Individuality, autonomy and women

  • Tuula Gordon
Part of the Women in Society book series (WOSO)


Western democracies required the development of the modern, absolute individual, upon whom citizenship rights could be conferred. Meanings attached to ‘the individual’ have changed in emphasis. Williams (1961) notes that in medieval society an ‘individual’ was defined by his membership of a group. In the modern usage the individual has been abstracted from social relations; an individual is a separable entity whose formal rights as a citizen are ensured by the state. The social contract between equal individuals is the premise of the development of Western democracies. ‘Individuals’ became citizens through a voluntary contract to maximise their self-interest. The contract centred around the rights of men (see Yuval-Davis, 1991; Pateman, 1988; Bellah et al. 1988). The ‘individual’ is a masculine construction which marginalises some groups as ‘others’ within structures of power.


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© Tuula Gordon 1994

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  • Tuula Gordon

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