Friday, July 03, 2009

Autonomy and Self-Advocacy

TC asked in this post Why can't she end an abusive marriage? and Damian's post on the disabled offers an answer by analogy. Women are discouraged from developing Individualism, Independence, Autonomy and Self-Advocacy. Sometimes, women are taught that these things are sinful and will lead them to hell.

Here is a post which expresses an extreme (I hope) view of relations between men and women. Gerald writes,
    Thus masculinity as a concept equates to dominance and autonomy, while femininity equates to deference and dependence.
For Gerald, women are not to have independence and autonomy. They are also not worthy of receiving from men the deference that a man is to receive from women. This paradigm is not usually described so explicitly, but many Christian women do live in it just the same.

But Damian is saying that even the disabled need autonomy, independence and self-advocacy. I too have worked for many years with disabled children and have sensed their need to develop personal dignity and agency. They need to know that they can make a decision, and act, and carry out an intention. They need to see themselves as actors, as subject and not object.

Now that it is July, I have said good-bye to some students and will meet new ones soon. Here is a piece I wrote a while back about a girl with Down's Syndrome. She left us this spring for high school.

Back to Damian's post. He writes,
    That is, there is a human need for a degree of autonomy, individualism (in the sense of feeling an individual), independence and self-advocacy.

    Whilst I agree whole-heartedly, that the churches ministry should ‘offer the dignity of shared life’, the importance of community in Ministry to the Disabled should not overshadow the realisation that this ministry should facilitate autonomy, independence, a sense of feeling an individual, and the ability to self-advocate. This is because, as much as a given person with a disability might need help with activities of daily living such as showering, dressing, or food preparation, they gain as much from the facilitation of autonomous activities of daily living (for example through funding home modifications) as they do through ’shared life’. Dignity hinges both on the ability to be respected through the disability, and the ability to stand on one’s own abilities as much as possible.

Now listen to this paragraph rewritten to give women these attributes,

    That is, there is a human need for a degree of autonomy, individualism (in the sense of feeling an individual), independence and self-advocacy.

    Whilst I agree whole-heartedly, that the churches ministry should ‘offer the dignity of shared life’, the importance of community in Ministry to Women should not overshadow the realisation that this ministry should facilitate autonomy, independence, a sense of feeling an individual, and the ability to self-advocate.

    This is because, as much as women might need help with activities of daily living such as providing for the children, they gain as much from the facilitation of autonomous activities of daily living as they do through ’shared life’. Dignity hinges both on the ability to be respected through being a woman, and the ability to stand on one’s own abilities as much as possible.

    Ministry should provide women a taste of the power of God that works through them, as well as the love of God that comes through the church.
Women who are trained in submission, have difficulty with autonomy and self-advocacy. The overall notion that human relationships are composed of rule and submission undermines the dignity and autonomy of the disabled as well.

3 comments:

Damian said...

Suzanne,

I hadn't thought about my post in terms of the relationship espoused by many Christians between men and women. I think you've made a astute observation. No human should have these - I hesitate to use the word rights - abused. It makes me think of a patient I once had, whose wife was left unable to drive, shop, or go out when her husband had a tragic stroke. Autonomy, and self-advocacy were just not there.

I think I'm lucky that I've been very little exposed to the "masculinity as a concept equates to dominance and autonomy, while femininity equates to deference and dependence." paradigm, although I suspect it abounds more than I notice. A close friend of mine (female) was recently engaged to a male with such views, and I was shocked that she consented to such a lifestyle.

However, I think much of the issue is that there is a strong scriptural defence for such views; I have difficulty defending them against those that espouse them on their own grounds, which is the place they need to be fought.

Nevertheless, a fight worth fighting.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Thank you, Damian. It is only through working as an advocate for First Nations, and then for the disabled that I discovered advocacy and ultimately self-advocacy. In some ways, as someone with a profession and economically self-supporting, I am privileged. However, for a b=very long time, I lived a life without personal autonomy and basic human rights, in some areas of my life. I was deprived of some very basic freedom and dignity in my life. It is painful to ask myself how and why.

I hope you don't think my post was dismissive of the concerns of the disabled.

Damian said...

Not at all, Suzanne. I think you're right - both are universal concerns. I'm glad someone is voicing them. I think many women need to hear them, and realise that they are being deprived of these things in their own lives. And most importantly, that that is not God's plan for their lives. It's a culture of self-deprivation (both accepted by many women, and imposed by many men), in a way, and one that needs to be addressed more publicly.