those aspects of selfhood that are conditioned by membership in subordinated or privileged social groups.
Gloria Anzaldua's groundbreaking work develops the mestiza as a central figure for understanding a new kind of self with an ambiguous, fluid identity. The mestiza experiences a sense of constant displacement and in-betweenness but also modes of meaning-making.
Moreover, proponents of the intersectional self credit multiply oppressed people with a certain epistemic advantage Willett In virtue of their suffering and alienation, these individuals are well situated not only to discern which values and practices in their heritage deserve allegiance but also to identify shortcomings in the traditions of the groups to which they belong. Thus, African-American women are acutely aware of racism within feminism and sexism within the struggle for racial justice.
Their intersectional positioning and subjectivity makes such insight virtually unavoidable. While intersectional theorists bring forward race, class, ability, and other socio-economic markers as central to psychical-historical locations of agency, power and connectivity, a number of feminists are increasingly paying attention to somatic-organic factors in selfhood. Catherine Malabou points to such mental ailments as Alzheimer's disease to raise questions for poststructural and psychoanalytic theories Malabou She reinterprets Derrida's deconstructive self as punctured by experiences of foreignness--of an alterity in the self--through a non-reductive neurobiology of trauma or brain injury.
Injured selves may experience radical discontinuities or lose entirely aspects of their former selves. The resulting picture of the self is a multilayered nexus of relations with psychic-historical and somatic-organic strata. Her work makes clear that philosophies of the self cannot ignore the biological sciences. Willett takes up Africana, Latina, and other feminist traditions of an interconnected self together with biological and psychological studies of affect, social emotions, and micro and macro biosocial networks.
As a social species, the most basic drives and affects of the human self are pro-social, not narcissistic or hedonistic. Maturity does not require abjection, repression, or traumatizing discipline for social cooperation. The capacity for love, friendship, and cooperation with social groups characterizes humans as a biological species. One consequence of the biosocial drives, as we have seen, is the rejection of the autonomy narrative as the primary or exclusive goal of self-development Willett , , Another consequence of this intermingling of the biological with the social is that intersectionality theory is now extended to include mixed species communities Willett This eco-feminist extension of eros ethics follows from the recentering of ethics on affects and eros social needs and desires for connection rather than on the rational capacities that mark human superiority and separation from the other animal species.
Contrary to dominant metaphysical traditions from the ancients through the moderns, there is no clear ontological gap that separates the human from all other animal life. Willett discerns four strata for envisioning connections across human and nonhuman subjectivities. These strata correspond to modes of sociality, and typically trace back to aspects of basic social bonds, beginning with the affect-laden eros that connects caregivers with infants. Species may depend less on the face for communication.
Monkeys use tail-wagging and birds sing duets to signal friendship or other social dynamics. The capacity for attunement explains expectations for reciprocity and even a sense of fairness in humans and various other species. Eros signifies also a yearning for home and a sense of belonging for an unknown range of social animals. The gut, as a second brain, offers a source of moral response.
The biosocial layering of selfhood reclaims maternal relationality as more than a dumb instinct for humans and any number of other animal species. Rational rules appealed to by autonomous selves do not guarantee unbiased decisions free from emotional, historical, and biological processes. Feminist critiques of the atomized selves of utilitarian and Kantian philosophy are moving to the center of ethics. Still, no one theory or model can capture the self's multitudinous and multicultural manifestations. At best, the feminist reconstructions of various traditions, ever themselves spurring new sources of ingroups and outgroups, can serve to remind us that the work of feminism is never done.
As this article attests, there is tremendous foment and variety within the field of feminist work on the self. Yet, in reviewing this literature, we have been struck by a recurrent theme—the inextricability of metaphysical issues about the self from moral and political theory. Feminist critiques of regnant philosophical theories of the self expose the normative underpinnings of these theories. Feminist analyses of women's agential capacities both acknowledge traditional feminine social contributions and provide accounts of how women can overcome oppressive norms and practices.
Feminist reconstructions of the nature of the self are interwoven with arguments that draw out the emancipatory benefits of conceiving the self one way rather than another. There is nothing surprising, to be sure, about the salience of normative concerns in feminist philosophizing. Still, we mention it because we believe that feminists' attention to political concerns leads to fresh questions that enrich the philosophical understanding of the self.
Moreover, we would urge that this forthrightness about the political viewpoint that informs philosophy is a virtue, for overlooking the political suppositions and implications of esoteric philosophical views has led to considerable mischief. It is precisely the failure to acknowledge that the question of the self is not narrowly metaphysical that has led to philosophy's implicit modeling of the self on a male subject, a tendency that feminist perspectives on the self seek to remediate. In the interests of concision and readability, the present essay mentions only some of the representative works on the feminist literature on the self.
These cited works are collated in the Bibliography which appears in the next section of this essay. However, the feminist literature on the self is vast. Lisa Cassidy, Diana Tietjens Meyers, and Ellie Anderson have put together a comprehensive bibliography of this literature; it attempts to cite all of the books and articles that are relevant to the present entry.
Feminist Theory: A Philosophical Anthology
This comprehensive bibliography is linked into the present essay as the following supplementary document:. Critique 2. Reclamation of Women's Agency and Female Identities 3. Reconceptualizations 3. Critique Modern philosophy in the West championed the individual. Reclamation of Female Identities and Women's Status Feminist critiques, we have seen, accuse regnant philosophical accounts of masculinizing the self. Conclusion As this article attests, there is tremendous foment and variety within the field of feminist work on the self.
Bibliography Comprehensive Bibliography In the interests of concision and readability, the present essay mentions only some of the representative works on the feminist literature on the self. This comprehensive bibliography is linked into the present essay as the following supplementary document: Comprehensive Bibliography of Feminist Perspectives on the Self Readers are therefore encouraged to pursue additional references by following the above link.
References The following works are cited in the entry: Addelson, Kathryn Pyne. Alarcon, Norma.
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