"Liberty on the Barricades," Delacroix

“Liberty at the Barricades,”
Eugène Delacroix, 1830

I see two ways to approach “need” and “fulfillment,” the political and the existential.  Re the political: the feminist movement fought to gain full human status for women.  The rationale for denying that status had been that femininity itself was a defect – only remedied by the guardianship of men.

Simone de Beauvoir counter-argued (in The Second Sex, 1949) that “femininity” was a social construct, a choice, a grammatical convention, hence something that could be transformed at will.  Not an adequate view (philosophically it drew on Sartre’s implausibly extreme doctrine of freedom in Being and Nothingness, 1943), but a necessary tactic, and the American feminist movement took it over.

The tactic provided body armor during the single-woman years of my adult life.  I would go to New Year’s Eve parties peopled by couples – only me solo – and be unfazed.  I would go out for Thanksgiving dinner alone, to a restaurant crowded with families gorging on turkey & fixin’s, and think, the company I have (my own) is better than yours!  Was it bravado?  It was a tactic, but a necessary one, and it became second nature, as feminism meant it to be.

But there is an existential sense of need/fulfillment that has to do with the exercise of our full humanity.  Our fractured selves want to be whole – the puzzle pieces to find their place in the full picture.  The love of friends, who bear witness to our struggle and of a partner in life who shares it, help us to understand our lives — and to want to live.

About Abigail

Abigail Rosenthal is Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Brooklyn College of CUNY. She is the author of A Good Look at Evil, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, now available in an expanded, revised second edition and as an audiobook. Its thesis is that good people try to live out their stories while evil people aim to mess up good people’s stories. Her next book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher, forthcoming and illustrated, provides multiple illustrations from her own life. She writes a weekly column for her blog, “Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column” (www.dearabbie-nonadvice.com) where she explains why women's lives are highly interesting. She’s the editor of the posthumously published Consolations of Philosophy: Hobbes’s Secret; Spinoza’s Way by her father, Henry M. Rosenthal. Some of her articles can be accessed at https://brooklyn-cuny.academia.edu/AbigailMartin . She is married to Jerry L. Martin, also a philosopher. They live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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4 Responses to “Autonomy”

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  3. Nilda says:

    Wow! Tragic? Would it have been less tragic had she found a man worthy of her so that she could be complete? Do you wonder if she thought herself less fulfilled? I don’t know….seems like the tragedy is that we as women ‘need’ men or women at all. Would it not be better that we choose men (or women) based on just loving to be in their company, their laughter, and their joy? And even find this love of company when they cannot laugh? I guess being a woman means different things to different people. I think I would rather live under my own definition than endure life as another person might define me, or need me to be.

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