Substantive or Procedural Autonomy: Willing Slaves and Deferential Housewives




Autonomy, Feminism, Women, Oppression, Deference


Autonomy remains a central yet contested concept for contemporary feminism. In part, this results from a tension which is definitional to the concept of autonomy. Simply put, how can a concept of autonomy, of choice, explain the choice not to choose? In this paper, I argue that a consideration of procedural, content-neutral conditions of autonomy at work in the past, present and future of an agent allows insight into oppressive socialization without incorporating substantive limits within the concept of autonomy itself. This conception of autonomy promotes an evaluation of choice in terms of the conditions apparent in the act of choosing and sheds light on oppressive forces which diminish those conditions. Conceiving of autonomy as occurring across time and into the future also offers insight into the compatibility of deference and autonomy. This approach to autonomy best accommodates the multiplicities of human identities, values and goals.


Al-Marashi, H. (2018). First comes marriage, my not-so-typical American love story. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books.

Aragão, C. (2023). Gender pay gap in U.S. hasn’t changed much in two decades. Pew Research Center.

Barabaschi, B., & Mussida, C. (2016). Drivers of occupational gender segregation in Southern European countries. Rivista Internazionale Di Scienze Sociali, 124(2), 127–160.

Baumann, H. (2008). Reconsidering relational autonomy. Personal autonomy for socially embedded and temporally extended selves. Analyse & Kritik, 30, 445-468.

Benson, P. (2005). Taking ownership: authority and voice in autonomous agency. In J. Christman & J. Anderson (Eds.), Autonomy and the challenges of liberalism (pp. 101-126). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Cheeseman Day, J., & Christnacht, C. (2019). Women hold 76% of all health care jobs, gaining in higher-paying occupations. United States Census Bureau.

Christman, J. (2005). Procedural autonomy and liberal legitimacy. In J. S. Taylor (Ed.), Personal autonomy. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Christman, J. (2009). The politics of persons. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Christman, J. (2014). Coping or oppression: autonomy and adaptation to circumstances. In A. Veltman & M. Piper (Eds.), Autonomy, oppression, and gender. New York: Oxford University Press.

Christman, J. (2020). Autonomy in Moral and Political Philosophy. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edward N. Zalta (ed.). URL =

Colburn, B. (2008). Forbidden ways of life. Philosophical Quarterly, 58, 618-629.

Colburn, B. (2010). Autonomy and liberalism. New York: Routledge.

Cudd, A. (2006). Analyzing oppression. New York: Oxford University Press. European Commission. (n.d.). The gender pay gap situation in the EU. Accessed on 3.25.23.

Freyenhagen, F. (2017). Autonomy’s substance. Journal of Applied Philosophy, 34(1), 114–129.

Friedman, M. (2003). Autonomy, gender and politics. New York, Oxford University Press.

Galeotti, A. E. (2015). Autonomy and multiculturalism. In G. Levey (Ed.), Authenticity, Autonomy and Multiculturalism. New York: Routledge.

Garnett, M. (2023). Ghostwritten lives: Autonomy, deference, and self-Authorship. Ethics, 133(2), 189-215.

Hill, C., Corbettand, C., & St. Rose, A. (2010). Why so few? Women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Association of University Women (AAUW).

Khader, S. (2020). The feminist case against relational autonomy. Journal of Moral Philosophy, 17(5), 499-526.

Knutzen, J. (2020). The trouble with formal views of autonomy. Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy, 18, 173-210.

Lee, J. Y. (2022). Normative competence, autonomy, and oppression. Feminist Philosophy Quarterly, 8(1).

Mackenzie, C. (2014). Three dimensions of autonomy: a relational analysis. In A. Veltman & M. Piper (Eds.), Autonomy, oppression, and gender. New York: Oxford University Press.

Mackenzie, C., & Stoljar, N. (2000). Autonomy refigured. In C. Mackenzie & N. Stoljar (Eds.), Relational autonomy. New York: Oxford University Press.

McKeown, M. (2021). Structural injustice. Philosophy Compass, 16(7).

Meyers, D. T. (2014). The feminist debate over values in autonomy. In A. Veltman & M. Piper (Eds.), Autonomy, oppression, and gender. New York: Oxford University Press.

Mill, J. S. (1989). On Liberty and other writings (S. Collini, Ed.). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Narayan, U. (2002). Minds of their own: choices, autonomy, cultural practices, and other women. In L. Antony & C. Witt (Eds.), A mind of one’s own. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). (2012). The ABCs of gender equality in education: aptitude, behavior, confidence. eng.pdf

Oshana, M. (2006). Personal autonomy in society. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing.

Oshana, M. (2007). Autonomy and the question of authenticity. Social Theory and Practice, 33(3), 411-429.

Sperry, E. (2013). Dupes of patriarchy: feminist strong substantive autonomy’s epistemological weakness. Hypatia, 28, 886-904.

Stoljar, N. (2018). Feminist perspectives on autonomy. In E. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Walsh, M. B. (2015). Feminism, adaptive preferences, and social contract theory. Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy, 30(4), 829-845.

Westlund, A. (2009). Rethinking relational autonomy. Hypatia, 24(4), 26-49.

Westlund, A. (2011). Reply to Benson, Christman, Rocha, and Stoljar. Symposia on Gender, Race and Philosophy, 7, 1-6.

Wilterdink, N., & Form, W. (2023). Social structure. Britannica.

Young, I. M. (1990). Justice and the politics of difference. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.






Original Articles