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Choices Women Make

Agency in Domestic Violence, Assisted Reproduction, and Sex Work

Carisa R. Showden

Publication Year: 2011

Women’s agency: Is it a matter of an individual’s capacity for autonomy? Or of the social conditions that facilitate freedom? Combining theoretical and empirical perspectives, Carisa R. Showden investigates what exactly makes an agent and how that agency influences the ways women make inherently sensitive and difficult choices—specifically in instances of domestic violence, assisted reproduction, and sex work.

In Showden’s analysis, women’s agency emerges as an individual and social construct, rooted in concrete experience, complex and changing over time. She traces the development and deployment of agency, illustrating how it plays out in the messy workings of imperfect lives. In a series of case studies, she considers women within situations of intimate partner violence, reproductive decision making, and sex work such as prostitution and pornography. Each narrative offers insight into how women articulate their self-understanding and political needs in relation to the pressures they confront.

Showden’s understanding of women’s agency ultimately leads her to review possible policy and legal interventions that could improve the conditions within which agency develops and that could positively enhance women’s ability to increase and exercise their political and personal options.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press


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pp. 1-5


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pp. 6-7

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pp. vii-viii

On the path from initial inkling of an idea of how to think about the problem of postfeminism, to a finished book on agency and choice, I have acquired many debts. For intellectual, material, and/or emotional sustenance at either discrete points or throughout the ten years it took to move this project from start to finish, I am indebted to Jean Babyak, Frankie Babyak, Susan Bickford, Barbara ...

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pp. ix-xviii

The theme of this book is women’s agency—how it is developed, how it is deployed, and how it can be increased. Having “agency” involves both deliberating on choices and having choices on which to deliberate. It is thus a product of both autonomy (the individual capacity to act) and freedom (the conditions that facilitate action). ...

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1 Conceiving Agency: Autonomy, Freedom, and the Creation of the Embodied Subject

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pp. 1-35

Agency is often used interchangeably with autonomy and freedom, so that debates about the meaning and possibility of autonomy or freedom get shifted to agency as well. Although I agree that these are deeply interconnected ideas, I argue here that agency is in fact distinct from and broader than autonomy or freedom considered alone. ...

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2 Should I Stay or Should I Go?: Intimate Partner Violence and the Agency in “Victim”

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pp. 37-92

In this chapter and the next two, I use the theory developed in the previous chapter to examine the multifaceted nature of agency and choice in women’s lives by considering how agency develops and is deployed. In looking at agency in particular contexts, I consider together the devel - opment of internal capacities for autonomy and the external relations ...

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3 Mum’s the Word: Assisted Reproduction and the Ideology of Motherhood

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pp. 93-133

In 1970, Shulamith Firestone argued that reproductive technology would be the key to a radical feminist future, severing the essential conflating of “woman” with “mother.” Forty years later, new reproductive technol ogies have hit the mainstream, solidifying pronatalist ideals rather than severing them from the definition of “woman.”1 Indeed, perhaps ...

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4 Working It: Prostitution and the Social Construction of Sexual Desire

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pp. 135-184

Prostitution engages questions of freedom and autonomy as it is undertaken by some women with severely limited options and by other women with many options, and the confluence of their analyses of what they are doing and why helps to lay bare the constitutive effects of external options on the social construction of sexual desire. That sex work is engaged in by women from across the economic spectrum—although ...

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5 Agency and Feminist Politics: The Role of Democratic Coalitions

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pp. 185-219

If agency is a temporally and structurally situated process of becoming a subject with others, what are the political possibilities for intervening overtly in the subjectification process? Although many sites and practices might potentially foster the core competencies of agency, I focus here on what has long been a central component of feminist activism: coalition politics. ...


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pp. 221-250


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pp. 251-268


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pp. 269-286

E-ISBN-13: 9780816676569
E-ISBN-10: 0816676569
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816655960

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2011