'Women's agency and the fallacy of autonomy: the example of rape and sexual consent'

Paul Reynolds

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A principal cause of the disregard or demonization of women’s agency is the ‘functional fiction’ of autonomy. Whilst arguably a necessary means of attribution of causation and responsibility for human action, the concept of autonomy – sliced ‘thick’ or ‘thin’ – is characterised by a liberal individualism that eschews the complexity of women’s agency for an atomistic abstractive notion of individual volition and reason. As a result, attributions of victimhood or transgression have to be ‘inscribed’ onto women. Drawing on the example of rape and sexual consent, I will seek to argue that if we are to adequately understand and compose a notion of women’s agency that represents the choices, experiences and situatedness of women, it is necessary to recognise that an idea of ‘autonomy’ will not do. Instead, we need a notion of agency that sits dialectically between reason and affect, recognises the relationship between embodiment, discourse and the cultural, contextual and conjunctural constitution of a given space and moment of agency, and neither dilutes womanhood within a post-modern contingency nor reifies it to a defining category but recognises it as a presence that characterises how we see agency and how it is seen by the agent.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWomen and Violence: The Agency of Victims and Perpetrators
EditorsHeather Widdows, Herjeet Marway
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages0
ISBN (Print)978-1-137-01511-2
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Publication series

NameGenders and Sexualities in the Social Sciences


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